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TDBH: Many happy returns by Casanova, Parrish punt Broncos

Posted Oct 7, 2017

This Day in Bengals History: October 8, 1972

The Bengals haven’t scored a touchdown in the last two games and Denver’s blitzing defense that holds them to 199 yards isn’t exactly handing them out today at Riverfront Stadium. So Cincinnati’s emerging tandem of excitement in punt returners Lemar Parrish and Tommy Casanova takes matters into its own hands and sets up all three touchdowns in a 21-10 victory as the Bengals rally from a 10-0 hole. Parrish, the veteran cornerback, comes in as the NFL punt return leader. But after being hobbled by some leg problems last year he gets some help from Casanova, the rookie safety from LSU.

As the TD-less skein nears 150 minutes, Casanova matches his jersey number and pops a 37-yard return to set up running back Essex Johnson’s one-yard TD run that makes it 10-7 at halftime. Then with four minutes left in the third quarter, Casanova puts the Bengals ahead for good when he takes one back all the way for 66 yards. Casanova takes it in the middle of the field and as his wall forms he sways to keep the Broncos at bay before shifting to the right and then abruptly heading diagonally to the left corner of the end zone. “There really wasn’t much to it,” Casanova says. “That wall set up really good and all I had to do was cut back. It wouldn’t have been anybody’s fault but my own.”

 Then in the fourth quarter Parrish gets into the act with a 14-yard return that will keep him in the NFL lead. But it also puts the ball on the Denver 44, a huge play in this tractor pull of a game the Bengals’ top-ranked AFC defense sacks Broncos quarterback Steve Ramsey six times and holds Denver to 167 yards. Moments later Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson hits wide receiver Chip Myers for a 12-yard touchdown pass to seal it.

Casanova ends up with 106 yards on four returns (a club record that stands for nearly 30 years) and is suddenly just 10 yards shy of Parrish’s club record for season return yards he set as a rookie in 1970. The team that was dead last in AFC punt return yards last year and second to last in average return now leads the NFL. But Casanova offers a disclaimer the next day. “No matter what happened against Denver, don’t think I’m better at this than Lemar.  I just sort of move around and get lucky once in a while. He really puts moves on people. If I was on a punt team I’d rather have to tackle me than Lemar.”

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