Headlined by two NFL MVPs who led the franchise to the Super Bowl, as well as its all-time rushing, receiving and scoring leaders and one of the game's greatest interceptors, the Bengals on Thursday released their first Ring of Honor ballot.
A slate of 17 former players, one for every game of the new expanded schedule, goes in front of Bengals season-ticket holders later this month to decide which two join team founder Paul Brown and Pro Football Hall of Fame left tackle Anthony Muñoz in the Ring's inaugural class.
The ballot spans stars from every era in club history. It ranges from Bob Trumpy, one of the first prototypes of the modern tight end on the 1968 original Bengals, to all-time leading receiver Chad Johnson, a 21st century draft pick and social media pioneer.
All-time passing leader Ken Anderson, the only man in history to win consecutive NFL passing titles in two different decades, called his name on the ballot an honor. But he sees The Ring as a salute to the history of the franchise rather than an individual accolade.
"The most important thing is that the players from the past get recognized," Anderson said. "You can go on and on naming all the great players we've had. It's nice to go back to remember those days in the '70s and '80s when we were as respected as any team in the National Football League.
"The longer ago you played, the more people never saw you play. I'm certain players like Chad Johnson and Willie Anderson are more current players on that list and deservedly so because they were great. But I think the end result is that the Bengals are doing something nice to remember players from the past."
Nearly half the ballot - Anderson and seven of his teammates - were on the 1981 AFC champions that went to the Bengals' first Super Bowl. Anderson won the MVP and his third passing title throwing to two wide receivers on the list, Isaac Curtis and Cris Collinsworth and their combined seven Pro Bowls.
Also on the ballot are those guards from that NFL's second-ranked offense, three-time Pro Bowler Max Montoya and Dave Lapham, the most versatile linemen in team history. Cornerback Ken Riley and linebacker Reggie Williams, workhorses on defensive coordinator Hank Bullough's cutting edge 3-4 defense, are also nominated, as is kicker Jim Breech, the Bengals all-time leading scorer.
Williams, Collinsworth, Montoya and Breech played in both Bengals Super Bowls. Joining them on the ballot from the 1988 AFC champs are quarterback Boomer Esiason, the NFL MVP that season, as well as dual threat running back James Brooks, scheme-changing safety David Fulcher and tackling machine Tim Krumrie at nose tackle.
The ballot features 17 of the top 18 vote getters from the First 50 vote by media and fans during the Bengals' 50th anniversary season in 2017. Munoz was No. 1 in that vote.
A look at the Bengals 17 Ring Of Honor Nominees through the years.
Six-time Pro Bowl cornerback Lemar Parrish, who christened Riverfront Stadium with a fumble return touchdown in his first NFL appearance during a 1970 exhibition game, is a candidate. So are Bengals all-time right tackle Willie Anderson and all-time leading rusher Corey Dillon, a tandem that helped engineer the Bengals' first Paul Brown Stadium regular-season victory in 2000 with Dillon's NFL single-game rushing record.
"The Ring of Honor celebrates our great history and the start of new traditions at a time when engagement with fans and alumni players is paramount," said Bengals Director of Strategy and Engagement Elizabeth Blackburn in a news release. "An important part of the Ring of Honor process is telling the stories of the nominees and creating discussion and debate.
"We looked at Pro Bowls, team records, individual achievements and the Bengals First 50 to determine the ballot. It will be exciting to see which two nominees our Season Ticket Members and Suite Owners select to join Paul Brown and Anthony Munoz in the inaugural Ring of Honor class."
The nominees received news of their nomination via a phone call from a member of the Brown family. One of them went to Ken Riley II, the son of Ken Riley, less than a year after his father's death. Riley, who played the most games in Bengals history during a 15-year career he rung up the fifth most interceptions in NFL annals with 65, passed away June 7.
"I think it's great for the organization and the former players. They're doing a lot great things there," Riley II said. "He played in the '60s, '70s, and '80s, so a lot of people never saw him play. It's just an honor to be on the ballot and it would be a great honor him to be part of the inaugural class."
Dillon, author of two of the biggest 18 rushing games in NFL history, believes a Ring of Honor selection would be one of those crowning moments for him.
"I don't know who's on the ballot, but I'm sure we're all worthy," Dillon said. "It would be a great honor for me to be recognized as one of the franchise's greatest players. That would mean the world to me. (The First 50) was an awesome, wonderful experience. But this … That's official. That's the big one. It would be a blessing. Knowing my great work would be recognized would make me very happy."
Lapham called The Dillon Game and pretty much every other one since he became the Bengals radio analyst in 1986 after a ten-year career he played every position on the offensive line. He's either lined up with or covered everyone on the ballot.
"There should be two rooms for him down there," Breech said. "It's like people thinking that John Madden is the guy that does video games."
Lapham, Ken Anderson's road roommate, played all the line spots in two of his 140 Bengals games.
"We called him 'The Tool,'" Anderson said. "He had to move to center for a time and we never missed a snap. If he had to move to tackle, we never missed a beat. He was such a talented player, but such a smart player who could handle multiple positions."
Lapham has been submerged in covering the draft, so this week's call informing him of his spot on the ballot left him, "stunned."
"At a loss for words, which is rare. Totally shocked, to say the least," Lapham said. "It's the greatest honor I've ever had in terms of sports life. As an individual thing. To me, it's a come-full circle kind of thing. A celebration of great players that I've been teammates with or watched perform. There are really some unbelievable players."
It's fitting that on the 40th anniversary of that first Super Bowl season, the road roomies and some of their teammates are on another ride.
"It takes me back to '81 big time," Lapham said. "First team to go to the Super Bowl. First team to win a play-off game. That team had a lot of firsts. To have eight guys from that team shows you. It's all about celebration. You go back to those teams and a lot of great memories come flying back to fans. For everyone affiliated with the organization."