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A Paul Brown Speech Has An Old Alum Seeing The Future In Joe Burrow Bengals Playoff Run: 'You Guys Don't Know How Good You Really Are.' 

Solomon Wilcots hears the future.
Solomon Wilcots hears the future.

Solomon Wilcots, the old Bengals safety turned media star, has an ancient wisdom on a space age platform. He played on the last 7-6 Bengals team that willed themselves to a division title in the first year of the 1990s with the last gasps of a core that came so close to winning it all. 

Wilcots is one of those guys Paul Brown coveted. So smart on the field and so successful off it. So 30 years later he looks at Joe Burrow's Bengals with enough passion as an alum to call them, "We," and with the razor intellect of one of NFL Radio's best on Sirius. 

"I love this team," says Wilcots on a pit stop between his laps on "The Morning Drive." 

"With Joe Burrow, he's a guy that gives us a chance to win every Sunday. A cut above what we expect in an NFL quarterback. When all is said and done, I think he'll lead us to some great wins. I think he's going to do here what no other quarterback has ever done." 

But even though the peaks and valleys of this Bengals team are similar to the twists and turns of the 1990 Kings Island Bengals, the 2021 Bengals remind Wilcots of a cross between his first Bengals team in 1987 and the one a year later.

You remember that one? Wilcots was part of the S.W.A.T team secondary that came within 34 seconds of defrosting Joe Montana for the championship of the world.

The halfway point between that '87 team, a four-win outfit crippled by the strike that managed to lose three leads and a tie in the fourth quarter, and the '88 team, an offensive juggernaut of power and innovation, probably arrived at the first meeting of that 1988 training camp.

That's the one where Bengals founder Paul Brown opened the season with his annual address to the team and this one was so compelling that Wilcots can still hear it.

"This reminds me of this year's Bengals team. He said, 'You guys don't know how good you really are. The teams that come in here are afraid of you. They don't know if they're getting the team that's so good in the first half or bad in the second half,'" Wilcots recalls.

"I think (the speech) made all the difference in the world about how we saw ourselves. Of course, we had to go out on the field and do it."

That's where he sees the Joe Burrow Bengals. Kind of like that 1987 team that needed some emotional maturity. But ahead of schedule and good enough to make the playoffs.

"We'd have a lead and we couldn't stand prosperity," Wilcots says. "These guys can't stand prosperity. They go to Baltimore and obliterate the Ravens and beat Pittsburgh twice and then you have two games like the last two weeks against the Chargers and the 49ers.

"These guys are big-time college players who are used to playing in big games. Their players are young. They're finding out this isn't college. In college, the underdogs almost never win. In the NFL there are no underdogs."

Wilcots has talked to enough NFL people to know that Burrow, his two wide receivers who are both No. 1s (Tee Higgins and Ja'Marr Chase), his tough-as nails slot guy (Tyler Boyd), three-time 1,000-yard back (Joe Mixon) and 12.5-sacker Trey Hendrickson are held in high regard. He's leery of the pass protection, but he also says, "When we run it, we've got a chance."

"People are afraid of this team. They just need to realize how good they really are. How afraid the opponent is," says Wilcots, echoing Paul Brown. "They look at Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase, Higgins, Boyd, Trey Hendrickson and it's, 'Oh my God.' They're petrified."

But the 1990 Bengals are eerily, similar, too. Not in makeup. There was still a core of Ring of Honor guys in stripes. Boomer Esiason was still here. James Brooks. Anthony Munoz. Tim Krumrie.

But similar in the ebbs and flows. They lost brutal November home games to the bad Saints and the sub-.500 Colts. New Orleans ran for 259 yards and Jeff George helped ring up 419 yards for Indy. Then in a December home game they finally had Montana's 12-1 49ers on the ropes before losing in overtime.

Sound familiar?

They held on to win their last two, division games at home. They needed a little help, a bunch of them going down to the Waterfront after the game to watch Oilers backup quarterback Cody Carlson rip the Steelers on prime time to give the Bengals the AFC Central title at 9-7.

"We were able to come back from those losses against the Saints and Colts. We still had a lot of those (great veterans) around," Wilcots says. "We were a shell of ourselves at that point. We were winning games on guts and guile …We took care of business. We fought to the end.

"No one can experience success without adversity. If this group of players is going to do big things, they have to leverage hurtful moments like they've experienced this year to use that as a period of growth."

Wilcots loves this team. He can hear Paul Brown now.

"They don't realize how good they are," he says.