The pilot of the Bengals' Super Bowl charter did a national anthem flyover of Paul Brown Stadium Monday night before officially ending their greatest season in a generation and longest ever with a gentle Valentine's Day landing.
Then Who Dey nation sent another love letter to the team that has captivated them maybe even more than the old days. When the bus drivers made the turn into the players' gate, a crowd of about 300 fans, complete with a sound system, signs and a 20-foot waving Bengals flag in 27-degree weather, erupted.
"I was going to walk through the crowd," said tight end C.J. Uzomah, despite being holed up in a plane for five hours after playing 80 percent of the snaps on a sprained MCL.
"But then they rushed the gate and security was saying, 'You better not,'" Uzomah said. "I said screw it, I'm going.' But I couldn't move through. They're going crazy. You see it. I love it."
When head coach Zac Taylor got off the bus, he grabbed some players and urged them to say hello and thank you. Guys like Sam Hubbard and Joe Mixon. Mixon, still wearing California threads, conducted a brief encore of his performance at last Monday's PBS pep rally and waved thanks while taking a video.
Meanwhile, Taylor walked back and forth behind the gate, occasionally stopping to shake hands. But always waving and saying, "Thank you."
Punter Kevin Huber, the lifelong Cincinnatian, was still talking about how loud the Bengals were Sunday at L.A.'s own SoFi Stadium during the last-minute 23-20 loss to the Rams as he waited for his luggage in the equipment room.
"They were a big part of this year," Huber said. "That out there kind of shows you what was done and how special this season really was. This season turned the city around and got it back to a place they haven't been in a long time."