Bengals president Mike Brown, who once shared a marathon negotiating session with AFL founder Lamar Hunt to help approve the NFL merger, can bring home the trophy named after Hunt if his team beats Hunt's Chiefs in Sunday's AFC title game (3 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium.
The Bengals' third trip to the conference championship game marks the 71st anniversary of Brown's first visit to an NFL title game. When he was 15 on Christmas Eve, 1950, he shivered in the 29 degrees of Cleveland's Municipal Stadium to watch the Browns, named for and coached by his father Paul Brown, beat the Rams, 30-28.
Brown knows all about teams that surprise. The Browns weren't supposed to win, since it was their first year in the NFL. These Bengals weren't supposed to win, either. Since it was just quarterback Joe Burrow's second season after his rookie year was cut short by the worst of knee injuries, the experts had them for five wins, tops. Las Vegas gave them a near zero percent shot in the odds.
Now on the way here they beat Vegas twice. If the Bengals win the Super Bowl, they would tie the 1999 Rams as the longest preseason long shot to ever win it.
"They've had a weekly opportunity to re-write their script," Brown said. "That pleases me."
So he's been watching these thrilling, improbable finishes for decades.
Late field goals?
In 1950, Lou Groza won it with 28 seconds left.
Accurate, high-wire aerial shows?
It was known as the game where pro football began to shift from the run to the pass and Browns quarterback Otto Graham sifted a 122.2 passer rating on 22 of 32 for four touchdowns.
So watching that at 15, it's easy to see why Mike Brown has always been a big proponent of the forward pass. The 2021 Bengals are his kind of team.
"We make plays," Brown said. "Probably more so now than ever, you win in the NFL by throwing the ball. Our quarterback competes, he's tough, he's accurate, he's smart. There's not much to not like."
Burrow ended the season with two games that made him the first quarterback in history to rack up multiple games of 400-plus passing yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions while hitting 70 percent of his passes. But Brown knows another formidable passer is lurking in the Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes has the most passing yards and most passing touchdowns through a player's first 10 starts in the postseason and has the highest passer rating in NFL playoff history at 107.2 rating.
Burrow knows it, too.
"Nearly perfect," said Burrow, when asked how good the quarterback play has to be to win.
"Every week of the playoffs has proven that. It goes through Kansas City. Patrick Mahomes has been near perfect for four years. That's what it's going to take for me. That's what it's going to take from me. It's not just a quarterback-driven game. It's a team game, but I think wins and losses come down to how each quarterback plays."
Brown knows how tough Mahomes especially is at Arrowhead. But he's also taking time to enjoy the ride. The man who saw Groza hit from 16 yards is the same kid that saw Evan McPherson hit from 52 last week.
According to CBS Sports, if the Bengals make the Super Bowl it would be the first time since at least 1990 a team would get there without playing a single Sunday or Monday primetime game at any point during the season.
But, as always, Brown, who was on the sidelines during Friday's practice that matched the Municipal Stadium temperatures, has watched every snap of practice and games.
"I don't think we've ever had two more exciting playoff games than the two we've had this year," Brown said. "This team has been very exciting to watch. It came together in fits and starts and then took hold. We've reached pretty high territory and I'm very proud of them for what they've done. And I look to the future with pretty good confidence."
Footnote: The Bengals go into this title game with the youngest offense in the Final Four with an average age 25 years old, 352 and days.
Footnote II: Burrow has thrown 1,654 yards to Ja'Marr Chase, including playoffs, the most by a QB-receiver duo, both 25 or younger, entering a conference championship. Mahomes-Tyreek Hill (1,551) are third.
- Does red-zone defense decide this thing? The Bengals have been scalding in the two playoff games with huge picks in there by linebacker Germaine Pratt and cornerback Mike Hilton and have allowed just two touchdowns on eight trips. Meanwhile, the Chiefs have scored TDs on seven (six on passes) of nine trips on their way to scoring 84 points.
And it's great to talk about stopping wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce in there. But of those six TD passes, only Kelce has scored and that was just once. Of course, it won last week's game in OT, but Mahomes throws it around. He divided up the red-zone TD throws to wide receivers, running backs and even an offensive lineman.
- Here's some Next Gen stats focused on one of the key matchups: The Bengals offensive line that gave up nine sacks against the Titans last week against elite interior rusher Chris Jones.
Including, the postseason Burrow has been the NFL's most accurate passer under pressure, as well as producing the most yards per pass. Since the Chiefs acquired edge Melvin Ingram and moved Jones inside in week nine, Jones has the third most pressures in the league among tackles. Outside of Jones in that same stretch, the Chiefs rank 23rd in sack rate and 17th in pressure rate.
- The Bengals had an 85.3 special teams grade from Pro Football Focus during the season, second of the playoff teams. The Chiefs had 62.9, 11th of the postseason teams. With two field goals in KC Sunday, rookie kicker Evan McPherson would become the Bengals all-time postseason leader with ten field goals, moving past the nine Jim Breech had in nine playoff games.