Sam Hubbard's 98-yard Rumble In The Jungle has put him in The Cincinnati Kid mythology with fellow Man of Moeller Barry Larkin. But as he heads into his sixth season feeling like he's never felt it, there's still one more door he wants to open that would put him in the same zip code as the Reds Hall of Fame shortstop.
"My main goal and only goal is to win the Super Bowl," Hubbard said last week in between the Bengals' voluntary practices. "This is the best I've felt in my whole career by a landslide physically."
That's not the only thing on a list of goals that sounds as carefully crafted as his relentless regimen which includes starting each day with a cold shower to stay on top of his cold submersion plan. Nose tackle DJ Reader, glancing at the cup of protein waiting on Hubbard's chair at the adjoining locker, has a dugout seat to watch it all.
"As a man on and off the field, he's been fun to watch," Reader says. "He's always been very organized in that. But just seeing the confidence as a player grow … He's one of the best play recognizers I've been around and as far as his work ethic, how he recognizes plays, how he processes them."
One of those goals is sacks. "I got double-digits in '21 including playoffs, but I want regular-season double-digits," Hubbard says. "I've been close. Last year I was on pace before I tore my calf … with (four) games to go and slowed me up."
Hubbard was coming off three straight games with a sack to give him 6.5 heading into Tampa Bay, where he injured his leg in the first half and didn't get back on the field until he sat out the New England game. He didn't get another sack until he got Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes because that's what Hubbard does in AFC title games.
That's how he first entered Queen City lore. The year before, Hubbard's back-to-back sacks of Mahomes on the last two scrimmage snaps of regulation forced overtime in the AFC Championship and helped lift the Bengals into the Super Bowl. He came out of that punishing charge into mid-February wordlessly dealing with a torn labrum and torn meniscus.
"Not much to say," Hubbard says. "It took about a year of physical therapy to get back to normal."
So this offseason he has stepped up maintenance of a body that has given him the most tackles by an NFL edge player since he came into the league five years ago, per Pro Football Reference. He is working on pass rush moves and pass rush plans in consultation with Bengals defensive line coach Marion Hobby while also occasionally calling on his college defensive line coach as a resource, Ohio State's Larry Johnson.
And he continues to pride himself "on being the best run edge defender in the league," while seeking more forced fumbles and plays around the ball.
But as the Cincy Kid turns 28 at the end of next month, there is more and more focus on the body.
"My core discipline, my routine during the week, cold exposure, sauna, nutrition. It's a little bit better in all areas," Hubbard says. "I'm ready to put it all together."
What his house in Cincinnati doesn't supply, he can get close by in the gym at Black Sheep Performance. The Cincinnati Kid also has a home in Arizona that is stocked like a team space.
"Weather, temperature, really good food. I have family out there," says Hubbard of the draw to the desert. "Escape the cold. Just kind of lock in on mental and physical health."
But while some melt in the heat of playing in their hometowns, Hubbard has submerged himself in legend with icy blasts of clutch plays.
"It's not (a distraction) for me. I've got a lot of people in my corner," Hubbard says. "They help me out more than they distract me. That's how I look at it."
The way Doug Rosfeld looks at it, this is the same guy he taught Economics when Hubbard was in his front row as a Moeller sophomore. "You couldn't get anything past him," he recalls and by the time Rosfeld arrived as head coach Zac Taylor's chief of staff in 2019, Hubbard, in his second pro season, was doing a lot more than that.
"Sam stands out with his approach. So thorough and he doesn't have an off switch," Rosfeld says. "He's one of those guys you can build a culture around … When we got here, he was just beginning to change the locker room. He was an outlier. Today, it's a testament to him. People see how Sam works. It's being replicated more and more. There's more of a Sam Hubbard feel."
Rosfeld is a key guy in Mike Tirico's call on NBC that has become just as iconic as Hubbard's play-off record 98-yarder in the Wild Card Game against the Ravens, a monstrous 14-point swing in a seven-point game. While Hubbard instantly reversed the game, Tirico seamlessly flipped scripts and wedged in a "The Cincinnati Kid," as Hubbard reached midfield. Then Tirico reminded viewers during the replay that Hubbard had won state championships at Moeller, as well as a national title at Ohio State.
"I've heard it 100 times. I love it," says Hubbard, who appreciates good preparation when he sees it. "Fantastic. Great job by him being aware and ready for the moment by his research. (The production crew) talked to Doug about my Moeller history and I guess that's where 'The Cincinnati Kid,' came from."
The Kid continues to prepare for an even bigger moment.
"I never thought I'd top the Mahomes play. Then something like that happens," Hubbard says. "Let's see what's next."