LOS ANGELES - The Bengals landed for Super Bowl LVI Tuesday with two linemen who can't play against the Rams but their teammates wouldn't have been here without their work on each side of the line.
Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, whose seven sacks were exactly what they needed inside, made a huge fumble recovery in the Wild Card before injuring his foot. Crutches and all, he was in Paul Brown Stadium locker room waiting for them the night they brought back the AFC championship.
Nobody had seen right tackle Riley Reiff since he underwent ankle surgery after Joe Burrow's last loss on Dec. 12. As the Bengals were checking into the Luskin Conference Center on the campus of UCLA, the 10-year vet had a wide smile on his face despite the crutches and cast.
Talk about a great teammate.
"What every kid dreams. It's surreal," Reiff said. "To do it with a group of guys like this is even better. Close-knit group. This is going to be a special weekend for us."
Burrow stopped by, fist-bumped, said it was good to see him and laughed when Reiff said, "You look good. You look tall. Must be the shoes."
Reiff has played in six playoff games with the Lions and Vikings, but never got past the divisional round. No bitterness here, though.
"These last four weeks have been one of the funnest of my life," Reiff said. "It's been fun to watch. It's different from a fan's perspective.
He says he's been giving second-year man Isaiah Prince as much help as he can and he's proud of the guy.
"Whatever I can do," Reiff said. "He's playing really well. He's just competing. Playing hard. Playing physical. He's done a good job."
DUFF'S TIME: Other than the Super Bowl handkerchiefs that covered the headrests on the plane out of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport and a sweet hand scrawled school kid sign urging them on, it looked like any Bengals charter to Cleveland, Baltimore or Pittsburgh.
Just before wheels up, Mark Duffner, the Bengls senior defensive assistant who went to a Rose Bowl with Ohio icon Woody Hayes, and running back Joe Mixon, who ran Ohio legend Joe Burrow into this Super Bowl, were talking. Mixon stopped by and sat on the arm rest of the aisle seat across from Duffner. Like the rest of the players and coaches, they wore their white Super Bowl LVI sweat suits.
"My man, Duffy," Mixon said.
"This guy is my man," Duffner said. "We came up here in '18 and he killed us on that darned belly play. We kept getting out of our gaps. My man here is good. We couldn't stop him."
That was when Duffner was the interim defensive coordinator for Tampa Bay, another stop for a distinguished NFL lifer. It's a life that began with the Bengals 25 years ago, when Mixon was yet a year old and Duffner was fresh out of the college ranks after a five-year term as Maryland head coach before becoming head coach Bruce Coslet's linebackers coach.
Now at 68 as the oldest coach in the Super Bowl pitting the two youngest head coaches ever, Duffner is making his first ride to the big game after 25 years, six stints and five teams.
(According to Steely Dan, Duffner really is "My Old School." He played at William and Mary and grew up in Annandale, Va.)
"I'm most happy for Mr. Brown," said Duffner of Bengals president Mike Brown, the man who hired him in 1997. "His whole life has been pro football and I'm so happy he's enjoying this after all he's done for pro football, the city of Cincinnati and certainly this team. He gave me an opportunity to get into pro football. I owe so much to him. He's done so much for so many people. He's humble. He shies away from any recognition. He deserves this and then some."
The feeling is mutual. There's a story that Brown thought so much of Duffner that he made him head coach for an hour during a chaotic day in the 2000 season and he certainly thought well enough of him to bring him in and help a young head coach get situated in 2019.
Now an old geezer at 38 with an AFC championship, Zac Taylor would be one of the first to tell you how much Duffner has meant to this run. When Taylor hired Marion Hobby to coach the defensive line after last season, Duffner moved in to help with the edge players, a delicate spot in defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo's hybrid 3-4.
Their new edge star, Trey Hendrickson, set the franchise record with 14 sacks. Their returning star, Sam Hubbard, had the most sacks since his second season. Rookie Cam Sample, a fourth-round pick, moved up and down the line with a good versatility.
"I've been fortunate enough to have been on some pretty good teams," said Duffner, "but I don't know anyone better than this right now. The character, the makeup, the personality is very, very special. This group cares about one another. That's why this team has proceeded through the regular season and the playoffs to get this opportunity."
The Cincinnati Bengals arrive at LAX airport ahead of Super Bowl LVI versus the Los Angeles Rams. Presented by On Location
ALUM CORNER: As group of Bengals legends camped out in the visitors' locker room waiting to take the field at Paul Brown Stadium for Monday night's Super Bowl rally, it had all the feel of a college reunion.
And that's one of the many nice things about this run. It brings together different generations. Not only in families, but in teams.
Right guard Max Montoya started both Super Bowls as teammates with quarterback Ken Anderson (1981), safety David Fulcher and nose tackle Tim Krumrie (1988). Right tackle Willie Anderson didn't play with them, but played on Bengals teams Ken Anderson and Krumrie served as assistant coaches.
Right there in one room you had the greatest Bengals players at their positions.
"As we got some O-linemen in here," Montoya said of 1981, nodding at Ken Anderson. "I don't know how many times he was sacked in the '70s, but he was walking gingerly sometimes. Kenny is a great quarterback. He just needed a little time to throw the ball."
Ken Anderson: "The pregame show (for Super Bowl XVI) was 30 minutes (on CBS) and they didn't have time to do the (trophy) presentation on the field because they had to get it wrapped up in time for "60 Minutes."
"I went right to the Pro Bowl. Long flight. I'm with (Cris) Collinsworth. We get in about 7 a.m. … I'm going right to the room to sleep and someone told me, 'Coach (Shula) has a meeting in an hour. I told them, 'I ain't going.'"
Willie Anderson told them when he was growing up in Mobile, Ala., the Bengals were one of four teams he saw the most on television, along with the Saints, Bills and Cowboys. So at age 13 he knew all about the '88 Bengals and loved the fast-break offense.
"I knew you and Joe (Walter) and Boomer," Anderson told Montoya.
That's what Ken Anderson had been talking about. "In the 70s and '80s, we had a great winning tradition. That's what makes me feel so good about now. The Bengals have that respect now."
Willie Anderson repeated something Fulcher said because it sounded so right. When someone asked Fulcher recently how it felt to be recognized again because the old Super Bowl Bengals were back in the news again, he said, "I've never stopped being recognized.
"It's not ours. Its theirs. But we're a part of it. We never went anywhere."
The alums are all in this team going all the way. Krumrie wore to the rally the same outfit he's worn for all three wins in the playoffs: AFC championship ring. Ostrich boots. Cowboy hat.
Montoya, who is going to the game, is thinking along similar lines. He's worn his AFC championship ring just twice. Once to the 30-year reunion for the '88 team at PBS and once to show at a school. But that's it because "it means second place."
But he wants these guys to get the big ring.
"I'm wearing it Sunday," Montoya said.