With the Bengals in the playoffs 30 years after their first AFC title run, Bengals.com goes back to this week in 1982 to check out what was in the papers.
Bengaldom braces for a frigid AFC title game on Jan. 10 at ice-draped Riverfront Stadium with the warm and fuzzy thoughts of its first postseason victory the week before.
It comes courtesy of the roaring congregation on the river the week before when the Bengals get a very big assist from the home folks in the 28-21 win over the Bills that sets up the title game against a Chargers team the Bengals crushed, 40-17, in San Diego 56 days before.
Buffalo quarterback Joe Ferguson is driving for the tying touchdown into the din of the north end zone with 2:58 left and faces a fourth-and-three from the Bengals 20. He hits wide receiver Lou Piccone over the middle for a first down at the 9, but the oldest Bengal is about the only guy in the place that hears the whistle. Cornerback Ken Riley keeps playing, but knows the play has been blown dead.
The Bills haven't snapped the ball in time for a delay-of-game penalty, and when safety Bobby Kemp knocks down Ferguson's next pass in the end zone intended for wide receiver Roland Hooks, the Bengals are, well, look what the presidential election headlines say across the paper the next day.
"A game away from the Super Bowl."
The fans don't leave what the papers call "an orange and black sea" saluting a team that will come back to the same building and face the Chargers in seven days for the right to go to the Super Bowl in Detroit. They're still holding the signs, still celebrating the building's first NFL playoff game.
"Buffalo meat is great."
"The Year of the Cat."
"Bengals: Crank it up."
"We back the orange and black attack."
"When you get down in that end zone, it does get loud, it does have an effect," Ferguson says after the game. "No doubt about it. You have to slow your count down. You have to make sure everybody hears because there are two things the line has to know. The line has to know you changed the play and they have to hear the count. It slows down the shotgun. The crowd knows that."
Riley thinks the Bills were trying to confuse the Bengals when Piccone and wide receiver Ron Jessie checked into the huddle with about 15 seconds left on the play clock.
But Ferguson says, "We could have got the play off with the people we had in the game. We were trying to improve the play."
With the Bills forcing quarterback Ken Anderson to throw a season-low 21 passes and not allowing much running room for leading rusher Pete Johnson, the Bengals turn to their blocking back and Charles Alexander responds with the biggest game of his career.
Alexander scores two touchdowns and on just 13 carries he racks up 79 yards for the second most of his career. The first three times he touches the ball he gets two first downs and a touchdown that gives the Bengals a 7-0 lead and sets up the TD that gives them a 14-0 lead.
And with the game tied at 14 early in the third quarter, the Bengals are at the Buffalo 20 when they run a fake draw play to Alexander that is designed to go behind Pro Bowl left tackle Anthony Muñoz. But Alexander sees a gaping hole opened by right tackle Mike Wilson and he goes all the way.
"Charlie was like a caged lion today," says left guard Dave Lapham, and Alexander admits to the media that he stirred 75 minutes before his wakeup call and lay in bed thinking about the game.
"We're taught to run to daylight," Alexander says of his TD run, but the Bengals don't carry the day until the fourth quarter and Anderson's 16-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Cris Collinsworth that breaks up a 21-21 game.
It comes right after Anderson hooks up with crafty receiver Steve Kreider on third-and-one for a 42-yard play that puts the ball on the 16. Kreider reveals after the game that while standing in the huddle before the play came in he told Collinsworth which one it was going to be.
"It was a turnout route," Kreider says. "We had just put it in this week for situations like that. Third-and-short."
He beats Bills cornerback Charles Romes to the spot and then makes a move on him at the sideline. That sets up Anderson's scoring pass to Collinsworth against the blitz.
"There was no one in the middle," Collinsworth says in a jubilant locker room where he also proclaims, "I just picked up $9,000 today. I'm ready to move on."
The Bengals are truly in the money. The 34-year-old Riley, in the 13th year of a great career, has just finished D'ing up with a Pro Bowler and Pro Bowler-elect in Jerry Butler and Frank Lewis and is talking about how the sore muscles of training camp are now worth it.
Yes, if the Bengals win it all, he says he'd have to think about calling it a day.
A few days later Anderson will be named NFL MVP and they are becoming nonchalant about the national attention. NBC brings its pregame set to Riverfront for the Bills game and it turns out this is going to be anchor Bryant Gumbel's last sports stint before he makes his debut on the Today Show.
The Cincinnati Enquirer dispatches its young sports TV and radio reporter Peter King to document NBC's every move and King, long before becoming one of the NFL's leading reporters for Sports Illustrated, obliges with typical detail. He notes the Riverfront scoreboard greets Gumbel as "Gumble," and analyst Merlin Olsen as "Merlin Olson."
King says NBC has "caught the mood of Cincinnati well," and that "Gumbel's impromptu monologues were the highlights and unsurpassed in the industry. They will be missed." He also praised Mike Adamle's postgame interview of Alexander talking about the disappointments of his early Bengals career.
In the visitors locker room, Ferguson is saying the Bengals are going to beat the Chargers and go to the Super Bowl. Everyone has been mesmerized by San Diego's 41-38 overtime win in Miami in 76-degree heat the day before that is being hailed as maybe the greatest game ever. The iconic shot of the exhausted Kellen Winslow coming off the field has just emerged, but Ferguson is more aware of the short-term implications.
"I told Bo Harris before the game that the winner of this game would go to the Super Bowl," Ferguson says of the Bengals linebacker. "Miami and San Diego fought their hearts out in that ballgame … (it) was a very exhausting ball game. It's a tough thing for a ball club to come back and win the next week. Cincinnati has the people, they're here at home, they've got the ingredients to come out and play."
The crowd of 55,420 now singing through the streets can only hope.