As the last two minutes count down at Ford Field on Dec. 18, 2005, an orange-clad crowd behind the Bengals bench chants alternately, "Who Dey," and "Marvin, Marvin, Marvin" in honor of head coach Marvin Lewis as Bengaldom savors the 41-17 victory over the Lions for their first AFC North division title and their first play-off appearance in 15 years. "It's a great day to be a Bengal," says quarterback Carson Palmer, whose blazing assault on the team record book leads this 11-3 run. "Our fans are awesome. They always are. Bengals fans are great." The game at Ford Field at times looks and sounds like an indoor Paul Brown Stadium. With chants of "Rudi, Rudi" as running back Rudi Johnson rolls to his fourth 100-yard day of the season, the Bengals jump to a 17-0 lead in the first dozen minutes to the delight of a huge contingent of Bengals fans that makes the four-hour drive up Interstate 75 North to hail the end of the drought. In what suddenly becomes a frat party-like atmosphere in the first half, the Bengals usher in their new era by saluting the fall of two prized records. Palmer's three first-half touchdown passes make him the first Bengal to pass for 30 touchdowns in a season, breaking Ken Anderson's record of 29. Moments later, cornerback Deltha O'Neal comes up with his league-leading 10th interception of the year when he catches a deflection off the hands of Lions receiver Roy Williams, breaking cornerback Ken Riley's 1976 record. The Bengals use the playbook they use all season. In the first half, they force four turnovers (one is defensive tackle John Thornton's first career interception) to jack their NFL-leading total to 42 and translate them to score 10 points in padding their league-leading total to 146 points off turnovers.
Because he views it as a sanctuary for players and coaches, Bengals president Mike Brown never likes to linger in the locker room. Even when his team wins its sixth division title in history. But his Pro Bowl right tackle, Willie Anderson, sees him long enough after Sunday's game to congratulate him and tell him that he needs to change hats. So Brown replaces his signature porkpie with a 2005 AFC North Champions ball cap. "He must have because I saw him wearing it a little bit later," Anderson says. Today belongs to the long-timers like Brown and Anderson. It takes Anderson 10 seasons and 156 games to reach the playoffs. As he is about to disappear into the runway, he waves to a group of Bengals fans chanting his name and one says, "This one's for you Willie." "I'd like to thank God," Anderson says. "I'm not getting that excited because the good teams win the division every year. If we win the Super Bowl, you might see me do a backflip." And there is defensive leader Brian Simmons. His wife gives birth to a boy this morning, a day before she is supposed to be induced. But after 108 games, the linebacker now has a son and a division title. "By the time I would have gotten back (home), I would have missed (the birth)," Simmons says. "It certainly is a big day."
But Lewis is the man that makes the day possible. Brown asks him to turn around his 2-14 team in 2003 and Lewis responds with a winning brew of charisma, energy, and sheer force of personality as he joins Paul Brown, Forrest Gregg and Sam Wyche as Bengals coaches with 11-win seasons. "Marvin brought this team credibility and respect," Thornton says. "No one in this league laughs at Marvin and no one is laughing at us anymore." After helping Palmer give Lewis a Gatorade shower, backup quarterback Jon Kitna observes, "He had a plan from the first day he came in here. And he stuck with it. He didn't let anyone deter him from it. Especially you guys (in the media)." Anderson says Lewis "was a guy from outside with outside ideas. You have to give the Browns credit. They gave up some control and gave a guy like Marvin a chance." Lewis's staff chomps on cigars handed out by assistant head coach Paul Alexander. After eschewing a touchdown celebration ("The game was too important,"), wide receiver Chad Johnson sprays Mountain Dew on Anderson. But Lewis keeps the hard "Do Your Job" edge. "I think it's for everyone who worked for the Cincinnati Bengals who had to endure a lot," Lewis says. "To me it's great no matter what. It's been a part of my life for three years. Everybody had to work their tails off from the time I got the job. A lot of people go work hard every day. They have to go sell tickets, sell seats and they don't get a chance to shape or form the outcome like we do. I'm proud of our guys for how hard they worked and giving everybody something to have satisfaction about and smile about. We're ready to keep going."