The Bengals' first victory ever at the stadium named after one of the league's iconic names and the first win anywhere for the NFL's oldest rookie head coach comes straight out of the old school in this first season of the 21st century.
This is why they play the games.
The Broncos show up on Oct. 22, 2000 at Paul Brown Stadium with a 4-3 record and the NFL's second-best run defense ready to feast on a winless Bengals team still coping with the resignation of head coach Bruce Coslet 28 days before and the elevation of 63-year-old defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
But Bengals running back Corey Dillon pulls out a game for the ages, breaking one of pro sports' hallowed records when he tumbles into the end zone with 1:49 left in the game at the end of a 41-yard run and stiffarm of a poor soul named Terrell Buckley that gives Dillon the single-game NFL rushing record with 278 yards and the Bengals a 31-21 victory.
Who can blame the crowd of 61,603 for blinking in disbelief at the scoreboard telling them Dillon has just broken Walter Payton's 23-year-old record of 275 yards set against the Vikings?
On top of his rookie rushing record of 246 yards against the Oilers three years before, Dillon now has two of the top seven rushing games of all time two days before he turns 26.
"I looked up once and saw I had something like 170," Dillon says after quarterback Scott Mitchell gives him a Gatorade shower. "But when I was out there, it didn't seem like I was getting that many."
The record will be broken again and again, and this one will last until early 2003, when Ravens running back Jamal Lewis runs for 295 against Cleveland. But no one will ever do it like Dillon did:
- On 22 carries against a defense that has been giving up 65 yards rushing per game. With 4:58 left in the game, Dillon gets that on one carry, following pulling right guard Mike Goff and blowing past Denver's eight man front to give the Bengals a 24-14 lead. Payton set the record with 41 carries and Lewis will break Dillon's record with 30 carries.
- With a passing game that completes just two passes for 14 yards, and none in the last three quarters. It's one of only three wins Akili Smith gets as an NFL starter, and he had to leave with a neck problem. Mitchell, his backup, hasn't participated in a win since 1997 and didn't complete any of his five passes on this day.
- For an offense that scores 31 points after scoring 37 all season. With 407 rushing yards, the Bengals have the best running day in the league since the New York Giants roll over the Detroit Lions in 1950.
"I don't think I've ever seen anyone run away from people like that in one game so many times," says Bengals president Mike Brown, who worked for the Cleveland teams of Jim Brown. "I've been watching this stuff for 50 years and I never saw a back be so productive. Corey was super."
As usual, Willie Anderson, the right tackle and team spokesman says it best, giving a glimpse of how it happens in a locker room relieved by winning and awed by history. Coming into the game, defenses had stacked the line in holding Dillon to 3.5 yards per carry.
"We figured out what (teams) were doing as an offense," Anderson says. "The game plan was to block the back-side safety. The back-side runs turned to front side. So when Corey started left, he may end up on the right because the (back-side blocker) just kept pushing and pushing him and he cuts it back.
"The biggest thing people will overlook is who actually has this record. Walter Payton, someone as immortal as that falls ... what Corey did was un-human. He's a freak that runs with the pigskin. I don't know who in this league would have caught him today. Today was his day no matter what else goes around the NFL this week, today, or wherever."
On the morning of Oct. 22, 2000, who would have called all this?
"I mean, I still don't believe I broke the rookie record," Dillon says. "Now this? It's crazy, isn't it?"
This day is why they play the games.