Not even Paul Brown thought this day would be here so quickly.
Not just two years after that awful first preseason game at Nippert Stadium, when the Bengals never even ran a play in the first quarter against the Chiefs.
But here it is, Dec. 20, 1970, and his players are carrying Brown off the field with the brand new Riverfront Stadium scoreboard flashing, "Baltimore Here We Come," as some of the 60,157 spill on to the turf around them.
Long before blank checks and endless salaries for expansion teams, the men they call "The Miracle Bengals" have become the youngest expansion team to ever win a pro sports title. At the tender age of 3, the Bengals make the playoffs in a first-round game against the Colts the next week after a 45-7 trouncing of the pathetic Patriots for their seventh straight victory.
"A dream come true," says Brown, the man they call "The Miracle Worker," savoring his team's 8-6 finish as much as edging his old Cleveland team by a game for the division crown in the new AFC Central of the merged NFL.
Telling his team how brutal it would be "to let Cleveland back in by us losing," Brown says, "We wanted to get as many points on the board as we could early so Cleveland could see it when they started playing at Denver. I think the first time they saw it, it was 45-0. That had to hurt."
Second-year cornerback Ken Riley obliges. He intercepts Patriots quarterback Joe Kapp on the game's third play and running back Paul Robinson cashes it for a one-yard touchdown.
In a few days the 62-year-old Brown will be named the first NFL Coach of the Year by nearly a 2-to-1 margin over first-year Miami coach Don Shula. This day shows why because it reflects how he has finessed a team that never had the services of the previous year's AFL Rookie of the Year Greg Cook, the sweet passing quarterback sidelined by shoulder surgery.
By the time starter Virgil Carter leaves with a rib injury late in the first quarter, he gives the Bengals a 14-0 lead on a 56-yard bomb to wide receiver Chip Myers.
Backup quarterback Sam Wyche checks into the game and promptly hits Robinson for one of his three touchdowns, this one on a screen pass for 23 yards that makes it 21-0 with a mere 1:03 gone in the second quarter.
Wyche, who rushes for 63 yards on six carries, outplays Kapp. The same Joe Kapp that led the Vikings to the Super Bowl the year before.
Wyche runs in an eight-yarder to jack the celebration to 28-0, and the Pats make a note to draft Stanford quarterback Jim Plunkett next month with the NFL draft's first pick.
This is how the Bengals did it all year. A balanced rushing attack (Jess Phillips and Robinson each rush for more than 600 yards) and an exhaustive defense (the Bengals give up 20 points just once in the last seven games) offset a pedestrian 68.4 passer rating.
Yet after the game the Bengals vote to give Wyche the game ball for his cool play off the bench and Brown praises him "for hanging in there," despite playing little after Opening Day.
But the day belongs to Brown, one week shy of the eight-year anniversary Art Modell fired him in Cleveland. Now he is back on top of the world and running back Essex Johnson recalls how the coach once told the team he didn't think it would be a winning one for five years.
"He is like a doctor," says Johnson, the third back who ends up leading the charge against the Pats with 71 yards. "He says the worst and then anything is just great."
On one of his greatest days, Dr. PB admits it happened sooner than he thought.
"I'm a very happy man right now," he says.