CINCINNATI (BVM) – The Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams have each taken unique paths to reach Super Bowl LVI. Sunday, they will do battle with both teams seeking to reach the NFL’s mountain top.
The Rams are one of the NFL’s historic franchises. Despite plenty of success through the 1970s and 1980s, a Super Bowl eluded the Rams until Kurt Warner and the “Greatest Show on Turf” arrived, bringing home a title to St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXIV. Although they returned to the big game two years later, the Rams were upset by the Patriots, starting the fall of what could have potentially been a dynasty.
The team would go 12 consecutive seasons without a playoff berth and move to Los Angeles in 2016. With head coach Sean McVay taking over in 2017, the Rams have become perennial playoff contenders once again, and returned to the Super Bowl in the 2018 season, falling yet again to Tom Brady and the Pats.
However, 2021 brought a new sense of hope after the team traded former quarterback Jared Goff to the Detroit Lions while acquiring Matthew Stafford, and also made additional in-season moves to acquire NFL superstars in Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr.
After a 12-5 regular season, the Rams took care of business in the Wild Card round against the Cardinals, pulled off a dramatic road win in Tampa Bay, and came from behind to beat the 49ers to reach the Super Bowl.
Their opponent, the Bengals, have had a similarly wild run. Twice reaching the Super Bowl and losing to the 49ers in the ‘80s, the Bengals suffered through mediocrity throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. Finally reaching the playoffs again in 2005, Cincinnati had several opportunities to earn a postseason win in the Marvin Lewis era, but failed to do so.
Going 2-14 in 2019 and 4-11-1 last season, no one expected the Bengals to win the AFC North that featured three other contending teams, but they did so thanks to a late–season win against the Kansas City Chiefs. Dramatic victories over the Raiders and Titans led the Bengals to the AFC Championship game which would be a rematch with the Chiefs.
Down 21-3 at one point in the second quarter, things looked bleak, but Joe Burrow rallied his guys and the Bengals’ defense was able to give Patrick Mahomes fits. The comeback was completed in overtime on another Evan McPherson game winner, leading the Bengals to their first Super Bowl since 1988.
CALIFORNIA, HERE WE COME! pic.twitter.com/o91OyO2Y37
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) January 30, 2022
The state of Ohio has been buzzing throughout the Bengals’ playoff run, and Cincinnati has the chance to deliver the state’s first NFL championship since 1964. While the team has shocked most NFL fans, the season has been no surprise inside the Bengals’ locker room.
“We expected to be here,” Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said Monday at Super Bowl Opening Night. “We’ve known what team we have had all along. We have never surprised ourselves, I can tell you that.”
Making things even more exciting for many Cincinnati fans is that the game features plenty of players with Ohio roots.
The Rams’ roster features a couple of Ohio guys, defensive tackle Marquise Copeland – who hails from Cleveland and played collegiately for the Cincinnati Bearcats, and Michael Hoecht – another defensive lineman who was born in Ontario but grew up in Oakwood, Ohio.
However, it is the home-state Bengals that really bring the Ohio ties to this contest. It begins with Jackson Carman, a Fairfield, Ohio native who played college football at Clemson. In the 2021 NFL Draft, Carman returned home after being selected in the second round by the Cincinnati Bengals. Carman has seen off-and-on playing time this season, but hopes to be an integral part of the Bengals’ line in the future.
Meanwhile, linebacker Markus Bailey is a Columbus, Ohio native who played at Hilliard Davidson High School. Going west to play college football at Purdue, Bailey also returned to his home state as a seventh-round draft pick in 2020, and has seen increased playing time throughout the 2021 season.
The special teams unit also features an Ohio native, and it comes in the form of long-time punter Kevin Huber. A native of Cincinnati, a college football player for the Bearcats and a pro punter for the Bengals, Huber’s local ties are perhaps the strongest on this team.
Huber was drafted in the fifth round of the 2009 NFL Draft, joining the Bengals prior to an up-and-coming era under Lewis and quarterback Andy Dalton. Suffering through many tough seasons and playoff losses, Huber has been one of the NFL’s best punters over the last decade, and the hometown kid will finally have his chance at a championship.
Kevin Huber was born and raised in Cincinnati as a Bengals fan, and he’s been waiting for this moment since he was a kid 🧡 (THREAD) pic.twitter.com/SMnSM18bO5
— NFL (@NFL) February 8, 2022
Then, come the stars. That begins with Sam Hubbard, who played high school football at Archbishop Moeller in Cincinnati. Hubbard stayed in-state for college as well, starring at Ohio State and becoming a third-round draft pick of the Bengals in 2018.
The defensive end became a strong contributor and leader right off the bat, earning six sacks as a rookie. He has maintained that average in his four years for the Bengals, racking up 24 career sacks, over 200 combined tackles, and starting 44 games over the last three seasons. Hubbard – who signed a four-year, $40 million extension last offseason – being able to get pressure on Stafford could be a key on Sunday.
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) February 9, 2022
Each of the guys mentioned above could play roles this week, but the man who will have the biggest impact is Joe Burrow. The star quarterback has absolutely burst on the scene the past few years, both in college and the NFL. Now, unsurprisingly to him, he has his team on the cusp of a title.
“It feels great,” Burrow said at Super Bowl LVI Opening Night. “We worked very hard to be in this position. I wouldn’t say it’s surprising. I know the kind of guys we have in the locker room and the coaching staff works really hard to put us in good positions to be successful.”
With his dad being a college football coach, Burrow bounced around the Midwest early on in his life, but ended up in Athens, Ohio for his high school football career. At Athens High School, Burrow led the program to unprecedented success, becoming a Mr. Football and Gatorade Player of the Year award winner.
Like many of the guys mentioned previously, Burrow began his college career by staying in-state, committing to Ohio State. There, he saw sparing playing time behind J.T. Barrett, and was passed up for the Buckeyes’ starting role in favor of Dwayne Haskins.
As a result, Burrow transferred to LSU, and that’s where a legend was born. After showing flashes of his potential as a starter for the Tigers in 2018, Burrow had a legendary 2019 campaign. The man now dubbed as “Joe Cool” passed for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns, leading LSU to an SEC championship win over Georgia and a national championship victory over Clemson in which he threw for five touchdowns and ran for one.
The Heisman Trophy winner became a consensus lock for the No. 1 pick, of course held by Cincinnati. In the ten games he played as a rookie, Burrow was living up to the billing, throwing for over 2,600 yards and 13 touchdowns to just five interceptions.
However, in a November game versus Washington, Burrow took a shot low resulting in a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee.
The rehab process was a grueling one, and Burrow had to regain trust in his knee. Although he started the 2021 season off slow, the Bengals’ quarterback picked it up through the second half of the year, concluding the campaign with over 4,600 yards and 34 passing touchdowns.
Leading the Bengals to an AFC North title, Burrow’s resiliency continued in the postseason, where, despite taking nine sacks against the Titans, he led this team into field-goal range for a victory. Down big against Kansas City, Burrow rallied his troops for another late win.
“I think the key is just maintaining the same mindset that you have through the lows, through the highs,” Burrow said about his mentality on Monday. “You have to stay level-headed.”
Burrow is undoubtedly one of the quarterbacks of the future in the NFL, but in just his second year in the league, he has already made his case as one of the best playing right now. The Ohio kid now has a chance to complete what has been a storybook run and bring his home state something they have not had in a while.
“Being from Ohio and being the quarterback of the Bengals is something that I’m really proud of,” Burrow said Monday. “As a team, we’re excited to put a product on the field that the fans are proud of and that kind of gives them bragging rights. They haven’t had that in a while so I’m excited to give that to them.”
The Rams will certainly be a tough opponent and are favored in the game, but behind their local products, the Bengals may just bring home their first Super Bowl title.