Morning Stripes: Bengals' Super Bowl woes

Super Bowl Week has finally arrived, and for some former Cincinnati Bengals that means reliving the haunting memories of that fateful Sunday 25 years ago when a final-minute touchdown killed their championship dreams.

They're very similar dreams to the ones that fizzled 22 days ago for the latest group of Bengals who fell short of their Super Bowl quest with a relatively surprising loss to San Diego in the wild-card round. The pained existence of this franchise is that never in its 45-year history has it ended a year feeling like a winner, optimistic about being a repeat champion the next season.

Twice the Bengals have been to the Super Bowl (at the end of the 1981 and 1988 seasons) and twice they have lost. The most recent being the 20-16 finish that was marked by Joe Montana's 10-yard touchdown pass to his San Francisco teammate, John Taylor, with 34 seconds remaining in the game. The title helped cement Montana's legacy as a Super Bowl winner and confirmed that the 49ers of the 1980s were indeed a dynasty.

While current Bengals juggle between deciding to either disappear into a football-less hole or going to New York and New Jersey for this week's festivities that will feature the Seahawks and Broncos, many of their elders will continue thinking about what could have been.

What might have happened to the Bengals, for example, had Taylor not caught that touchdown pass? What might have happened if Cincinnati held on to win? Where would the franchise have gone? Would it have been to more than just one postseason in the following 16 seasons? Would it have made another trip Super Bowl trip, instead of having the string of first-round exits that have defined its postseason existence since?

No one will ever know.

What we do know is that in this year of their silver anniversary, many of the 1988 Bengals have mostly disappointing memories they can recall. We start this edition of the Morning Stripes with those bitter recollections:

  • Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty caught up with several 1988 Bengals and coach Sam Wyche for this retrospective of the 25-year anniversary of Cincinnati's last Super Bowl appearance. The final words of the feature perhaps best define not only the memory of that season, but they also seem to encapsulate all of the Bengals' postseason experiences. Some dreams have come partially true, but disappointment is all that is remembered.

  • One of the players on that team, quarterback Boomer Esiason, currently works in New York where he co-hosts a weekday morning radio show and serves as an analyst for CBS Sports' weekly in-season pregame show. With the Super Bowl being played in his current backyard, Esiason provided his perspective on the upcoming game, and various NFL issues in this Q&A with the New York Times' Joe Brescia. Esiason also will be emceeing one event in New York this week and getting roasted at another.

  • Finally, in case you decided to watch the Grammys or do something other than take in the "unconferenced" Pro Bowl on Sunday night, take a look at this video of Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict from NFL.com. In the first quarter of the game, his team, Team [Jerry] Rice, won 22-21, Burfict dived several yards to intercept an Andrew Luck pass that was deflected by St. Louis' Robert Quinn. Burfict finished with four tackles. A.J. Green caught just one pass for 7 yards.