Bengals to induct Boomer Esiason, Chad Johnson into ring of honor

CINCINNATI -- Two of the Cincinnati Bengals' most popular players are the latest entrants into the franchise's ring of honor.

Former quarterback Boomer Esiason and wide receiver Chad Johnson were selected as this year's class, the team announced Thursday. The pair will be inducted during a ceremony at halftime of the Sept. 25 game against the Los Angeles Rams that will be aired on "Monday Night Football."

With the team's ring of honor still in its early stages, Esiason and Johnson represent just the third class to be recognized. Esiason, who finished his career in 1997, said he was unsure the induction would ever arrive because of the franchise's hesitancy to establish the ring of honor.

"They never really ever did anything in regards to recognizing and remembering the great history of players that they have," Esiason said in a virtual news conference Thursday. "And I do believe that the team has turned the corner over the last three, four years."

Esiason played with the Bengals for 10 seasons. He helped the Bengals win the AFC championship in the 1988 season, was named the league's MVP and is third in franchise history in passing yards (27,149) and passing touchdowns (187). Johnson, also known by his iconic "Ochocinco" nickname, is Cincinnati's all-time leading receiver and made his mark with his touchdown celebrations over his 10 years with the Bengals that ended in 2011.

Team president Mike Brown delivered the news to Esiason regarding his induction. Esiason said Brown's congratulatory message was issued in a "laid-back fashion" that also made him feel great about the honor.

Johnson said his induction was the highest honor of his career and thanked the organization and the fan base for embracing Johnson for who he is.

"They didn't want me to change," Johnson said. "They didn't try to conform me to be someone that I wasn't. They allowed me to be myself. And for that to me is what means the most."

Bengals season-ticket holders and suite holders vote on a list of team-issued candidates for each year's ring of honor class. The process drew criticism from former Bengals running back Corey Dillon, who told The Athletic earlier this month the selection process should be limited to the front office or a special committee.

On Thursday, Esiason referenced Dillon's comments and said Cincinnati's ring of honor is a sign that the Bengals are continuing to evolve like the other franchises in the NFL.

"Corey should have been in 20 years ago," Esiason said. "We're playing catch-up. Everybody's playing catch-up."

Esiason added that the timing for his and Johnson's induction is great because of the team's recent success. The Bengals have played in the AFC championship game the past two years, including a victory in 2022 that yielded the team's first Super Bowl berth since Esiason's group played in the game in 1989.

Johnson echoed the excitement of watching the franchise's growth and is bullish on Cincinnati's chances of winning its first Super Bowl during quarterback Joe Burrow's tenure.

"Every single year, come hell or high water, regardless of what pieces might change offensively or whatever changes defensively, as long as we have Joe at the helm, we'll be in contention and have a chance at that Lombardi Trophy."