When they said that “on any given Sunday (or Saturday) any team can beat any other team,” I’m guessing they weren’t talking about football teams from Cincinnati winning games that would put them on the sport’s biggest stages.
In less than two months, Cincinnati has become the center of football, after the Bearcats made it to the College Football Playoff by defeating No. 21 Houston 35-20 to win the AAC championship, becoming the first non-Power 5 team to make it to the CFP. And on Sunday, Joe Burrow and the Bengals shocked the world by knocking off the Chiefs 27-24 in overtime at Arrowhead Stadium to advance to their first Super Bowl in 33 years.
How did we get here? Let’s take a look.
When the Bearcats burst onto the scene last season as a legit threat to crash the CFP, people wondered if it would happen, given the powerhouse programs that were in front of them and the ones behind them in the rankings that could potentially jump in the Final Four. However, Luke Fickell’s program withstood the challenge. Ever since the former Ohio State assistant showed up in Cincy, the Bearcats have been on another level. After going 4-8 in Fickell’s first year, they finished 11-2 (2018), 11-3 (2019), 9-1 (2020), and 13-1 (2021). Their lone loss in 2020 was to Georgia (24-21) by three points in the 2021 Peach Bowl. Between that game and falling to Alabama 27-6 in the CFP semifinal, the only two games the Bearcats have lost in the past two seasons have come against the best two teams in college football.
And for Bengals fans, this ride has been a dream come true, given their past postseason failures. During the Marvin Lewis era, Cincinnati made the playoffs 7 times during his 16 seasons on the sidelines. And despite having talents like Corey Dillon, Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson, Chris Henry, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh along the way, they were never able to win one playoff game, let alone the three they’ve won this postseason by a total of 13 points — including beating the top two seeds in the AFC.
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In just one season, Cincinnati’s college football team had a chance to play for a national title for the first time in school history, while the city’s pro squad made it back to the playoffs after a five-year absence. Ohio has always been a place where football is beloved. The NFL Hall of Fame is in Canton, Cleveland has the Browns, and Columbus has Ohio State. But since September, Cincinnati has become the epicenter as the other cities are — for once — trying to catch up to the Bearcats and the Bengals.