For Dayton-area Bengals fans, years of disappointment overshadowed by big playoff hopes

The Cincinnati Bengals heading back to the postseason for the second consecutive year has Dayton-area fans crowing about the team’s potential and how much the experience means to them.

“We’re just really excited,” said Elizabeth Wourms of Riverside, a self-proclaimed “super fan” since 2002 who roots for the team along with her husband, John, and their children, Ben and Natalie.

“We think that the entire team really just seems to play very well together.”

Bengals fans entered the season confident after the team played in the Super Bowl last year. It was the franchise’s third Super Bowl appearance, which it lost 23-20 to the Los Angeles Rams.

That playoff run was poignant because of the Bengals’ sometimes-painful history. When they beat the Las Vegas Raiders to open the postseason last year, it was their first playoff win in 31 years.

From 1989 through 2004, the team went 88-168 with no playoff appearances. Success followed with postseason appearances in seven of the next 11 seasons, but without any wins in those playoff games.

Now the Bengals are back in the AFC playoffs, which puts them four wins away from a possible Super Bowl title. They open that run by hosting the Baltimore Ravens, whom they beat last week to close the regular season, at 8:15 p.m. Sunday.

With the Bengals’ offseason upgrades after last year’s Super Bowl appearance, a return to the playoffs was expected, Wourms said. Two losses to start the season didn’t dampen any enthusiasm or create any deep concerns.

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The team went on to eventually amass an eight-game winning streak that has them 12-4 by season’s end — better than than the previous season’s 10-7 record.

“We were just on a roll and I feel like that their attitude, they’re just positive,” she said. “I think that when when they had the bad game, they kind of brushed it off and they just focused on the next week. They don’t seem to panic.”

Wourms said she believes the Bengals can string together several more victories and winthe Super Bowl.

“They’ve just made believers of people you know, and I believe people will support them no matter what happens, but I think if anyone can do it, it’s definitely them,” she said.

Kathy Kargl of Miamisburg, a Bengals fan since 1970, said she is “thrilled” that the team is heading back to the playoffs for a second consecutive year with a win streak in tow.

“The excitement and atmosphere for the Monday Night Football Bills game — until about five minutes to go in the first quarter, of course — was electric, even in my house,” Kargl said. “I hope it can get back to that level really soon for all involved.”

With so many stellar moments in the team’s 12-4 season, she said it’s difficult for her to pick just one.

“I got to go to the Falcons game on a beautiful fall afternoon and sit near where my dad had his season tickets when Devin Still and his healthy daughter Leah were Rulers of the Jungle,” Kargl said. “But was it beating the Chiefs three times in a calendar year? Samaje Perine stepping up while Mixon was injured? D.J. Reader’s return? Trey Hendrickson playing with a broken wrist?”

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Kargl said her highlight was the team’s camaraderie and overall culture, led by head coach Zac Taylor and quarterback Joe Burrow.

“I was worried last year when (tight end) CJ Uzomah left us that there wouldn’t be a single player that stepped up to spark the team like he did last season,” she said. “But honestly, they’ve all stepped up in their own way.

“I love to watch the videos of Coach Taylor awarding game balls each week. The leadership and compassion displayed as coach and captains during the emotional, impactful events surrounding Damar Hamilin’s cardiac arrest were what true leadership and team culture is about.”

Kargl said she’s confident of the Bengals’ success in the playoffs because the team is “really good.”

“A smart, agile quarterback; versatile run and pass options — the (offensive line) will figure it out — hopefully Cappa is back on two good ankles soon,” she said. “The defensive side of things is pretty unstoppable. We’re darn healthy right now compared to where we were even three weeks ago. An 8-game win streak can become 12. Who Dey!”

Steven Corbitt, of Dayton, a Bengals fan since their first season in 1968, said the team’s most recent season, much like the previous one, left him “ecstatic.”

“It’s so many people that were calling, giving me grief ... about us losing for so long and (saying), ‘You’ve only been to the Super Bowl twice and you lost both times.’” he said. “I was like, “Well, guess what? We’re here now. We won the AFC North, which we did again. That’s a good thing.”

Corbitt said he’s “100%” confident the team will not only get through the playoffs, but also make it to and win the Big Game.

“We’re gonna win the Super Bowl,” he said. “Doesn’t matter if it’s Kansas City, Buffalo or whoever. It’s gonna be the same situation it was last year with the (Houston) Texans, who were the Number One seed in the AFC and we bumped them off like they didn’t even exist. It’s going to be the same thing this year.”

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He said what inspires such confidence in him and other fans is the confidence the Cincinnati Bengals have in themselves.

“If you look at the Buffalo game, the confidence in going out and winning the coin toss and saying, ‘Give us the ball ... because we’re getting ready to score. Being a fan, you can’t help but have confidence, because they act like there’s nothing they can’t do to get it done.”

John Fleeger, of Moorefield Twp., a fan since 1968, said he’s a 30-year season ticket holder despite all the losing seasons.

“Come rain, sleet, snow or heat, we’re there,” Fleeger said of the dedication he and his wife Susan show by attending every home game.

Watching the Bengals make the playoffs again is “incredible.”

“Obviously, I didn’t see it coming,” he said. “You root and you go through all those seasons like in the ‘90s, and it’s just like, ‘Oh, this is painful,’” he said. “And then all of a sudden this whole thing turns around and Joe Burrow, he’s kind of grabbed that bull by the horns and he’s dragging everybody along with him. It’s crazy.”

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Fleeger said he’s still in shock the team was in the Super Bowl last year. He said was “cautiously optimistic” about their chances of a return trip to the playoffs when the new season started in September.

But he wasn’t worried when the Bengals immediately went 0-2.

“I was more about the fact that the starting offense didn’t play together the whole preseason,” he said. “After those two games, they got their collective stuff together. It’s like, “This is pretty cool. I think we’re gonna be OK.’”

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