The Best Teams Never to Win the Super Bowl, Part 5: The 1988 Cincinnati Bengals

This is the one in a series of posts about the best teams that never won a championship in the NFL.

The 1988 Bengals are a team that’s unanimously thought of as a team that really should have won the Super Bowl that year, facing a team that was not that good, and especially should have won considering all the weapons they had.

Boomer Esiason 2

Boomer Esiason had his best season in Cincinnati in 1988.

“The Blond Bombshell” really was that good in 1988, being as emblematic of top-tier quarterback play as he was of the 1980s itself, with his flowing locks, huge mouth, and flashy wardrobe. But he backed it up, throwing for 3,572 yards, 28 touchdowns to only 14 interceptions, while completing 57.5% of his passes for a rating of 97.4. He was also named the NFL’s MVP.

Ickey Woods

Oh, boy, here we go. Ickey Woods had his only good career year in 1988, and it was something to remember.

Ickey Woods. Not exactly a household name nowadays, but it sure was in the late 1980s. Woods was largely a one-hit-wonder, having his only great year in 1988 before his career was derailed by injuries. Woods rushed for 1,066 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also had 21 receptions for 199 yards.

James Brooks

James Brooks was a dual thread type of back, who was a workhorse for the Bengals.

James Brooks was a great back who often gets forgotten in history, but he deserves the credit. In 1988, Brooks proved to be a very valuable weapon, gaining over 1,200 yards from scrimmage, 931 rushing and 287 receiving for a total of 14 touchdowns.

Eddie Brown

Eddie Brown, whom the Bengals took in the 1985 draft ahead of Jerry Rice, finished the year as the Bengals leading receiver. He recorded 53 receptions for 1,273 yards and 9 touchdowns. His 24.0 yards per reception also led the team.

Tim McGee

Rodney Holman

Tim McGee and TE Rodney Holman also were potent targets, with McGee finishing the year with 36 receptions for 686 yards and 6 touchdowns, while Holman clocked 39 receptions for 527 yards and 3 touchdowns.

In all, the offense was great, finishing as the league’s best and recording the highest point total (448). Anthony Munoz was also at the front at the offensive line.

The defense was not spectacular, the most notable member being Tim Krumrie, but they were tough and held opponents when they needed to, a great example being the playoffs.

In the two playoff games against AFC West champion Seattle and AFC East champion Buffalo, Cincinnati held the two to 23 points, while scoring 42 themselves and shutting down both teams almost completely.

In the Super Bowl, the Bengals faced a vastly inferior 10-6 49ers team, but trouble loomed before the game began. Fullback Stanley Wilson was announced to not participate in the Super Bowl the night before, after experiencing a recurrence of personal demons involving drugs. As a result, the Bengals were forced to enter the game without him.

The close Super Bowl was a blessing for NFL fans, as they were forced to suffer through blowout after blowout on a string of NFC dominance in the mid-1980s.

After a 3-3 score at halftime, the Bengals came out firing, taking a 13-6 lead and then going ahead 16-13 in the game’s final 3 minutes. But Joe Montana led the 49ers back, and with less than 30 seconds remaining, he fired a touchdown pass to John Taylor.

John Taylor


The game jump-started the 49ers while simultaneously deflating the Bengals. San Francisco went on to have a 14-2 season in 1989 where many believe they were the greatest team ever, while the Bengals sunk to a mediocre 8-8.

In 1990, the 49ers again finished 14-2, advancing to the NFC Championship game, where they promptly lost. The Bengals, on the other hand, finished 9-7 due to one of the league’s easiest schedules. The next year, they would fall to 3-13, beginning almost a decade and a half long spell of terrible football.

Ickey Woods never again reached the level that he reached in 1988, fading into obscurity as time went on.

Boomer Esiason went on to play in the NFL until 1997, playing with four different teams.

The Bengals in 1988 are regarded as one of the best teams never to win a Super Bowl, ever.


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