Kansas City – The Cincinnati Bengals are playing in the Super Bowl for the first time in 31 seasons — going against the Los Angeles Rams after upsetting the dynastic Kansas City Chiefs.
This is a marquee battle of two baby-faced quarterbacks who were overall top draft picks – 11 years apart. They are veteran Matthew Stafford in his first year as a Ram, and Bengals’ second-year star Joe Burrow. Both are 6-foot-3. They both won conference crowns with impressive comebacks on Jan. 30.
The only other Super Bowl matching number one draft picks was six seasons ago. Peyton Manning won that SB 50 for Denver, over the Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton.
The Rams opened as a four-point favorite in SB LVI (56). The game is Sunday, Feb. 13 at 6:30 p.m. This matches two snazzy passing offenses and helmets — with wavy Bengals tiger stripes, and yellow Ram horns.
Bengal fans who live here are ecstatic their team might finally win it all. “We are a team of destiny!” Matthew Rogers said right after attending the game. “Never give up. Keep trying. We’re going to the Super Bowl!” He runs Three Chopt Sandwich Shoppe in Hendersonville.
Cincy got to draft Burrow first overall in 2020 after winning merely twice in 2019. Ironically, the other team to make the Super Bowl after five straight losing seasons was the 1999 St. Louis Rams. They are the only Rams team to win a SB, in four tries.
The Bengals lost both of their prior Super Bowls to Joe Montana’s 49ers, in the Eighties.
In this preseason, the Bengals were 125-to-1 long-shots to win the AFC. Their 31-year playoff win drought was the longest in major pro sports. Burrow changed the team motto from underdog “why not us? to “It is us!”
Burrow is already one of the finest overall pro QBs. He is extremely accurate. He even runs well at crucial times — despite a severe knee injury a season earlier. Four times when facing third down versus K.C., he ran for a first down.
Burrow is calm under pressure as if a savvy veteran like Tom Brady. He is used to big stages. He won the Heisman Trophy and a national title for the 2020 season. The only quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl and at least a share of a college national title are two other Joes — Namath (Alabama ‘64, Jets ‘68 season) and “Super Joe” Montana (Notre Dame ‘77; 49ers ‘81, ‘84, ‘88, ‘89).
The newest “Super Joe” is Burrow. He is getting flashy. He wears a diamond pendant marked “JB9” — reminiscent of Tom Brady’s “TB12” commercial slogan. Burrow is hailed as coming closest to Brady in maximizing potential, as a classic pocket QB and confident leader who wills his team to win.
His Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fund reportedly raised $1.3 million for his hometown of Athens, Ohio.
Cincinnati—The Bengals beat the Chiefs 27-24 in overtime, after trailing 21-3. They tied the largest (18-point) comeback in a conference title game.
Cincy trailed by 13 at halftime both on Jan. 30, and before rallying to upset the Chiefs 34-31 at home late in the regular season. Burrow threw for a whopping 446 yards and four TDs then.
Cincy scored a TD on a screen pass a minute before halftime to get to 21-10, had a goal-line stand just before halftime, then kept the Chiefs scoreless in most of the second half.
Burrow somehow escaped from a sack to throw to rookie phenom Ja’Marr Chase for a first down. That set up a field goal. Chase was fourth in the NFL with 1,455 receiving yards. He was also Burrow’s main target at LSU two seasons ago. A pivotal matchup is Chase against Ram shutdown CB Jalen Ramsey.
A pick of star QB Patrick Mahomes set up Burrow’s TD lob to Chase. Burrow’s two-point conversion pass tied the contest at 21, with 13 seconds left in the third quarter. The teams exchanged field goals in the fourth quarter. In OT, Cincy held K.C. scoreless then won it on rookie Evan “Shooter” McPherson’s field goal.
The Rams also rallied Jan. 30 — to win the NFC crown. They trailed 17-7 in the final quarter but edged the San Fran 49ers by 20-17. Georgia alum Stafford threw for 337 yards — 255 total to star targets Cooper Kupp and strong Odell Beckham, Jr. MVP candidate Kupp leads the NFL with nearly 2,000 receiving yards.
Stafford has more urgency to win a title. He turned 34 on Monday. He lost in all three playoff games in 12 Detroit Lion seasons. His Rams ousted defending champ Tampa Bay, then ended a six-game losing streak to the 49ers.
Stafford achieved 40,000 passing yards sooner than any QB. He is five yards from 50,000. The strong-armed Texan improvises with sidearm tosses on the run. He and Burrow beat blitzes with quick passes.
The Bengals’ main Hendersonville connection is Robert Livingston, 36. He is in his sixth season of coaching its safeties. His two safeties shined in OT on Jan. 30, to deny Mahomes his third Super Bowl appearance in a row. Vonn Bell picked off a long pass, on a deflection by Jessie Bates who played deeper in a “single high” formation.
Cincy shifted to eight-pass defenders to shut down the mighty Chief’s explosive offense in the second half. Burrow told CBS’ Jim Nantz “we’ve been a second-half defense the whole year.”
Livingston started with Cincy as a regional scout in 2012. He quarterbacked Hendersonville High Bearcats to a sensational 14-1 mark in 2003 as a senior. He played for William & Mary in 2007-09.
B.J. Laughter, the longtime HHS head football coach, is “super proud of my former quarterback” for reaching the Super Bowl. “Robert was a field general for me,” Laughter recalled. “On defense, he always made sure we lined up properly against any formation. On offense, he made everything work. He made excellent decisions and ‘play-action’ passes.”