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The Cincinnati Bengals are a professional American football franchise based in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Bengals currently compete in the National Football League (NFL) as a member club of the league’s American Football Conference North division. Their home stadium is Paul Brown Stadium in downtown Cincinnati. Their current head coach is Marvin Lewis, who has held the position since 2003 and is currently the second-longest tenured head coach in the NFL, behind the New England Patriots’ Bill Belichick. Their chief rivals are the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns, and Baltimore Ravens.
The Bengals were founded in 1966 as a member of the American Football League by former Cleveland Browns head coach Paul Brown. Brown was the Bengals’ head coach from their inception to 1975. After being dismissed as the Browns’ head coach by Art Modell (who had purchased majority interest in the team in 1961) in January 1963, Brown had shown interest in establishing another NFL franchise in Ohio and looked at both Cincinnati and Columbus. He ultimately chose the former when a deal between the city, Hamilton County, and Major League Baseball’s Cincinnati Reds (who were seeking a replacement for the obsolete Crosley Field) was struck that resulted in an agreement to build a multipurpose stadium which could host both baseball and football games. Due to the impending merger of the AFL and the NFL, which was scheduled to take full effect in the 1970 season, Brown agreed to join the AFL as its tenth and final franchise. The Bengals, like the other former AFL teams, were assigned to the AFC following the merger. Cincinnati was also selected because, like their neighbors the Reds, they could draw from several large neighboring cities (Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky; Columbus, Dayton, and Springfield, Ohio; and Indianapolis, Indiana) that are all no more than 180 km away from downtown Cincinnati.
The Bengals won the AFC championship in 1981 and 1988, but lost Super Bowls XVI and XXIII to the San Francisco 49ers. After Paul Brown’s death in 1991, controlling interest in the team was inherited by his son, Mike Brown. In 2011, Brown purchased shares of the team owned by the estate of co-founder Austin Knowlton and is now the majority owner of the Bengals franchise.
The 1990s and the 2000s were a period of great struggle. Following the 1990 season, the team went fifteen years without posting a winning record nor making the playoffs. The Bengals had several head coaches and several of their top draft picks did not pan out. Mike Brown, the team’s de facto general manager, was rated as among the worst team owners in American professional sports. Compounding matters were off-field problems of several players, notably receiver Chris Henry, who was suspended several times during his short professional career and was briefly released by the Bengals, but was re-signed and remained with the team until his death in 2009.
Since the mid-2000s, the team’s fortunes have improved. Two years after becoming head coach, Lewis guided the Bengals to their first winning season and first division title in over a decade. After the acquisition of Andy Dalton as quarterback in 2011, the Bengals have made the playoffs each season, ranking highly among NFL teams in win totals.The Bengals drafts are also highly touted, leading to a consistency that had long escaped the franchise. However, the team has remained unable to win in the postseason and have not won a playoff game since 1990.