Top 9 epic events in Bengals history: Super Bowl XXIII

Top 9 epic events in Bengals history: Super Bowl XXIII
Posted at 9:00 AM, Sep 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-09 09:00:09-04

To commemorate the 50th year of the Bengals, we’re looking back at nine Epic Events that shaped the history of the franchise. Not Epic Moments -- although there are some of them on the list -- but events that had long-lasting effect.

One story will publish each day from now until the Bengals' season opener on Sept. 10.

No. 2: Super Bowl XXIII

Thirty-four seconds. That’s all that separated the Bengals from victory over the San Francisco 49ers. Then Joe Montana hit John Talyor for 10 yards and a touchdown. A 16-13 Super Bowl win became a 20-16 defeat. 

The game was considered by many the most exciting Super Bowl in the first 23 years of the game. 

Plenty happened before the Jan. 22, 1989 game. There were riots in the Liberty City section of Miami. You could see smoke from the Bengals' team hotel. Then the night before the game, Stanley Wilson, the troubled running back, had a drug relapse and was suspended from the game.

The 49ers were a big favorite. They had won two Surer Bowls, including Super Bowl XVI against the Bengals. The NFC team had won the previous four Super Bowls by an average of 27 points. 

The game did not start well for the Bengals. All-Pro defensive tackle Tim Krumrie suffered a gruesome leg fracture in the first quarter. 

It was a 3-3 game at half. The Bengals took a 6-3 lead midway through the third quarter. The 49ers answered with a field goal on their next drive. 

Then Stanford Jennings returned the ensuing kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown. It looked like the Bengals might pull off the upset. 

Montana needed only four plays to tie it. He hit Jerry Rice for 14 yards and the score just as the fourth quarter started. The teams exchanged punts on the next two drives.

The Bengals' offense struggled for much of the day. Boomer Esiason was 11-for-25 for 144 yards in the game with an interception.

But the Bengals finally got something going offensively in the fourth quarter. When Jim Breech hit a 40-yard field goal, the Bengals had a 16-13 lead with 3:20 left. That turned out to be way too much time to give Montana. 

The 49ers went 92 yards in 11 plays. It was classic Montana. The dagger came on the 10-yard pass for Taylor.

The killer for Bengal fans came a couple of plays before. Montana tried to hit Taylor in the end zone. The ball went right through the hands of cornerback Lewis Billups.

"There was a sense of dread when you watched Lewis Billups drop that interception," Solomon Wilcots, who was a cornerback for Bengals that season, told "That was the one because you knew (Joe Montana) wasn't going to give you another shot. ... It just takes your momentum, robs you of your energy, and you've got to regain your focus to overcome it. All of those things take place. There was a sense of dread, like, 'Oh, we're going to live to regret this.' "

The rest of the countdown so far:

John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at