Top 9 epic events in Bengals history: The 'what-ifs?'

Posted at 9:00 AM, Sep 05, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-05 09:00:32-04

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. 6: What if?

In the star-crossed history of the Bengals franchise, there have been so many “what-ifs?” that we couldn’t narrow it down to one or two. So we’ll combine a few here and save one for later in the countdown.

For the first, we’ll go back to the early days of the franchise. Paul Brown, the founder, decided to step down after eight years as coach. He picked offensive line coach Bill “Tiger” Johnson as his successor.

What if Brown had chosen Bill Walsh, another assistant at the time?

Walsh left the Bengals after the snub to be offensive coordinator for San Diego Chargers. He spent two years as the head coach at Stanford before taking over the San Francisco 49ers.

Walsh, of course, won three Super Bowls, including two over the Bengals (XVI and XXIII)

Johnson lasted three seasons. He went 10-4 in 1976, 8-6 in ’77 and was fired after an 0-5 start in ’78.

The second “what-if?” happened even earlier. The team took quarterback Greg Cook out of the University of Cincinnati with the fifth pick in the 1969 draft. Cook was extraordinarily talented.

“If he stays with it, I’ve got myself another Otto Graham,” Paul Brown said.

Cook won the AFL passing title, but he never fully recovered from a shoulder injury. It was the only year he played.

The third “what-if?” also deals with an injury. The Bengals moved up in the 1995 draft to the first pick. They took Ki-Jana Carter of Penn State, who rated as generational talent at running back.

Carter wrecked his knee on his first carry of the preseason. He played with the Bengals until 1999, but he ran for a total 747 yards in his career.

The fourth “what-if?” happened in 1999. The New Orleans Saints, determined to draft Ricky Williams, offered the Bengals a total of nine draft picks to move up the Bengals' spot in the draft. The offer was all of the Saints’ slots in 1999, their first-round picks in 2000 and 2001, and a second-rounder in 2002.

The Bengals kept the pick and chose quarterback Akili Smith.  The Bengals could have taken Dante Culpepper with the Saints’ pick.

You don’t know what the team would have gotten with the rest of the picks, but you do know how Smith turned out.

The rest of the countdown so far:

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