CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Bengals punter Kevin Huber can't wait for Saturday afternoon's Wild Card playoff game at Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bengals' longest-tenured player understands what's at stake for Cincinnati (10-7) as it plays host to the Las Vegas Raiders (10-7) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since 1991. And while the Bengals aren't fixated on that fact, it's certainly a storyline that can't be avoided.
"After the last couple of seasons we've had, it's been really fun just to see this team grow and to become the team we knew we could be," Huber said.
Huber, a two-time All-America selection at the University of Cincinnati and 2004 McNicholas High School graduate, tied the late Ken Riley for the most regular-season games (207) played in franchise history this past Sunday.
Cincinnati's Own— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) January 9, 2022
Kevin Huber has tied Ken Riley for the most games played in team history. pic.twitter.com/xTYXYnL1GA
"I think when I'm older I'm going to look back and really appreciate it more," Huber said. "It's kind of hard right in the moment to really wrap your head around how many games, how many snaps I've played."
Huber knows the postseason victory drought narrative better than any active Bengals player in his 13th year in the NFL.
Huber, long snapper Clark Harris and tight end C.J. Uzomah are the only Bengals who were on the most recent playoff team in 2016.
The AFC North title was sweeter for those veteran players.
"I mean it's been a lot of fun," said Huber, who has a 41.1 yard punting net average. "It's been the most fun locker room I've ever been a part of."
Huber was the placeholder for rookie Evan McPherson's game-winning 20-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Bengals to a 34-31 win over the Kansas City Chiefs Jan. 2.
"It's what we've been trying to work on here the last couple of years to build," Huber said.
"It kind of all culminated on that last kick. And I think the weight that that got off people's shoulders, the excitement, the accomplishment and the pride to show, 'Hey this is what we've been doing.' It kind of just all came down to that kick. And you could just see on everybody's faces on the sideline, the locker room - just the excitement guys had. It was a great feeling."
It hasn't always been fun in the NFL for Huber. The Bengals were 12-35 the past three years entering 2021.
Yet, Huber has noticed a considerable change in the locker room since the arrival of quarterback Joe Burrow in 2020. Burrow's leadership has been instrumental on the field and in the locker room.
"I just think his demeanor and his want to win, his will to win has really just motivated guys in a way that I haven't seen before," Huber said. "Just the way he carries himself. He is able to motivate guys in ways that it's different from guy to guy. Not every guy is motivated the same way."
Huber, 36, is looking forward to the future, too. He said he wants to play at least four more seasons - saying the ability to play at age 40 would be a significant accomplishment.
"The biggest thing I can take from this season is get a little more consistent," Huber said. "I feel like I'm kicking the ball better than I have in years past as far as strength wise so I'm not worried about my strength and my endurance for the season. It's just tweaking some mechanics I think is what I'm going to focus on this offseason and I think I've got plenty of leg to last for several more years."
Roncalli (Indianapolis) High School coach John Rodenberg coached Huber in the early 2000s at McNicholas High School and has always admired his consistency on the field.
"He's been up in the NFL every year in his punts," Rodenberg said. "When you watch a game they constantly talk about how good he is, how accurate and things like that. His ability to kick it in certain areas in the red zone for a punt. I think to be able to stay with one organization really shows some great pride he has in Cincinnati."
McNicholas High School is also proud of Huber.
"Our McNick community is beyond excited for Kevin and the Bengals winning the toughest division in football," McNicholas athletic director Drew Schmidt said.
"When our city teams win at high levels it’s absolutely an electric feeling to share that with the town, but when you can say one of your own is a champion it makes it that much more enjoyable. We like to instill the qualities and characteristics of champions in our student-athletes, on and off the field, and we are fired up that a person like Kevin is representing our school and our community the way he is."