The Bengals haven't been in the Super Bowl since January 1989. Cincinnati had four wins the previous season, a top-rated quarterback under center, explosive offensive weapons, and a gritty defense led by their play in the trenches. Sound familiar?
Tim Krumrie was the heart and soul of that defense in 1988.
He attended the AFC Championship Game last Sunday in Kansas City and watched with his family and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Witnessing the Bengals hoist the Lamar Hunt trophy was a moment of closure, as Krumrie’s son pointed out to him, from his gruesome leg injury in Super Bowl XXIII. Krumrie had fractures in his tibia, fibula, and ankle. It's considered to be the worst injury in Super Bowl history. He suffered the injury as he tackled 49ers running back Roger Craig midway through the first quarter. Cincinnati would eventually fall to San Francisco 20-16.
“It is so hard to get there [to the Super Bowl],” Krumrie told All Bengals. “I would break the other leg to get back to the Super Bowl.”
After Krumrie’s leg was aircasted and he was taken off the field, the nose tackle wanted to stay in the locker room as long as possible to cheer on his teammates. Medical professionals would have to eventually advise Krumrie to go to the hospital in risk of further damage.
Doctors inserted a 15-inch steel rod into his leg. Krumrie rehabbed and returned for the start of the 1989 season in just under eight months. He didn't miss a game in his career and would play six more seasons after the injury.
Similarly, Joe Burrow rehabbed and returned in 10 months to start this season after tearing his ACL and MCL in his left knee last November.
“As someone who also went through a rehab and returned the next season, his [Burrow] work ethic is off the charts,” Krumrie said. “Rehab is hard.”
Burrow’s work ethic is one reason why he's a special talent. Krumrie praised what the quarterback is able to do on the field, but said it’s evident that Burrow takes pride in his game preparation. Krumrie believes Burrow has the confidence of Boomer Esiason and football awareness of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
Krumrie has gotten a firsthand look at the difference Burrow has made upon his arrival in Cincinnati after moving back to the city in 2018. The Bengals legend has enjoyed watching this team evolve and grow.
Krumrie describes this current Bengals team as a close-knit, unselfish group, which is a lot like the 1988 team.
The culture switch in the locker room has been a turning point to the team's success this season. It started when players trusted and bought into Zac Taylor’s plan, and continued this past offseason when the likes of Burrow, Sam Hubbard, Tyler Boyd, and Jessie Bates recruited free agents to the Queen City. They set the standard of leaving egos at the door and coming together as one.
He believes the free agent additions have made a significant difference. The Bengals have committed over $100 million to free agents in each of the last two offseasons, which is an one example of the culture shift that's taken place at Paul Brown Stadium.
Trey Hendrickson and D.J. Reader are two of Krumrie’s favorite players to watch. Both remind Krumrie of himself because they play with a high motor and have a never give up mentality. Hendrickson and Reader have been worth every penny of their contracts since signing with the Bengals as they have made big plays when needed and performed at the top of their position groups.
Through their free agent signings and draft classes, the Bengals have assembled a talented roster that has been counted out since the beginning of the season. C.J. Uzomah coined the term “Why not us?” during a training camp media session in response to the doubters entering the season. It turned into the team’s slogan throughout the year as they knew this team was special, a similar vibe in the Bengals locker room in 1988.
“We all felt we were destined to make it to the Super Bowl,” Krumrie said. “We knew it would happen.”
Krumrie is confident this Bengals team can do what the 1988 team ultimately could not: finish the job and bring a Lombardi Trophy back to Paul Brown Stadium.
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