The 2021 NFL season was surreal to many Bengals fans. Cincinnati went from worst to first in the AFC North, broke a 31-year playoff winless drought, and made it back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1989.
Although the Bengals came up just short on the biggest stage, the team defied the narrative that had haunted them for decades. The heartbreak and disappointment were replaced with joy and celebration as a buzz electrified the city of Cincinnati and fan base.
Many experienced the postseason success feelings for the first time, countless waited the 30+ year gap to feel it again, while others were unfortunately not here to witness these moments of Bengals history.
“Like many Bengals fans, I was brought to tears when the Bengals beat the Chiefs to go to the Super Bowl,” longtime Bengals fan Emily Michels said. “I cried thinking of how I wished my dad and my brother, Joe, had lived to see this day. They were huge Bengals fans and season ticket holders, with my dad having had the seats since 1970.”
Family and friends remembered their loved ones through the playoff run, ultimately leading to the ‘No Fan Left Behind’ movement.
Jason Martin, a die-hard Bengals fan, passed away in February 2021. Martin’s wife, Allison Gilbert who is a Chiefs fan, wanted him to experience the AFC Championship game at Arrowhead Stadium, so she made a cutout of Martin and brought it with her to the game.
Gilbert wanted to get Martin’s cutout to the Super Bowl after the Bengals beat Kansas City. She took to social media to see if anyone would be willing to take her up on the request. Aaron and Olivia Denton welcomed the offer, but cutouts were not permitted in SoFi stadium for the Super Bowl.
The group sparked the idea to have T-shirts printed and others would join in on the initiative. Denton said 800+ shirts of various Bengals fans’ loved ones were printed and distributed to wear during the Super Bowl.
Others honored their loved ones by bringing smaller pictures of them into the game.
“After supporting the team through some very rough years, my dad and Joe would have been ecstatic to witness this incredible season,” Michels said. “Seeing the picture of the two of them at the Super Bowl meant so much to our entire family. In some way, it felt like they were able to enjoy this with us. We have no doubt they were cheering ‘Who Dey!’ in heaven.”
Here are fans who participated in the #NoFansLeftBehind movement at the Super Bowl on Twitter:
The power of sports is something truly special.
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