Photo Credit: All-Pro Reels, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
If you’re a Cincinnati Bengals fan, there’s one team that just eats at you. A team that haunts your memories, or maybe, your imagined memories (if you’re under 40 like me). No, it’s not a division rival - although the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have left plenty of mental scars. It’s not actually an AFC team at all. It’s the San Francisco 49ers, the team quarterbacked by the other “Joe Cool”, Joe Montana, coached by former Bengals’ assistant Bill Walsh, and receiver-ed by Jerry Rice, the greatest pass catcher ever.
Not once, but twice did the Niners steal the ultimate prize in football from the grasp of Cincinnatians. Twice Joe Montana ripped the hearts out of the poor folk in southwestern Ohio. Twice Bill Walsh crushed the dreams of the Queen City. Twice Jerry Rice dashed the hopes of Hamilton County. You know what they say, though: what goes around comes around.
In this case, what came around was the second coming of Montana to Rice. This time, it was an assistant from a different California team that defected to Cincinnati, not from it. Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, Zac Taylor…you may not have realized it, but those three are the reincarnation of the Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Bill Walsh trio. Don’t believe me? Let me lay out my case.
First, we have the Joes. They obviously share the same first name. Obviously. But that’s significant. There’s something about the name Joe that just exudes quarterback. Think about all the Joes that have suited up in the NFL: Montana and Burrow, Joe Namath, Joe Theismann, Joe Flacco, Joe Harrington - okay, that last one went off the rails a bit. But the fact remains that being named Joe means you have a better than average shot at being an NFL QB (don’t fact-check that, I guarantee it’s accurate).
If that wasn’t enough for you, think about this: last season, Joe Burrow led the NFL in completion percentage (COMP%) and yards per attempt (Y/A), two categories that seem counterintuitive. Having a high COMP% suggests that a QB is taking what the defense gives him, making smart decisions, being accurate…you know, the Drew Brees or Peyton Manning-style of quarterbacking. Having a high Y/A suggests that a QB is taking risks, pushing the ball downfield, giving his receivers a chance to make a play…you know, the Brett Favre or Patrick Mahomes-style of quarterbacking. The thing is, Joe did both last year.
Am I making too big a deal of this? No. What Burrow accomplished last year, particularly behind a pitiful offensive line, was incredible. Unheard of? Also no. But not as many QBs have done this as you might think.
Dan Marino? Nope.
John Elway? No sir.
Surely Dan Fouts? Nuh uh.
Any of the Mannings? Sorry.
Jim Kelly, Fran Tarkenton, Warren Moon, Troy Aikman? No, no, no and no.
Anyone in the history of the Browns? No, of course not, not even Brian Sipe (except I’m lying, Otto Graham did this three times back in the ‘50s, but that was before the Super-Bowl-era and therefore do not count - also, I hate the Browns, so that’s two reasons).
Tom Brady has had, like, three separate Hall of Fame careers and he’s still only done it once, back with the Patriots in 2007 during their undefeated regular season (let’s go, Giants!). Kenny Anderson did it once in 1974 (which wasn’t even his MVP season - why isn’t this guy in the Hall of Fame?). Brees did it once in 2017. What I’m trying to say is, leading the NFL in COMP% and Y/A is hard, even for the best QBs of their generation.
Which brings me back to the Burrow-Montana comparison. You know who else accomplished this feat? That’s right, Ryan Fitzpatrick!
…Just kidding, but he did lead the NFL in Y/A in 2018 (isn’t that remarkable?). It’s Joe Montana! That’s right, both Joes accomplished the feat, but the Bengals’ Joe was 25-years-old when he did it and the 49ers’ Joe was 33 and about to win his first MVP. Basically, what I’m saying is the Bengals' Joe is already at least as good as peak 49ers’ Joe (I’ll die on this hill).
So, what we have here are two QBs named Joe who both led the NFL in COMP% and Y/A in the same season. Are you convinced that they’re the same player? Not yet? Well, I’m not finished.
Leadership. It’s a thing. It’s important for QBs (so I’ve heard). And both Joes had/have leadership in spades.
Montana made a career of being the coolest guy in the biggest moments. His teammates fed off that calming presence. His pointing out of John Candy in the stands is a legendary moment in Super Bowl history. Burrow has that same vibe. He’s as chill as a cucumber in an ice bath. He’s so cold-blooded that reptiles consider him an ambassador. His pulse is so steady that musicians call him up to be a metronome.
"The minute I saw Joe move, there was no question in my mind that he was the best I'd seen. I knew with the offense I planned to run, Joe would be great." Now, that quote was actually from Walsh referring to Montana’s pre-draft workout, but that could have just as easily been Taylor speaking about Burrow. They both have a special ability to make the right decisions under pressure. They both know when to take risks and when to take what the defense gives them. They’re both so cool.
But it wasn’t just Montana that was reincarnated in this Bengals’ squad. Rice returned as well.
Alright, so at first glance, Rice and Chase might not have all that much in common. Rice stood 6-2. Chase is listed at 6-1, but he’s probably closer to 6-0. Rice famously ran a 4.71 in the 40-yard-dash. Chase ran his in 4.38. Rice holds every receiving record in the book. Chase has played one season.
Still, there are similarities (trust me). For starters, both of their names begin with the letter J! Okay, okay, not that important. But remember how Chase struggled with drops during the preseason? Rice had those struggles as a rookie too. He dropped as many as 10 passes his rookie year. Weird thing though, that didn’t seem to hold him back too much. It won’t hold Chase back, either.
Despite the case of the dropsies, Rice still went on to have an exceptional rookie year, especially for the time. Chase’s rookie year…let’s just say it was pretty good too.
What’s also similar is their relentless work ethic. Rice was renowned for his grueling training regiments. Chase is already starting to garner the same attention.
Take Peter King’s Football Morning in America story about Chase in Bengals’ training camp. He reported watching Chase stay after practice by himself and catch over a hundred passes from a Jugs machine as Bengals’ beat writer Geoff Hobson waved a white towel in his face. Now, if that doesn’t sound like a story that will be told at his Hall of Fame commencement…
Okay, so we have our Montana-Burrow connection, and we have our Rice-Chase connection. What about Walsh and Taylor?
Both were assistants under very successful head coaches, Walsh under Paul Brown and Taylor under Sean McVay. Both had 2 - 14 seasons to begin their head-coaching careers. And two years after their careers began, both were in the Super Bowl.
Astoundingly, Walsh would face off against his former team, the Bengals, in Super Bowl XVI in 1981, holding off a Bengals’ rally to give the Niners’ their first championship. In similar fashion, Taylor would face off against his former team in the Los Angeles Rams, though, as you are probably well aware, the Bengals would lose in heartbreaking fashion (yet again).
Still though, Taylor’s trajectory is pointing straight up. So is Burrow’s and Chase’s. Just like the 1980 San Francisco 49ers, the 2021 Bengals came out of nowhere to reach the Super Bowl. And like those Niners teams, this Bengals’ unit isn’t going anywhere.
This may all sound incredible, but I assure you, it really happened. Somehow, someway, the essences of Montana, Rice and Walsh were reincarnated in Burrow, Chase and Taylor. There must be some magic involved. Are we sure Mike Brown isn’t a necromancer? Did he sell his soul and the naming rights to Paul Brown Stadium to ensure a winner before he dies? I might be onto something here…
Regardless, as long as those three are in Stripes, the Bengals are in good hands. Cincinnatians may have suffered through another crushing Super-Bowl-defeat, but have no fear - for Joe, Ja’Marr and Zac are here, and they’re here to stay. Get ready y’all, 2022 is going to be a fun one. Who Dey!