CINCINNATI, Ohio -- Paul Brown Stadium, the home of the Cincinnati Bengals, sits stately by the Ohio River, where six former Georgia football players are making a contribution to the central objective of a team that last sniffed a championship in 1988.
The Bengals are the brainchild of the legendary Paul Brown, whose genius went beyond coaching. The Bengals were originated by Brown in 1966 but have been a small market club without big-salaried players, which has led them to lowly finishes throughout their recent history. At Cleveland, Brown and the upstart All-America Football Conference rivaled the National Football League in the forties. Brown had won four AAFC titles when the Browns merged with the NFL in 1950. Brown, the classic innovator, proved that he could compete in any league. The Browns won the NFL title in 1950, 54, 55 after which their coach was let go by principal owner Art Modell. Brown went looking for a franchise and settled on Cincinnati as the place he would like to start a team. The NFL looked with favor on Brown and Cincinnati as a place for an NFL franchise.
In the early seventies, Cincinnati was a perennial playoff team, winning AFC titles in 1981 and 1988, but it lost in the Super Bowl both times to the San Francisco 49ers.
Brown retired from coaching in 1975 and died in 1991, having turned the team over to his son, Mike, who has had difficulty fielding a contending team. That began to change when he hired Marvin Lewis to coach the team. These Bengals have a new mission, which they refer to as "DNO," which means "Destination New Orleans," site of the next Super Bowl. "We certainly believe we can get there," Clint Boling, starting offensive guard who was a starter and a letterman for the Bulldogs in 2010. "We have to believe in ourselves and we do," he said at Paul Brown Stadium following a recent practice.
In addition to Boling, the Bengal roster includes former Georgia lettermen Dennis Roland (2002-05), Robert Geathers (2001-03), Orson Charles (2009-11), Geno Atkins, (2006, 2008) and A.J. Green (2008-10). Green, the outstanding rookie of a year ago, is one of the most popular athletes in Cincinnati.
"We saw what he did at Georgia," Boling said of his former Bulldog teammate, "and we told people when the Bengals signed him that they would be seeing a great NFL receiver. Some people thought we didn't know what we were talking about, but A.J. showed them what he could do from that first day in training camp. Everybody is a big fan of his now."
Roland, who started his NFL career with the Cowboys and then spent two years with the Tampa Bay Bucs, came to Cincinnati in 2008 as a tackle but has often lined up at tight end. "If David Pollack hadn't gotten hurt, we might have seven Bulldogs on our roster," Roland laughed. Roland and Geathers are the old timers of the Bulldog sixsome.
Following is a summary of the season for the six players after their disappointing 24-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Cincinnati on Sunday night. (With a 3-4 record and having lost three games by 10 points or fewer, the Bengal-Dawgs still believe they have a shot at getting to the playoffs. They remember what took place last year with the New York Giants. The Giants were 9-7 in the regular season and won the Super Bowl.)
-- Geno Atkins, DT: Started Sunday and had two tackles and a sack. He is tied for third in the NFL with seven sacks this season and leads the league in sacks by an interior defensive lineman.
-- Clint Boling, OG: Started against the Steelers and has been a starter all season.
-- Orson Charles, TE: A backup at tight end, he has seen action in all seven games this season and has three catches.
-- Robert Geathers, DE: Against the Steelers, he started at LDE and had three tackles and a half sack. Has started all seven games.
-- Dennis Roland, TE: Started at TE versus the Steelers and has played in all seven games.
-- A.J. Green, WR: Started at WR and had an eight-yard TD catch.
Tied for first in the NFL with seven touchdown catches and is third in the league in receiving yards with 636. AFC offensive player of the month of September.
Loran Smith is co-host of "The Tailgate Show" and sideline announcer for Georgia football. He is also a freelance writer and columnist.