However, this year, led by 2nd-year, Quarterback sensation, Joe Burrow, the Bengals have emerged as one of the best underdog stories in quite some time, defeating the AFC's top seed, the Tennessee Titans, and the AFC's two-time champion Kanas City Chiefs in consecutive weeks.
Here are five lessons young athletes can learn from the biggest American Football Game, Super Bowl LVI, featuring one of the most lovable American Football Franchises and youngest superstar American Football Quarterback:
Gratitude — Joe Burrow, the Cincinnati Bengals superstar quarterback, has gotten a lot of attention for his style. But given the lack of attention the Cincinnati Bengals have received, it was what Joe Burrow wore on the day of the AFC title game that got the most attention. Burrow wore a black turtleneck with a flashy “JB9” chain, launching a lot of funny memes, including one that compared him to a throwback picture of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
Nonetheless, I think what stands out most about Burrow is his substance, most notably his understanding of gratitude. I highlighted Burrow in my Model Student Athlete training course on "Gratitude," because he purchased a billboard thanking fans of the Louisiana State University football team after leading the program to a national title and being selected No. 1 in the 2020 NFL Draft. Burrow often credits teammates and coaches for his and the team's success, but he had a special thank you after the AFC championship game. "Well, I’d thank my physical therapist," Burrow told reporters. "He was with me all offseason, put vacations on hold to help me get back to where I needed to be, and you know he helped me a lot as well as my physical therapist in California. So, I owe a lot to those two guys.”
Burrow seems to take gratitude seriously. But there are lots of benefits. Grateful people are happier and not as depressed and frustrated, and a 2014 study in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased an athlete’s self-esteem, which improved performance. Maybe Burrow should buy a new billboard?
Consistency — Joe Burrow certainly is grateful for his top receiver, Ja'Marr Chase, who he also played with at LSU. But Chase was the fifth overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, and he went on to shatter lots of franchise records. But if a former LSU head coach had his way, Chase might not have stayed a receiver. Les Miles told Chase that he couldn't play receiver out of high school, envisioning him as a cornerback instead.
"That was something I had on my shoulders growing up," Chase said. "So I just kept working on my craft, offseason waking up early in the mornings to work out. I just kept focused." - Ja'Marr Chase
LSU fired Miles in 2016, and new coach Ed Orgeron wanted Chase to stay with his favored position at receiver.
But due, in part, to COVID, Chase opted out of his senior year at Louisiana State, choosing instead to start training for the NFL Combine, where prospective pro players showcase their athleticism and intelligence. Chase worked with Exos and veteran trainer Brent Callaway, who has worked with notable NFL players such as Patrick Mahomes. Chase, though, started working with Callaway six months ahead of LSU's Pro Day. Callaway told Insider that one key to Chase's dramatic improvements was that he arrived to training healthy.
Callaway said Chase was dedicated to his training regimen, working out from 8 a .m. to 5 p.m. six days a week. Callaway added that Chase ate healthy, and underwent physical therapy in between practices. Sessions included a 70-minute speed and agility session and wide receiver drills that emphasized route-running, footwork and work catching the ball.
"You saw his speed make dramatic jumps, and his strength make dramatic jumps," Callaway said, according to Insider. "His teammates who are here now, they said 'when I saw him at pro day, that's a different level of Ja'Marr than I've seen before."
After he was selected fifth overall, Chase finished this past season with a rookie-record 1,455 receiving yards, as well as 13 touchdowns. In the season finale, he even notched the single-game rookie record for receiving yards with 266. But Callaway added that an athlete sitting out a college season isn't always the best decision.
"I would tell you that an athlete sitting out for a college season is not a smart decision for a lot of athletes, because they need the time on the field," Callaway said. "But Ja'Marr was in a situation where, what else does he have to prove?"
Fearless — Evan McPherson was the only kicker drafted before this season, and some were critical of the Cincinnati Bengals utilizing a fifth-round pick on him. But the young man nicknamed "Money Mac" and "Mc-Fearless" proved how special he was, kicking a 34-yard game-winner in the season opener against the Minnesota Vikings. For the season, McPherson made 87.8 percent of his kicks. But the rookie started to really get into a groove late in the season and all of the postseason. He made all four kicks in a tight game against the Titans, including a 52-yarder.
His teammates and coaches marvel at McPherson's clutch kicks. But the rookie downplayed what he's doing.
"This is my job. This is what I do for the Bengals," McPherson said. "It's my job to stay cool, calm and collected in moments like those. I was just so happy for my team to put me in position to succeed and give me the opportunity to win the game."
Those are the words of a confident and fearless young man, and they'll likely need him to deliver if they have any chance to win the Super Bowl.
Leadership — Zac Taylor's hire as the Cincinnati Bengals head coach wasn't widely celebrated. Taylor had a long and winding road to his role. A former quarterback, Taylor went undrafted out of Nebraska in 2007, and a newspaper columnist dubbed him one of the NFL Draft "losers." Taylor then briefly spent some time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and in the CFL before transitioning to coaching. His big break came at Texas A&M, under his father-in-law Mike Sherman. Then he was named assistant quarterbacks coach for the Miami Dolphins in 2012, helping with the development of Ryan Tannehill. He shined as offensive coordinator at the University of Cincinnati, before heading to the Los Angles Rams for the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
"We're looking for a young, bright offensive mind," Bengals president Mike Brown said prior to hiring Taylor. "That is where the game is going."
In his first season with the Bengals, Taylor's team went 2-14. But he showed no lack of confidence after a 38-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the season finale.
"I believe in what we're doing, I think that's the most important thing," Taylor said.
Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard said people often called for Taylor's job, whenever there were issues.
"He’s done nothing but be a great leader and consistent force in this whole turnaround, and I really love Zac as a coach, and I’m thankful that he’s here," Hubbard said.
Burrow said he had a great feeling and connection with Taylor after their first meeting.
"I knew exactly what kind of coach we had, and I knew exactly where I wanted to be," Burrow said. "He’s a great offensive mind and a great leader of men. He does a great job. I couldn’t have asked for a better situation.”
Belief — Only five NFL teams have gone from last place in its division to the Super Bowl, the last club being the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles. But the Bengals run is all the more surprising, given how much the team has struggled for so long. As noted already, the Bengals hadn't won a playoff game since 1990, the longest drought in the four major North American sports. The Bengals were so overlooked this past season that they were only featured in one primetime game — and that came on a Thursday night!
Under Taylor's leadership, the Bengals have resisted thinking about the club's history and focusing on the present and future.
In the summer of 2021, Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah asked, "Why not us?"
But Uzomah told WCPO that the team has amended it's motto: "It is us."
" 'Why not us' makes us sound like we're the underdogs — and we're not," Uzomah said. "In our heart of hearts, we believe we're the best team in the league."
Added Burrow, "I'm tired of the underdog narrative. We're a really, really good team."