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Sundays with Sacco: From Broncos to Bengals

Look back at photos from the history between the Broncos and Bengals, including Brandon Stokley's miracle touchdown in 2009.

The Denver Broncos do not play the Cincinnati Bengals all that often, so it would be a very normal reaction for fans to feel no real connection here.

However, when you peel away a few layers, there is more common ground than first realized.

Of course, Derek Wolfe came to Denver from the University of Cincinnati, which has become a big time program over the last 20 years, but the Broncos and Bengals have connections extending back even further.

Alfred Williams played four years in Cincinnati for the Bengals as a top draft choice out of the University of Colorado, then came to Denver as a starting impact defensive end for our back-to-back Super Bowl champions in 1997 and 1998.

Williams is the only position player to start on the CU national championship team and also earn two rings on the Broncos' consecutive world championship teams.

Punter Tom Rouen also was on all three teams, but Williams is the only one from the offensive or defensive units to be on all three.

Once upon a time, Colorado State University had an outstanding basketball player named Lonnie Wright, and it was widely thought he was physical enough to be a pro safety.

The Broncos not only shared that opinion but signed Wright, who never played football at CSU, as a free agent in 1966. He played and sometimes started for Denver in 1966 and 1967, posting five pass interceptions in his two years as a Bronco. Then the Cincinnati Bengals joined the American Football League as an expansion team and Paul Brown selected Wright for the Bengals off the Bronco roster.

But Wright was actually a two-sport athlete for the Broncos, also playing for the Denver Rockets (renamed the Nuggets in 1974) in the American Basketball Association, and he instead turned his full-time attention to pro basketball and had a fine career in that sport.

Of course, the owner and original coach of the Cincinnati Bengals was Paul Brown, and the Broncos lines up against teams coached by the man in the brown fedora eight times.

Take a look back at the last time the Broncos played the Bengals, December 22, 2014 at Paul Brown Stadium.

Brown is widely considered to be the founder of modern professional football and, without question, the creator of many aspects of the game that seem so routine today, and so every team in pro football has an attachment to Brown, whether their fans and media realize it or not.

In today's game we take for granted that the plays are called from the sideline (or coaches' booth) and relayed to the quarterback via headset. But for the first 50 years of pro football history, the quarterbacks called the plays.

Except in Cleveland, under Brown, and in Cincinnati, under Brown. He was the first to realize that his quarterback was under enough pressure just playing the game on the field, and that there is logic in making the play calls from the sidelines.

Brown sent the plays in via a messenger guard, with a rotating guard taking each play in as the game progressed. I had a chance to watch this every time the Broncos played the Bengals, and it was just one of the many contributions that Brown made to the game.

The Bengals won their first game ever, in Cincinnati over the Broncos on opening day of 1968, and Brown's franchise had focus and direction from the first day.

This was all quite a dramatic change from the beginnings of pro football in Cincinnati.


The Cincinnati Celts spent a season in what is now regarded as the National Football League in 1921, but lasted only four games and went 1-3.

That thoroughly ignominious beginning was topped (or bottomed?) by the Cincinnati Reds (yes, a name shared with the baseball team) in 1933 and 1934.

The Reds of professional football went just 2-16 before folding in 1934, throwing no touchdown passes and scoring just three rushing touchdowns in their two-year history, one of which came against NFL founder George Halas and his Chicago Bears.

The Reds allowed 30 touchdowns in just eight games played in 1934, and that Cincinnati team actually still holds two all-time NFL records.

In 1934, Cincinnati had perhaps the most inglorious team in NFL history (often called by researchers the worst club ever to play), and the Reds set the all-time records for fewest points scored in a season (10) and for highest rushing average allowed by an opponent, an extraordinary 6.4 yards per rush for the opposition.

The Brown family still owns the Bengals, a franchise that has both stability of ownership since its 1968 inception, and in coaching, as well, under long-tenured head coach Marvin Lewis, so certainly no attempt is being made to compare this era to that.

But the beauty of history is we get to look at all of it, the good and the bad, and all together, it weaves the tapestry we watch unfolding in the present.

Every team has a story, and I think the reader would agree there are lesser-known connections of interest for the Broncos and Bengals after all.

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