Hey, wait a minute,” I keep hearing people say. “You wrote a book about the Cincinnati
Bengals? Aren’t you an arts journalist? You wrote an encyclopedia about musical theater
composer Stephen Sondheim, right? Don’t you give history and culture tours around Cincinnati
and Northern Kentucky? So where did a football book come from?”
It’s time for some clarification. I grew up in Northern Ohio, near Cleveland. The Browns were
my boyhood NFL team. I rooted for Jim Brown, Ernie Green, Frank Ryan and Paul Warfield when
he was a rookie. Even after moving to Cincinnati in 1980, I continued to pull for my old team. I
was devastated 1996 when arrogant owner Art Modell, who fired Paul Brown from “his” team,
loaded up his franchise and trucked it off to Baltimore.
By that time, I’d been in Cincinnati for 16 years. I still rooted for the Browns. But I’d spent a lot
of time with the Bengals in my backyard. (I could have attended the Freezer Bowl in 1982, but I
gave my ticket away). I was at the new Paul Brown stadium for the first regular season game in
1999, a game the reborn Browns won. But I suffered through umpteen seasons in the as the
reinstated franchise struggled for success with a revolving door of coaches and quarterbacks. It
was more than one “lost decade,” twice as sad as the Bengals’.
Even today the Browns tug at my heartstrings. But every year it’s harder. I’d love to see a
winning team back where my love of professional football started. Just before I moved to
Cincinnati I lived in Canton, Ohio, a few blocks from the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The NFL was
something I cared about, despite all its rough edges.
Nevertheless, I fell in love with the city of Cincinnati as I wrote about the Queen City’s arts and
culture. Then something astonishing happened in 2021: Young quarterback Joe Burrow led the
Bengals through a magical season, a string of surprising playoff victories, all the way to Super
Bowl LVI. Regardless of past loyalties, it was impossible to live here in early 2022 and not be
infected with Bengals fever.
During the playoffs Josh Stevens, the publisher at Reedy Press in St. Louis who recruited me to
write several 100 Things to Do in Cincinnati Before You Die and Oldest Cincinnati, asked if I knew
someone who might write a history of the Bengals franchise. I sought a few sportswriters, but
they were preoccupied with the moment. Josh came back with a proposal: How about co-
authoring with Jeff Suess, another writer with ties to Reedy Press who also happened to be the
historian/archivist at the Cincinnati Enquirer? Jeff had graciously helped me find photos for
Oldest Cincinnati, and I knew we could work collaboratively.
We had to hustle to meet a tight deadline. But through the spring and summer of 2022 we put
together and found lots of great photos for an attractive coffee-table book, The Cincinnati
Bengals: An Illustrated Timeline. I wrote about the legendary coach and owner Paul Brown and
the longtime rivalry with his onetime Cleveland team. Jeff and I covered everything from games at UC’s Nippert Stadium in the late 1960s right up to the Super Bowl against the Rams earlier
this year. Our book arrived in September, just in time for the new NFL season.
So here’s my confession: I still hope the Browns find success. But I’m really glad to live in a city
where NFL football has a bright future. Now I can holler “Who-Dey” just as loud as everyone
I’ll still be cranking out stories about other things you can learn out via my website,
www.RickPenderWrites.com. By joining my Facebook group,
www.facebook.com/groups/rickpenderwrites, you can catch all of my writing — local theater
for CityBeat (look for monthly round-ups of shows worth seeing), play reviews for Talkin’
Broadway (www.talkinbroadway.com/page/regional/cincy/index.html), noteworthy people for
Cincinnati Magazine, and even sports every once in a while.
Now I must get back to writing …