CINCINNATI (AP) — Desmond Ridder likes to think the historic success of his Cincinnati Bearcats helped put the Bengals on the path to the Super Bowl.
“It’s pretty cool. I’d like to say we started them — we kind of helped them get to the playoff point,” joked the former Bearcats quarterback who is in Mobile, Alabama, this week preparing for Saturday's Senior Bowl.
Well, maybe. What's undisputable, though, is that fans in Cincinnati got a football season to remember.
The Bearcats ran the table in the American Athletic Conference and became the first team from a second-tier conference to reach the College Football Playoff, taking their only loss to No. 1 Alabama in a national semifinal.
The Bengals climbed out of the muck of three consecutive last-place finishes in the AFC North to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1988 season. Following three captivating playoff wins, Cincinnati will face the Los Angeles Rams in SoFi Stadium on Feb. 13.
The energy level is skyrocketing in Cincinnati, which hasn’t seen this kind of hope and hysteria since the Reds swept the Oakland Athletics in the 1990 World Series.
The Bengals lost to San Francisco when they last reached the Super Bowl. The Bearcats played second fiddle to football juggernaut Ohio State for 100 years before jumping over the Buckeyes last season.
“It's phenomenal,” Bearcats coach Luke Fickell said. "When there’s a winning buzz and in a winning attitude, I mean, it’s amazing how contagious it is and what momentum can do for you.”
Coby Bryant is a Cleveland native who became an All-America cornerback for the Bearcats in 2021. Along the way, he started rooting for the Bengals.
“The year that we had and the year that they’re having as well, going to the Super Bowl, it’s been exciting," Bryant said. “Everyone supporting us, it’s just been fun having those guys in our corner.”
Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard grew up in Cincinnati and followed the “Bungles” as they stumbled and bumbled throughout much of his youth. His first three years as a Bengal were pretty much the same.
“It’s just really cool how many people have thanked me for the relief they’ve felt, the time that they had watching the games, the great memories they’ve had from these wins this year,” Hubbard said.
Hubbard, safety Vonn Bell, cornerback Eli Apple and tackle Isaiah Prince are all former Buckeyes. Ohio State coach Ryan Day, formerly quarterbacks coach under Urban Meyer, worked with Joe Burrow at Ohio State in 2017 before Burrow's transfer to LSU, where he won the Heisman Trophy and a national title.
“I think it’s exciting for the whole state of Ohio just to have the Bengals in the Super Bowl," Day said. “Certainly, the story of really where they’ve been in the last few years, where they were last year — even this year — they feel like they’ve been underdogs the whole way. Now here they are in the Super Bowl.”
Burrow knew the excitement in Cincinnati had reached another level when the team arrived home from the AFC championship game in Kansas City.
“They had some fire trucks at the airport that were going off,” Burrow said. “So that was fun. When we got back to the facility, there was a lot of people waiting there for us. That’s something we haven’t really seen before. I think when we see that kind of support from the community, it gets us excited and we’re just happy to give the city something that they’re proud of."
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Mobile, Alabama, contributed.
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