by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

CINCINNATI — OK. Let’s see if we got this straight. You put your right foot in, you put your right foot out, you put the football in and you shake it all about, you do the Ickey Shuffle and you wiggle all ar–

Well. OK. So we’ll work on it. I guess we’ll have to. Because the Cincinnati Bengals — last year’s bargain in the AFC basement — are going to the Super Bowl to face the 49ers. Cincinnati? Yes. Cincinnati. With a platinum blond quarterback and a coach who goes from bum to genius and a cast named Boomer, Max, Turk, Krumrie, Buck, Billups and, of course . . . Ickey.


“WE’RE GOING TO MIAMI!” hollered Ickey Woods, the rookie running back, after he scored two touchdowns and gained 102 yards in the Bengals’ 21-10 AFC championship victory over Buffalo Sunday. He then peeled off his uniform to reveal a cartoon T-shirt of himself dancing. “You know, it’s funny. When I was drafted by this team last year, the first thing I said was, ‘Oh, bleep! Not them.’ “

Well. Hey. Can you blame him? The 49ers may be no surprise in the January Spectacular (they’ve won it twice). But the Bengals? They were 4-11 last season, with just one win at home. And this year they go 12-4, win two playoff games, and finish undefeated in Riverfront Stadium — a place their scream-happy fans have affectionately nicknamed “The Jungle.”

Go figure. They earned passage from The Jungle to The Everglades with a maddeningly intense win, thunderous, mean, hard-hitting, ugly, poorly played, magnificently played, and ultimately captured by the team with more poise and better dance steps.

The Bengals plugged and mugged and, of course, danced. I give them a 7. I liked the beat. Meanwhile, by the time Buffalo was done throwing interceptions
(3) and illegal punches (1), done arguing with the rules, the officials and themselves, done being fooled by a fake punt, a broken clock and a surprisingly strong Cincinnati defense — by the time the Bills were done with all that, well, they were done, period.

Shuffle off to . . .

Aw. They know where to shuffle. Feel the frustration

“Could you feel them getting frustrated?” someone asked Tim Krumrie, the Bengals’ all-pro nose tackle, who spent more time in the Buffalo backfield than most of the Bills’ running backs.

“Yeah, by the third quarter you could hear them yelling at each other,
‘Come on, let’s get it together!’ ” he said. “When you hear that, you know you’ve got them.”

And indeed they had. The Bills, champs of the AFC East, kicked a field goal shortly before halftime to make it 14-10 — and never scored again. Their second half was confusion, anger and defeated pandemonium. And those were the good moments.

Here are the images that endure: Quarterback Jim Kelly being smothered by a crowd of Bengals arms and helmets; the Bills watching helplessly as the Bengals snapped a fake punt to backup quarterback Turk Schonert; Bills defensive back Derrick Burroughs punching the face mask of Bengals receiver Tim McGee, which 1) got Burroughs ejected, 2) gave the Bengals a first- and-goal instead of third-and-eight and 3) essentially surrendered the game.

All that with one punch.

“He’d been taunting me all day,” McGee said. “At one point I was down on the ground and he made like he was gonna step on me. He said, ‘I should step on your face.’ “

Hey. Another great sports quote.

Go down angry. After the defeat, the Bills’ locker room broke into its West Side Story impersonation, and the press was temporarily closed out so the boys could argue in private. No worries. What the Bills will quickly discover is how soon America forgets the runners-up. It’s Cincy and San Fran in Florida now, and for the next two weeks, that’s about all you’ll hear from the football world.

Shuffle off to . . .

Aw. We did that already. They want to lead in Super Bowl dance

The Bengals and 49ers. A rematch of 1982 at the Silverdome. Some of the same faces star for San Francisco (Montana, Cross, Walsh), but Cincinnati is doing it mostly with new blood. The Bengals also hope for different results
— because in ’82, they lost, 26-21.

“Hey, I got one of those little AFC championship rings already,” said receiver Cris Collinsworth, one of the remaining cast. “Believe me. When you go to a golf tournament nobody comes up and asks to see it. They want to see a Super Bowl ring.”

And who knows? Anything can happen. Did you see the crowd go nuts Sunday at Riverfront? This for the same team that was so inept last year, they stopped introducing the offense before home games?

“It’s already beyond my wildest dreams,” said a smiling Woods. Same goes for a lot of us. Super Bowl XXIII. Could be a good game. Could be a tight game. You know what I think?

I think we’re all gonna have to learn to dance. That’s what I think. CUTLINE

Ickey Woods


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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