It’s strange that the Cleveland Browns are responsible for three of the AFC North’s four teams, but it’s true. The Browns’ move to Baltimore led to the creation of the Ravens and an uproar so enormous that the NFL had to agree to put a ‘new’ Browns franchise back in Cleveland.

Decades earlier the Browns inadvertently paved the way for the Bengals when they fired their head coach and namesake, Paul Brown. Brown was desperate to coach again and figured the best way to avoid a meddling owner was to become an owner himself. The Cincinnati Bengals made their debut in the AFL in 1968, with Brown as co-owner and head coach. In 1970, with the AFL-NFL merger, the team joined the AFC Central, which would later become the AFC North.

Brown retired from coaching after the 1975 season but remained as team president until his death in 1991. The Bengals reached the Super Bowl twice in the 1980s, losing both times to the San Francisco 49ers. In the 90s they began a long run without a winning season that stretched from 1991 to 2004. Marvin Lewis turned that around, winning the AFC North in 2005 with an 11-5 record. The team would win the division three more times under Lewis and make the playoffs seven times in total. However, all seven playoff appearances would end in defeat.

Lewis was replaced after a six-win season by Zac Taylor, who managed just six wins in his first two seasons. Taylor does seem to have found the team a franchise QB, however, in Joe Burrow. Fans hope the franchise is once again trending upwards. Here are five of the best books about the Cincinnati Bengals.

1Paul Brown (2008) by George Cantor

The NFL and Paul Brown were both born in Ohio and their history is intertwined. Brown not only played a role in the founding of two NFL franchises, but also is credited with numerous innovations, from scouting opponents with game film to calling plays from the sideline, rather than leaving the job to the QB. Professional football existed before Paul Brown started coaching but he was really the person who professionalised it. George Cantor’s book is a concise and engaging account of Brown’s life and career.
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Buy the book: Amazon US | Amazon UK

2The Art of Quarterbacking (1984) by Ken Anderson

Anderson was the Bengals’ starting quarterback for 13 seasons, taking the role in 1972 – his second season – and eventually being replaced by Boomer Esiason in 1985. In 1981 he won the NFL MVP award, was a first-team All Pro, and lost the Super Bowl to Joe Montana’s 49ers. This book, published in 1984, combines the story of Anderson’s career with his thoughts on playing the quarterback position.
Buy the book: AbeBooks

3The Legends (2004) by Chick Ludwig

Published in 2004, this book offers pen portraits of more than 50 of the greatest Bengals players and coaches. Covering everyone from Paul Brown himself, through to the arrival of Marvin Lewis, it’s a walk down memory lane for long-time fans and a good who’s who for newcomers to the franchise.
Buy the book: AbeBooks

4Classic Bengals: The 50 Greatest Games in Cincinnati Bengals history (2018) by Steve Watkins and Dick Maloney

In a similar vein, Classic Bengals provides a good overview of the most important games in the history of the franchise. They’re presented in order of importance, so the book begins with wins over the Steelers (1979), Vikings (1973) and Ravens (1997) and works its way up to the team’s two AFC Championship Game victories and the two Super Bowl defeats. Those defeats are still the team’s only Super Bowl appearances and both came at the hands of the 49ers, led by former Bengals assistant coach Bill Walsh.
Buy the book: Amazon US | Amazon UK

5Paul Brown’s Ghost (2018) by Jonathan Knight

Paul Brown has haunted both the Browns and the Bengals since his death in 1991, according to author Jonathan Knight. It’s a somewhat tongue-in-cheek premise but it’s also true that neither team has won a Super Bowl and the two have frequently got in each others’ way. Knight explains how the Bengals played a role in the Browns’ move to Baltimore, while the Browns influenced a financially crippling stadium deal for the Bengals.
Buy the book: Amazon US | Amazon UK

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