Super Bowl LVI represents the different ways to rebuild in the NFL


Photo Credit: USA Today FTW

Helmets of each team accompany Lombardi Trophy outside Sofi Stadium.

Carter Sims, Managing Editor

Super Bowl LVI will kick off from Los Angeles on Sunday at 6:30 ET. In one of the NFL’s newest stadiums, Sean McVay will go up against one of the members of his rapidly growing coaching tree, the youngest coaching matchup in Super Bowl history. Add the fact that Bengals stars Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon, Ja’Marr Chase, and Tee Higgins are all younger than 26, and this game can be the beginning of something great, not just the end of a season.
For the Bengals, getting to the Super Bowl has been a long and winding road. Cincinnati hasn’t played in a Super Bowl since a loss to the San Francisco 49ers in 1989. In that time, the Rams have moved to St. Louis for a 21-year stint before returning to the City of Angels, which they have called home for the past six years.
The last trip to the game was more recent for the Rams in a 2019 loss to New England in Atlanta. After an offensive sputter in the battle against Brady’s Patriots, the Rams fell from surfing the tide of momentum to being swept under the waves of underachieving, not making it back to Championship Weekend for the next two seasons.
Instead of a rebuild, the Rams rebooted. In 2019, they traded two second- and one fourth-round pick for superstar cornerback Jalen Ramsey, getting him out of a situation in Jacksonville that involved a verbal altercation with coach Doug Marone.
Before the 2020 season, the Rams continued the evolution, unveiling a new uniform set and a brand new, state-of-the-art 70,000 seat palace called Sofi Stadium to share with the Chargers and to host this year’s Super Bowl. However, after a loss to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional Round, more than jerseys needed changing.
In the offseason, the Rams traded Jared Goff for Matt Stafford. Then, during the season, the Rams picked up linebacker Von Miller, and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. With the boost in star power and the hopes of reviving careers, the Rams’ expectations skyrocketed.
Instead of waiting for another chance at the title, the Rams bought one. “Rams Football” means something different than it did a short time ago. After going 4-12 in 2016, the Rams hired Sean McVay as head coach. Since then, McVay has ushered in a new era for the franchise. New city, uniforms, stadium, and a new chance at the top of the league.
Going 12-5, the Rams finished at the top of the NFC West, despite going 3-3 in division play after being swept by the 49ers and tripped up by the Cardinals during Arizona’s red hot early-season run. Come playoff time, the Rams righted their wrongs, beating the Cardinals in the Wild Card round. They then traveled to Tampa for the divisional round and weathered a comeback in what would turn out to be Brady’s last game. In their 3rd battle against San Francisco, the Rams finally got the best of their in-state rival when it mattered most in the NFC Championship.
This Super Bowl is a second chance for the Rams. Both for the members of the roster during their last Super Bowl appearance and for the recently acquired stars to cement their legacies with a ring.
On the opposite sideline, the Cincinnati Bengals aren’t here for a mulligan. This moment is long-awaited for Cincinnati. Before the 2021-2022 campaign, the Bengals hadn’t won a playoff game in 31 years.
After an injury to Carson Palmer derailed the Bengals’ trajectory in the 2000s, and eventually led to his departure from the franchise, the following decade brought more tears than cheers in the Queen City. In four playoff appearances, the Bengals had four losses, with the last being the most crushing.
In the 2015 Wild Card round, the Bengals held a 16-15 lead on the arch-rival Pittsburgh Steelers with 1:33 left when Jeremy Hill fumbled the ball at the Steelers 20 yard line. The next 90 seconds would become the stuff of nightmares for the Bengals and their fans.
During a slow, choppy drive for the Steelers, a flag was thrown with 18 seconds remaining after Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict hit intended Steelers receiver Antonio Brown in the head with his shoulder. A 15-yard personal foul was added from the Bengals’ 47-yard line, the original line of scrimmage on the play. Immediately, an infuriated Adam “Pacman” Jones ran to the official to dispute the call.
During the high emotion moment, Steelers assistant Joey Porter shared words and bumped around with the Bengals after Burfict tried to check on Brown, adding gasoline to the flame. In the heat of the moment, Jones provoked another 15-yard personal foul for trying to hit Porter. The Steelers were now on the 17-yard line. First-year kicker Chris Boswell hit a field goal to put Pittsburgh up 18-16.
A team full of talent was stopped by immaturity, hot tempers and penalties, themes of Marvin Lewis’s time as head coach. After a Hail Mary attempt was batted down, the Bengals were eliminated, and the dumpster fire was ablaze.
The following four years, the Bengals suffered bleak, cold, losing seasons and showed no signs of recovery. The front office was notorious for complacency, the head coach without a playoff victory was still employed and a roster whose weapons were either gone or aged still dawned the stripes.
After a 6-10 campaign, Marvin Lewis was out and a young, offensive mind from one Sean McVay’s coaching tree in Zac Taylor was in. After a 2-14 season, Bengals fans were simply numb. A relatively unknown name was brought in to usher in a new dey, and somehow Cincinnati felt like 2002 again. Thankfully for the Bengals, this time there was more happening in the world than Nickleback, Lord of the Rings II, and questionably fitting jeans.
At Louisiana State University, an Ohio boy was dominating college football. Shattering single-season records, powering his team to geaux undefeated, and leading the Tigers all the way to a national championship title, Joe Burrow was solidified as the clear number one pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Despite comments from media figures, opposing fans, and even former Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer saying he shouldn’t sign, Burrow was selected by Cincy, and for the first time in a long time, there was hope in the jungle. Number 9 was immediately thrown immense expectations and was tasked with being a hero to one of the NFL’s most dysfunctional franchises.
The 2020-21 season showed a glimpse into Burrows’ potential, and people outside Cincinnati started to realize what might be brewing. That was until, against the Washington Football Team (recently renamed Commanders) a hit to Joe Burrow resulted in an ACL tear, MCL tear, and structural damage to Burrow’s left leg. Just like that, another star wearing number 9 was battered, the Bengals season was officially a wash and deja vu was rampant.
The 2021 offseason finally brought change. The Bengals brought in corners Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton, defensive end Trey Hendrickson and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi. Paired with players already on the team like Jessie Bates III, Sam Hubbard, Vonn Bell, and Logan Wilson, the Bengals’ defense was shaping up to be able to make big plays and keep the Bengals in games.
On offense, the Bengals had a decent receiving core with Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, but the pressure to a rehabbing Joe Burrow was going to be relentless. As the 2021 draft approached, the Bengals pick seemed to be narrowed down to offensive tackle Penai Sewell from Oregon or wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase from LSU. The Bengals elected to go with Chase, pairing Burrow with his former college teammate, risking further hits to the star quarterback in hopes of an explosive playmaker.
The move paid dividends, as Chase became a star almost immediately, posting 1,455 yards and 13 touchdown receptions this season. The Bengals finished 10-7, highlighted by sweeps of the Ravens and Steelers and a win against the Kansas City Chiefs to win the AFC North and secure a playoff spot.
The Bengals then scraped through the playoffs, surviving injuries, pressure to Joe Burrow, and being the road team in the later rounds. Rookie kicker Evan McPherson, a rarely drafted kicker, has proven to have the clutch gene, hitting two game-winners in the Bengals’ road to LA.
First, the Bengals fended off a Raiders team to end the playoff win drought. They then traveled to Tennessee and weathered the storm of Derrick Henry’s return. Finally, they went to one of the sport’s loudest venues and beat two-time defending AFC champions in the Kansas City Chiefs.
While it hasn’t been pretty, the Bengals have found ways to win when it matters most and have earned their stripes. The underdog narrative will be synonymous with Cincinnati’s year, but this team is proven.