The NFL Championship is no place for losers, a fact the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams know all too well from past experience.
Article originally published on 05/02/2022
Between them, the two franchises have been to The Show on six occasions and only once have they finished the night enjoying the confetti shower that accompanies lifting the Vince Lombardi trophy.
The Rams are the only one of the two competitors to have tasted NFL Championship glory and this roster are 1/2 to emulate the class of '99, while the Bengals are 17/10 to claim their maiden title.
Only the Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills, with four defeats, each have lost more Championships without winning one than the Bengals, who saw their dreams dashed twice by the San Franciso 49ers in the 1980s.
The first team from Cincinnati to reach the world championship game in the 1981 season shared some similarities with the current crop. Few gave them a chance of reaching the playoffs, let alone the NFL Championship after going 6-10 the previous season.
But after the franchise's first playoff win over the Buffalo Bills in the divisional round, Cincinnati overcame the San Diego Chargers in the AFC Championship in a matchup better known as the 'Freezer Bowl', having been played in conditions equivalent to -50C when wind chill is factored in.
Having defeated a Chargers team that froze, almost literally, in the championship decider, it was the Bengals' turn to look like rabbits in the headlights at the NFL showpiece when trailing San Francisco 20-0 at the half. The Bengals would mount a valiant comeback and ended up outgaining the San Franciso 49ers by 81 yards, while quarterback Ken Anderson set a Championship record for completions (25). The Bengals got it back to 26-21 with 16 seconds to go, only for the Niners to cling on to win the most-watched NFL Championship ever.
Seven years later, Cincinnati's league-best offence had them back at the the NFL showpiece.
The Boomer Esiason-lead Bengals had a far more straightforward route to the world championship game, powering their way past the Seattle Seahawks and Bills to set up a revenge date with the 49ers. At a time when the NFC was thrashing teams from the AFC on a yearly basis, the Bengals gave the Niners all they could handle and then some.
In a defensive arm-wrestle, a 93-yard kick-off return from Stanford Jennings in the third quarter appeared set to decide the game in the Bengals' favour. Leading 16-13 with just over three minutes to play, the Bengals had the 49ers pinned deep in their own territory, but what came next is one of the most famous drives in NFL Championship history. Niners quarterback Joe Montana was able to march his team down the field, throwing a touchdown with 34 seconds left to break Cincinnati hearts.
While the Bengals and Rams have both suffered plenty of Championship heartache, at least the Rams have won one, doing so in some style too. The victorious Rams team of 1999 was better known as the 'Greatest Show on Turf' for their offensive exploits, breaking records for yardage and scoring under head coach Mike Martz.
The Rams offence, lead by Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk, appeared unstoppable, storming through the regular season with a 13-3 record before dumping out the Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the playoffs.
NFL: Chiefs and Bills exit with stats high
NFL: Brady exits as a true legend of the game
NFL: McVay hails Kupp's handiwork
NFL: Rams and Bengals set up unlikely NFL Championship showdown
They would meet the Tennessee Oilers, as they were then known, in the NFL Championship and for two quarters it appeared the Rams' offence had finally stalled, scoring only three field goals in the first half. They got going after the break though, taking a 16-0 lead when Kurt Warner connected with Torry Holt for a touchdown. The Titans would respond with 15 unanswered points before a 73-yard strike from Warner to Isaac Bruce gave the Rams a 23-16 lead.
The Titans weren't done yet and with six seconds to play were positioned at the Rams' 10-yard line. In the final play of the game, quarterback Steve McNair connected on a short pass to Kevin Dyson, who appeared destined for the endzone, only for Rams linebacker Mike Jones to produce 'The Tackle, bringing down Dyson one yard shy of the endzone as time expired.
That dramatic victory in 1999 would turn out to be the high point for that Warner and Faulk-lead Rams, despite a return to the NFL Championship two years later. Having gone 14-2 during the regular season, the Rams were expected to dispatch the New England Patriots handily in the 36th instalment of the NFL showpiece.
The Pats offence was under the commander of a relative unknown in Tom Brady, who had his defence to thank for securing the first of seven NFL Championship titles that day. The Patriots defence recorded three interceptions of the Rams to take a 17-3 lead before Warner lead the fightback, tying the game up with 90 seconds remaining. That was still enough time for Brady to get his team in field goal range, allowing Adam Vinatieri to slot the winning kick as the Pats pulled off the upset.
The two teams would meet again for the Lombardi trophy 17 years later with Brady still under centre for the Patriots. In the lowest-scoring NFL Championship in history, it was Brady who held his nerve when it mattered most, orchestrating two fourth-quarter scoring drives as the Patriots wrapped up a 13-3 win. The Rams failed to get anything going on offence with quarterback Jared Goff throwing a killer fourth quarter interception, a well-drilled New England defence giving him little room to manoeuvre.
The Rams' first NFL Championship appearance in the 1979 season saw them fall victim to another Hall of Fame quarterback, this time in the form of Terry Bradshaw. The Pittsburgh Steelers hero was to prove the difference in the big game as he ended the Rams' hope of an unlikely win.
After going 9-7 in the regular season and being forced to scrap and claw their way through to the NFL Championship, LA looked like it might pull off the upset against Bradshaw's famed Steelers when leading 13-10 at the interval. The sides exchanged touchdowns in the third quarter before the Steelers pulled away in the final quarter, scoring two unanswered touchdowns to wrap up a 31-19 win - a scoreline that failed to reflect the close nature of the game.
Win more with our US sports parlay bonus