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A Year in the Life of the Bengals: 1999

Andrew Dunn

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Entering the 1999 season, fans of the Bengals were likely uttering the popular line from one of that year’s most popular movie, The Blair Witch Project:  “I am so scared right now.”  The team was not only in something of a rebuild, they weren’t exactly nailing it – Jeff Blake was once again the starter for the majority of the season, despite his mediocrity largely outweighing his flashes of brilliance throughout his tenure in Cincinnati.
I found that 1999 was a weird year in history.  Not only had camping largely ceased thanks to the aforementioned horror film, but people were also freaking out about Y2K.  I dare say that had the technology been around in 1999, #LOLY2K would’ve been trending quite often.  I also recall this being the year when Pokemon was ridiculously popular, sweeping American kids after its debut in Japan.  Personally, I was always a Charmander guy at the beginning of the game.  On a more adult note, Jeff Bezos was the Time Magazine Person of the Year.
While I try to change up my fun facts (poorly) week to week, I feel like this paragraph always sounds very much the same.  It was another garbage year in Cincinnati, as the Bengals finished 4-12, which locked them in as the worst team of the decade – I mean this literally.  The collective records of the Bengals in the 1990’s come out to a dismal 52-108.  Considering you have seasons of nine, eight, seven, and seven sprinkled in there, that is even more proof of how bad some of the teams were.
This team started the season 1-10 under third-year coach (or, three and a half year coach since he coached nine games in 1996) Bruce Coslet, who was forced to start quarterback Jeff Blake 12 times in 1999, due in part to the lengthy hold out of rookie Akili Smith (more on him shortly).  Everyone knew the project had been a failure, and that Blake was really just riding out the contract at this point.  He threw for 2,670 yards, 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions – not great, but they’re spectacular based on the guy who started the other four games.
Smith, the Bengals first-round pick in 1999 – third overall out of Oregon, took over for Blake.  It became clear quickly that he was a miss, as he started four games, completed 52.3% of his passes for 805 yards, two scores and six interceptions.  Queue the head in the hands of everyone having to watch.
Corey Dillon put together another stellar season, accumulating 1,200 yards and five scores on 4.6 yards per carry.  He was the sole Pro-Bowler for the team in 1999, and really the only bright spot on a team in disarray.  There had been some thought to use Ki-Jana Carter to alleviate some of the reliance on Dillon, but this would prove to be the final straw for the former top overall pick.  He’d carry the ball six times in three games, and would be exiled after the season.
Aside from Smith’s holdout, there was another off-the-field issue – star wide receiver Carl Pickens had come out and claimed he would never play for Cincinnati again (per this piece from Sports Illustrated).  You can’t blame him – if you go back through our journey, you’ll see Pickens’ career recapped.  The guy was a stud, and had been stuck on bad teams for his entire career.
However, he would start 14 games for the team, not having any luck elsewhere since the Bengals had slapped him with the franchise tag.  He managed 57 catches for over 700 yards and six touchdowns, not bad at all for a guy who’s unhappy.  Darnay Scott fared a bit better, notching his first 1,000 yard receiving season with seven touchdowns of his own.
Offensive struggles aside, the defense was no better, finishing towards the bottom of the league once again.  Linebackers Brian Simmons and Takeo Spikes were really the only bright spots, as Simmons tallied 111 tackles (which can happen when you’re constantly on the field) and three sacks, while Spikes had 80 of his own, taking part in nine turnovers.
It’s also worth noting here that 1999 was the final year for kicker Doug Pelfrey, as team would move on to Neil Rackers the following season.  It was additionally the last season for the Bengals at Riverfront Stadium.
Keeping in mind that I was born in 1990, this is really the first season in our walk down memory lane that I have some memories from.  Even at nine years old, I couldn’t help but laugh at times, because after years upon years of losing that doesn’t appear to be getting better… what else could you do?  It was Corey Dillon and everyone else.
Don’t worry folks – 2005 will be here soon enough.

Andrew graduated from the University of Kentucky (direct your hate tweets to @atdu222) with a degree in Business Management and minor in Communications. You can find some of his previous works on Bleacher Report. Andrew is a lifelong fan of the Cincinnati Bengals and Reds... he was born in 1990, so his life as a sports fan has been pretty crappy until you extend the boundaries to Lexington. Andrew works full time for Western & Southern Financial Group and is married with a 1 year old daughter.

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