CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor wanted to give a game ball to the city after the franchise won its first playoff game in 31 years.
Taylor made sure he delivered that honor personally. On his way home from Saturday’s 26-19 win over the Las Vegas Raiders, the third-year coach popped into a local bar and delivered a white and brown honorary football with the team’s logo as a symbol of thanks for the city’s support.
“It was great,” Taylor said the day after Cincinnati’s historic win. “It was honestly kind of how you picture it when you want it to happen.”
Taylor said he had thought of the idea from the time he was hired as the team’s head coach in 2019. He said that during his work commute to and from Paul Brown Stadium in downtown Cincinnati, he often thought about the type of gesture he wanted to make after the team’s first playoff win since January 1991.
The one bar he drives past in particular, Mt. Lookout Tavern, is often populated with Bengals fans on busy nights. So after the team’s victory against the Raiders, he went to the bar, along with punter Kevin Huber, to deliver a short speech and a game ball.
“This is the first of many playoff games we win here,” Taylor said on-stage in a video that went viral Saturday night.
Taylor said his two sons and a couple of childhood friends were in the car with him and offered to film the interaction. Taylor said he didn’t want that to happen.
“Sure enough, I get in there and there are a thousand cell phones,” Taylor said Sunday during a news conference. “I don’t know what I was thinking was going to happen.”
With regard to taking preventative measures against COVID-19, Taylor said he tried to keep his interactions under two minutes and stayed on the stage at Mt. Lookout Tavern. He added that he was also in and out “as quickly as possible.”
It was part of a joyous night Cincinnati hasn’t celebrated since Sam Wyche’s Bengals team beat the Houston Oilers more than three decades ago. Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah also stopped by Walt’s Hitching Post in nearby Fort Wright, Kentucky, as part of the new game-ball tradition Taylor announced during the team’s postgame celebrations in the locker room.
Bengals safety Jessie Bates was surprised that Taylor was one of the couriers Saturday night. The day after the game, Bates said the gesture from his coach speaks about how special this year’s team is.
It also couldn’t have been a more fitting day to honor the team’s long-suffering fans. Saturday’s attendance of 66,277 was the largest to watch the Bengals play at home.
“He could have gave all the game balls to the guys inside that locker room,” Bates said. “But the way the fans stepped up yesterday, I’m pretty sure that’s as loud as it’s been in my years here.”
Taylor said it wasn’t anything he had ever seen another coach do before. But the vision in his mind for years was one he was able to fulfill at the end of a historic night for the city and its fans.
“We give out game balls probably as many as any team in the NFL,” Taylor said. “[I] just thought it was a great opportunity for them to share in the moment.”