The 2013 season marks the 25th anniversary of the Cincinnati Bengals Super Bowl XXIII team, and each weekend Cox Media Group will help readers relive that season with a recap of the corresponding game from 1988.
One week after using a goal-line stand to cling to a season-opening victory against the Phoenix Cardinals, the Cincinnati Bengals went to Philadelphia and unveiled the explosive offense that would come to symbolize their Super Bowl season.
The NFC East was the top division in the top conference in the league, and the Eagles would ride head coach Buddy Ryan’s gritty, nasty defense to a division title.
But on Sept. 11, 1988, Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason would kick start his run to the NFL MVP award by throwing for 362 yards and four touchdowns as Cincinnati came from behind to beat Philadelphia 28-24 at Veterans Stadium.
Esiason’s two biggest throws of the day went to young receiver Tim McGee as the pair connected a 78-yard touchdown two plays after Philadelphia scored its first points and then a 3-yard, game-winning score with five minutes to play.
“That Philadelphia game was my coming out party,” said McGee, who was in third season in the league and first full one as a starter after taking over for the injured Cris Collinsworth late in 1987.
The Eagles defense featured future Hall of Famer Reggie White, who was McGee’s college roommate at Tennessee and who later baptized the Bengals receiver, along with Clyde Simmons, Seth Joyner, Jerome Brown, Middletown native Todd Bell, Eric Allen and Andre Waters.
After allowing Simmons to get to Esiason on the second play of the game, the Bengals offensive line didn’t allow another sack, with Joe Walters nuetralizing White.
“The NFC East was the most dominant conference, or at least had the perception of being that, led by their defense,” said McGee, who today owns Luxury Auto Sales in West Chester. “We took that as a big challenge because we wanted to be the No. 1 ranked offense. That was something (offensive coordinator) Bruce Coslet talked about all the time.”
Trailing 24-21 in the fourth, Esiason guided the Bengals on a 15-play, game-winning drive that covered 77 yards and ended with him hitting McGee with a 3-yard TD on third and goal.
The Eagles marched to the Cincinnati 11 in the final seconds, but Cunningham’s pass for Cris Carter on fourth down fell incomplete, and the Bengals were 2-0.
“We did not know who we were going into that game,” McGee said. “Before that game, everyone would have given you the textbook answer that ‘Oh yeah, we’re confident.’ But I don’t think that was the case.
“After the game and the dramatic fashion it ended on the road against a great team, that put us on the map,” McGee continued. “After the game everybody, including Sam (Wyche), was so excited. But it wasn’t the excitement of winning one game. We knew we had a pretty good team, but we just found out we were contenders.”