Son keeps dad’s memory alive during Bengals’ run to Super Bowl

The late Mike Leo was a Bengals fan from 1978 to 2020

Mike Leo’s sons told him all the time in the late 1990s and early 2000s to stop wasting money on Cincinnati Bengals season tickets. He ignored the franchise’s struggles and always had the same response.

“I’m telling you as soon as we give up these seats, they’re going to go back to the Super Bowl,” Leo would say. “We’re going to wish we still had them.”

Father knew best. Leo, 71, died on Nov. 13, 2020, at Kettering Hospital after an extended illness, and his family did not renew the tickets for the 2021 season.

“As it turns out, he was exactly right,” his son Scott Leo, the voice of Wittenberg athletics, said on Monday, one day after the Bengals beat the Kansas City Chiefs 27-24 in the AFC Championship game.

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There was no bigger Bengals fan than Mike, a 1967 Beavercreek High School graduate whose wife Teresa and sons Scott, Stuart and Sean joined him in his devotion to the franchise. For Scott, the Bengals’ return to the Super Bowl — they’ll play the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13 — brings back memories of his dad, the greatest fan he ever knew.

“What he taught me about being a fan is that it’s completely purely emotional, but that’s what makes it great,” Scott said. “I teach a sports media class, and I talk about my dad a lot in my class because to understand sports as a business, you have to understand sports fans and the passion they have.”

Leo teaches at his alma mater, Fairmont High School. He’s also the longtime radio voice of the Columbus Clippers and Wittenberg University athletics. He has worked often over the years on the sidelines at Paul Brown Stadium for the Westwood One broadcasting company.

Mike took pride in seeing his son on the job at Bengals games, and Scott continues to pay tribute to his dad by keeping his memory alive during this playoff run.

Mike and Teresa attended both previous Bengals’ Super Bowls: in 1982 at the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan and in 1989 at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami, Fla. They wore the same orange-and-black striped sweaters to both games.

When the family was going through Mike’s clothes following his death, Scott found the sweater, which he’d seen often in photos over the years, and decided to keep it. It had been in his closet until the Bengals played the Las Vegas Raiders in the first round of the playoffs.

“We were sitting around getting ready for the game,” Scott said, “and I went up and grabbed it out of the closet and brought it down. I told my kids, ‘We’re going to put grandpa’s sweater here on the couch with us.’ Obviously, they won, so we we did it each week during the playoffs.”

Mike was close to Scott and his wife Shannon’s four kids: Austin, 16; Madison, 14; Joslyn, 10; and Kensington, 8. They remember well how much he loved the Bengals.

Now they will follow in his footsteps by going to the Super Bowl, or at least going to Los Angeles to experience the atmosphere surrounding the game. Scott, Shannon and their kids will fly to California next week. Teresa will meet them there. Scott holds out hope of finding two tickets, so he can take his mom to the game.

The kids will stay at the hotel. That’s what Scott and his brothers did in Miami in 1989.

“I remember my brothers and I all crying when (Joe) Montana threw that touchdown pass to (John) Taylor,” Scott said, “and then when my mom and dad got back to the hotel, I remember my mom trying to hug us and cheer us up, but my dad was probably just as distraught over it as I was, and I was 8 years old.”

Mike was a Bengals season-ticket holder from 1978-2020. He missed only four home games during all that time. That instilled a love of sports that stuck with his sons. The Leos are a sports family, and the brothers have a group text that is almost all about sports. It all started with their dad.

“He is the reason I got into broadcasting to begin with because he wasn’t just a fan that went to the game,” Scott said. “He would listen to the pregame radio show on the drive to the game. He would listen to the call and postgame show on the way home. He would read the articles in the paper the next day. He consumed all of it. He and I spoke every single day even up until the day he died. We were really close, and 95% of our conversations were about sports. So that was was our bond. It gave him a reason to call me, and it gave me a reason to to check in with him when I wasn’t around and had a family of my own.”

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