I can remember it like it was yesterday.
The year was 1981.
It was autumn, and I was a senior at Casey County High School.
As a life-long fan of the Cincinnati Bengals, I had been able to enjoy two or three years when Ken Anderson and company had made the playoffs.
But, there were some lean years even back then, and yes, I got kidded by my classmates for wearing Bengals T-shirts and sweatshirts to school, when it was much cooler to be a fan of the Dallas Cowboys or Pittsburgh Steelers.
That was OK though, because I was born in Cincinnati, and win or lose, the Bengals were my team — still are today.
Granted, there have been some tough times, but rest assured, I’ll go to my grave as the number one fan of the Cincinnati Bengals.
But, back to 1981.
Cincinnati’s quarterback was a guy that was my hero as a kid, Ken Anderson.
He was as precise at throwing a football, as anybody during his era. In fact, I still consider him one of the greatest QB’s of all time. As a kid every Sunday afternoon after church, I would throw on that vintage number 14 jersey across my back, and throw countless touchdowns in my back yard to guys like Isaac Curtis, Charlie Joiner, Chip Myers, Boobie Clark, and Bob Trumpy.
In 1981, it all came together for Anderson and the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals that year shocked the NFL world, by defeating the San Diego Chargers in the AFC championship game.
That game is still today, the coldest game ever played in NFL history. The wind chill that cold Sunday afternoon in January inside Riverfront Stadium, was recorded at minus 63 degrees. However, that bitterly cold weather didn’t slow down the Bengals on that day.
Cincinnati, led by Anderson, toppled Dan Fouts and the Chargers that cold Sunday afternoon, and were on their way to Super Bowl XVI. Cincinnati lost in that Super Bowl, to an upstart quarterback named Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49er’s at the Pontiac Silverdome, 26-21, in one of the more memorable Super Bowls ever played.
Cincinnati had a hot-shot rookie wide receiver from Florida that season named Cris Collingsworth, and they had that wily and dependable veteran, Isaac Curtis.
However, when Anderson and company faced a third down in a must-pass situation, the first guy number 14 looked to over the middle of the field, was his tight end Dan Ross.
Ross came out of tiny, Northeastern College, but as soon as he arrived in Cincinnati, he quickly developed into one of the top tight ends in the National Football League.
In that Super Bowl XVI game against the 49er’s, Ross set a record for the most catches in a Super Bowl, by hauling in 11 passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns in that contest.
Since that Super Bowl game of January 1982, Ross record of 11 receptions in a Super Bowl has been equaled by Jerry Rice of the 49er’s, and more recently by Deion Branch of the New England Patriots.
However, there will never be another Dan Ross. Ross is considered by many inside the Bengals organization as the best tight end that ever wore orange and black stripes in Cincinnati.
Some may argue with that point, and throw out names like Bob Trumpy or even Rodney Holman, but Ross is still the number one guy to most folks, including yours truly.
That’s why it was so painful to learn that on Tuesday night, after an evening jog outside of his home in New Hampshire, Dan Ross collapsed and died at the very young age of 49.
Anderson, who threw many a completion to Ross during his career, told Bengals.com yesterday that Ross was one of the all-time greats at his position.
“He caught everything,” stated Anderson. “And, he knew how to use leverage, he knew how to use technique, and he had the speed to get downfield.”
Added teammate and fellow receiver Isaac Curtis, “He was probably the most reliable guy I ever played with.”
Ross was a second round pick of the Bengals in 1979, becoming the 30th player overall selected in the draft that year.
In the Bengals super season of 1981, Ross caught 71 passes for 910 yards and hauled in 5 touchdowns, in helping lead Cincinnati to the Bengals first AFC title.
He still ranks 13th today in Bengals history, with 263 receptions for 3,204 yards and 16 TD’s.
And, Dan Ross was a super guy, a super teammate, and a super player.
He made his only Pro Bowl appearance at the end of the ‘83 season for Cincinnati, and he was elected into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004.
Ross also had his number 84 jersey retired at Northeastern, where he is still the single season record holder in receptions with 68.
Bengals owner and son of founder Paul Brown, Mike Brown, summed it up best yesterday when he told Bengals.com, “Dan was a tremendous player for us, a big factor in us making our first Super Bowl.”
Indeed he was Mr. Brown.
Dan Ross was one of the good guys, and he will sorely be missed by all Bengals fans that grew up watching him make play after play for the Bengals in the early to mid ‘80’s.
I know of one Casey County senior from the Class of ‘82 that will never forget Dan Ross, and the joy he gave to me on magical season, when he helped my Bengals reach their first ever Super Bowl.
Thanks Dan. You’ll be missed, but never, never forgotten.
You truly were one of the great ones.
I can remember it like it was yesterday.