Can the Bengals Finally End The Bo Jackson Playoffs Curse Against The Raiders?

The Cincinnati Bengals will make their first appearance in the NFL Playoffs since 2016 on Saturday, and in the ironies of ironies, their opponent is the Las Vegas Raiders in the Super Wild Card Round.

Ironic, because it was 31 years ago this week, on Jan. 13, 1991, that the Bengals lost the first of eight consecutive postseason games, a streak they carry into Saturday’s game, and it came in Los Angeles against the Raiders.

The Bengals had been one of the better teams in the AFC in the 1980s, reaching a pair of Super Bowls, and they were attempting to unseat the Buffalo Bills to reach yet another in the 1990 season.

But it was during that loss to the Raiders that the mighty Bo Jackson, the two-sport superstar and Nike commercial legend, injured his hip while being tackled and his career in both sports was effectively ruined. He never played football again and his baseball career was never close to the same.

Bo knows curses? The Bengals have played in eight postseason games starting with that day. They are 0-8. Here’s a look at what has happened to the star-crossed Bengals in the playoffs since the Bo Jackson Curse was activated.

Tragically hip: The Bengals ruined the legend of Bo Jackson in 1991, and they are still paying for it

Bo Jackson was injured in the 1990 AFC Playoffs against the Bengals
Bo Jackson | Getty Photos

Bo Jackson in 1991 as a force of nature that two professional sports could not contain. The Heisman Trophy winner at Auburn in 1985, Jackson excelled as a running back for the Raiders and outfielder for the Kansas City Royals. He was an MLB All-Star in 1989, hitting a mammoth home run in the All-Star Game, and was named to the NFL Pro Bowl in 1990. His Nike ad campaign, “Bo Knows,” was a marketing sensation.

By the start of 1991, Jackson rivaled Michael Jordan as the most popular professional athlete on the planet. Then the Raiders met the Bengals in the 1990 AFC Divisional Playoffs at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Jan. 13, 1991.

The unfortunate thing about the injury was the play seemed pretty routine. Jackson took a pitch and broke free along the right sideline in the third quarter. Jackson was eventually caught from behind by Bengals linebacker Kevin Walker, who made what seemed like a normal leg tackle to bring Jackson down.

But Jackson could not get up when the play was over. As it turned out, the force of Jackson’s churning running style, combined with the sudden stoppage of the leg tackle, caused Jackson’s right hip to essentially explode.

Jackson’s hip was both dislocated and fractured, and Jackson was diagnosed with what was called avascular necrosis, caused by a lack of blood flow into the hip. Just like that, Jackson’s football career was over and his baseball career was essentially ended as well.

The Raiders ended up winning the game, but without Jackson, they had no chance against the Bills, losing the AFC Championship Game 51-3.

Carson Palmer’s injury in the 2006 AFC Playoffs wasn’t enough to appease the curse

The Bengals ended up paying an even bigger price for ending the great Bo Jackson’s playing career. The Bo Jackson Curse took its first form by denying the Bengals a postseason appearance for the next 15 years. It wasn’t until the 2005 season, with Carson Palmer at quarterback, that the Bengals finally returned to the AFC Playoffs.

But the Curse was far from over. And it was brutally unforgiving. The Bengals hosted their AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2006 Wild Card round, and on the second play from scrimmage at Paul Brown Stadium, Palmer hit wide receiver Chris Henry for a 66-yard gain.

But as Palmer released the ball, Steelers defensive lineman Kimo Von Oelhoffen tackled Palmer around his right leg, causing a devastating knee injury. Jon Kitna replaced Palmer, but the damage was done. The Steelers won the game, 31-17.

The Bengals would not return to the playoffs for another three seasons, then would lose in the Wild Card Round five times over the course of six seasons between 2009-14.

But it was their Wild Card Round rematch against the Steelers in the 2015 season that confirmed the Bo Jackson Curse was real and spectacular.

The Bengals play their first postseason game Saturday since their infamous 2016 meltdown


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After a brilliant end to his regular season, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and rookie receiving sensation Ja’Marr Chase lead the Bengals back into the playoffs for the first time since the 2015 season. That last appearance was by far the worst experience for the cursed Bengals.

For the first three quarters of their Wild Card game against the Steelers in January 2016, it did not appear the Bengals were any closer to breaking the Bo Curse than they had been the previous 25 years. Cincinnati trailed 15-0 entering the final quarter, but the Bengals somehow managed to rally, and backup quarterback A.J. McCarron found veteran receiver A.J. Green for a touchdown and a 16-15 lead with 1:50 left.

And it appeared all over — the Curse, the Steelers, all of it – when Steelers backup quarterback Landry Jones, playing after Ben Roethlisberger was knocked from the game in the third quarter, threw an interception.

But curses die hard, and Bengals running back Jeremy Hill inexplicably fumbled with 1:23 left, giving the Steelers and a returning Roethlisberger one final chance.

The Bo Jackson Curse got one final chance, too. It did not squander it.

With 22 seconds left, not quite in field goal range from the Bengals’ 47-yard line and with no timeouts left, Roethlisberger tried to connect with their star wide receiver, some guy named Antonio Brown.

The pass went incomplete, but Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, never a player known for mental discipline, slammed into a defenseless Brown’s head, drawing a 15-yard personal foul that put the ball on the Bengals’ 32.

But the inexplicable behavior of the Bengals was not done. While the referees were sorting out the Burfict penalty, Bengals cornerback Adam “Pac Man” Jones, also a known loose cannon on the field, got into it with Steelers assistant coach and former player Joey Porter, drawing yet another 15-yard penalty, giving Chris Boswell an easy chip shot field goal, which he made to win the game for Pittsburgh, 18-16.

The Curse was alive and well. It’s up to Burrow and Chase to try to end it Saturday.

Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference