The Super Bowl is the pinnacle of achievement in professional football. Players work their entire lives to get a chance to play in the game, and many never even get the opportunity. That’s why when players do get there, they attempt to make the most of it.
The Cincinnati Bengals have had a tough time getting there, playing in only one Super Bowl. Unfortunately for them, one of their players made it a lot harder for them to win. Let’s take a closer look at the story of Stanley Wilson, the running back who had a drug relapse prior to Super Bowl XXIII that devastated Bengals fans.
Stanley Wilson’s role on the Cincinnati Bengals
Wilson was one of the team’s running backs, serving as one of the cogs in an offense that also featured Boomer Esiason at quarterback and Cris Collinsworth at wide receiver.
According to Pro Football Reference, the Bengals selected Wilson in the ninth round of the 1983 NFL Draft. To put this in perspective for how much of a long shot Wilson was, the NFL Draft no longer even extends past the seventh round.
Wilson was never the team’s primary back, but he could give them productive play in spurts. He even had eight rushing touchdowns in the 1986 season.
Wilson’s biggest obstacle, however, was his substance abuse addiction. He was suspended for two nonconsecutive seasons for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
In an era where running the ball took precedence over the passing game, Wilson was one of the Bengals’ weapons out of the backfield. He gave them a more than decent chance to pull off the victory.
The leadup to Super Bowl XXIII
Super Bowl XXIII was the Bengals’ first and only Super Bowl appearance, and they needed a near-perfect performance to overcome the San Francisco 49ers powered by Joe Montana. In short, the Bengals needed to be at the top of their game to win.
The stage was set for an epic Super Bowl matchup. It’s impossible to overstate what this appearance meant to the city of Cincinnati. The Bengals had been a laughingstock of a franchise up until that point and were for quite some time afterward.
In fact, outside a decade under Marvin Lewis in which the team regularly made the playoffs, this was the only time in the franchise’s history they could claim elite status.
Unfortunately, Wilson’s demons reared their ugly head before the game and distracted from the team’s focus.
What happened to Stanley Wilson and the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII
According to Cincy Jungle, Wilson had been playing well in the playoffs prior to the championship game. In the wild card game against the Seattle Seahawks, he had two touchdowns and 45 rushing yards.
Wilson was also, up until that point, seemingly winning his battle against substance abuse. Even then-Bengals head coach Sam Wyche seemed to be pulling for him to turn his life around. The running back was planning to pen an autobiography where he discussed his newfound sobriety.
Sadly, Wilson’s issues again bubbled to the surface. He relapsed and was found on the bathroom floor by his running backs coach, Jim Anderson. That was Wilson’s third strike, and with that, the NFL banned him. The Bengals ultimately lost the game.
The team was not sympathetic to Wilson’s plight. Many felt betrayed by the transgression. An NFL Network documentary captured Collinsworth prompting the team to “Win one for Stanley” to a lukewarm response. The relapse likely wasn’t the only reason the Bengals lost, but it certainly didn’t help matters.
What’s even worse than the result of a football game, however, is that Wilson was never able to get his life on track. According to the LA Times, in 1999 Wilson was sentenced to 20 years in prison for robbery.