How dey? Connelly: Bengals defying the odds

As a 36-year employee of the Cincinnati Bengals, St. Clairsville native Bill Connelly has yet to be fitted for a championship ring. Which obviously goes with winning a Super Bowl.

Though Connelly has been part of two teams which advanced to the NFL’s ultimate game, the Bengals twice came up short, ironically losing both times to the 49ers.

Three months ago as Cincinnati’s 2011 season kicked off at Cleveland, virtually no one in the Bengals’ front office was talking postseason.

Not with disgruntled veteran Carson Palmer in limbo and an unproven rookie slated to step in at quarterback.

Frankly, the Bengals were expected to struggle with most preseason pundits projecting no more than five or six wins.

Connelly, in his roll as business manager, will be on the sideline today with a Bengals’ club looking to make a major statement at Pittsburgh.

“We haven’t had a great deal of success (over the years in Pittsburgh) but that was then and this is now,” Connelly said last week over the phone.

“No question, this has been a special season because we were pretty much off the radar screen. The big key, I think, was getting off to a good start. That definitely helped build confidence. Now, our guys are going out expecting to win each week.”

Though an AFC North Division title remains a long shot, qualifying for the playoffs is certainly realistic.

“We played the Steelers pretty even (three weeks ago) at home,” Connelly advised of the Steelers’ 24-17 victory.

“(Coach) Marvin Lewis keeps telling our players, they’ve played the Steelers and Ravens (within one possession). Now, they have to go out and beat these teams.”

The Bengals must do so behind first year pro QB Andy Dalton, a rookie out of TCU.

“”Andy has handled about everything thrown his way and he’s done so with poise,” Connelly said. “The (offensive) keeps saying Andy has great command of the huddle. He’s very polished for a player his age.”

The same can be said of rookie wideout A.J. Green, whose production has been remarkable.

Last week against the Browns, Dalton and Green teamed on a spectacular 51-yard pass, catch and run, setting up Mike Nugent’s game-winning field goal.

Cincinnati enters today’s game 7-4 and could pull into a second place tie with Pittsburgh with an upset win.

“Pittsburgh is always one of the most difficult places to play. It’s been that was since I can remember,” Connelly described.

“Growing up in St. Clairsville, I was a Steelers and Pirates’ fan. Our game at Pittsburgh always has a special meaning for me. It’s almost like coming back home. Bill’s sister still resides in St. Clairsville.

A student at Ohio State in the mid 70s, Connelly landed a part time assistant trainer’s position with the Bengals and obviously made an impression.

“I got a call from (then general manager) Mike Brown in 1984. He asked if I was ready to move up to the front office,” Connelly observed. “It’s been a great relationship. I’ve been pretty fortunate.”


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