Greg Hoard
Greg Hoard

Born in Indiana and educated in Georgia, Greg Hoard came to Cincinnati in the winter of 1979 as a columnist for the Cincinnati Post sports department, and joined the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1984 as the beat writer for the Cincinnati Reds.  He has received numerous awards for his work. In 1990, he left journalism for television. Hoard worked for WLWT-TV from 1990 through 1993 as sports director and spent 12 years as sports director at WXIX-TV. His written work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, Baseball America, Baseball Digest and NFL Game Day. He has appeared on ESPN and NBC’s The Today Show. Greg is the author of three books: Joe, Rounding Home and Heading for Home; Gary Burbank, Voices in My Head; and, most recently, Hannan’s Way, An Unlikely Trek Through Life. He is currently working on a baseball memoir, parts of which he will share here.

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In just his second season in the NFL, Joe Burrow is being hailed as a star, glorified as the savior of the Bengals franchise. But has he the stuff of legends like Montana or Namath? Someday we will know and someday starts soon. 

Cincinnati, OH — The most popular thought regarding the outcome of Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Los Angeles Rams and the Bengals comes down to one thing. Can the Bengals offensive line give quarterback Joe Burrow enough room and time to get the job done?

Most outside Cincinnati don’t bat an eye. They answer with a resounding: “No,” and that’s understandable given the way the Bengals performed against Tennessee in the divisional round of the playoffs. Jeffrey Simmons dominated the interior and the Titans sacked Burrow nine times.

The Rams defense, led by Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Leonard Floyd up front; Jalen Ramsey and Eric Weddle in the secondary, is formidable, and presents the most difficult test the Bengals have faced this season.

Greg Hoard is a former beat writer of the Cincinnati Reds for the Cincinnati Post.

Donald is the preeminent defensive lineman of his time, a three-time winner of the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. In 2021 he had a career high 84 tackles, 19 for a loss and 12.5 sacks.

In the past two seasons, Floyd has 125 tackles, 18 for a loss and 20 sacks. Miller is a first ballot Hall of Famer. Enough said.

Ramsey is regarded as one of the best cover men in the game, and Weddle—who came out of retirement Jan. 12—is heady and smart and still, at 37, a hard hitting safety. Against the Niners in the NFC Championship game he led the Rams with nine tackles.

Burrow knows what’s coming. He knows he has to get rid of the ball early. He knows his targets won’t be easy. He believes, he says, in his offensive line. But, he has to say that. To say anything less is an invitation for disaster. Doubt may, indeed, exist, but it must go unspoken. Such is the code of team sports, always has been, always will be.

So, he says: “It’s going to be how, one I handle the pressure – how I’m able to get the ball out of my hands and get it to my playmakers in space; and two, how we’re going to be able to handle things up front. I have the utmost confidence in our offensive line to make it happen.”

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We know these things about Burrow:

  • He most always says the right thing, sticks to the company line and forever compliments his teammates before he addresses his own play.
  • The boy can surely take a hit. He was sacked 51 times this season. No quarterback went down more. He’s been sacked 12 times during the playoffs, and at no time has he appeared angry or rattled. Rarely has he shown any signs of pain.
  • We learned in the AFC Championship game that he’s not afraid to scramble. At times, it looked as though the Chiefs were trying to tackle Gumby—Burrow stretching, leaning, bending in all manner of ways to avoid his pursuers.

But there is, yet, something else about Burrow that’s reminiscent of men like Joe Namath, Kenny Stabler, Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw. He has that quality that is hard to describe, a demeanor that—for the lack of a better word—we call “cool”.

Certainly, there are other quarterbacks who share this confidence, but I mention these four because I had the privilege of having a direct experience with them.

“He’s one of the coolest competitors of all time and he’s just getting started.”  – Bill Walsh on quarterback Joe Montana

Twice, in Super Bowl XVI and XXIII, I saw Montana defeat the Bengals. After the first, Niners coach Bill Walsh said of his quarterback: “He’s one of the coolest competitors of all time and he’s just getting started.”

Montana had just completed his third season. A couple of years later while on a road trip in San Francisco with the Reds, I wandered into the bar at the Westin St. Francis Hotel where the team was staying, and there seated at a table with Dwight Clark sat Joe Montana.

A waitress introduced us, mentioning that I was a writer covering the Reds. “Cincinnati,” he said. “A lot of memories. One tough bunch.”

Our conversation didn’t last more than five minutes, but the entire time, I had the distinct impression that here was a man whose heart didn’t beat as fast as most and for whom the world turned a little slower. In a dark bar his presence was palpable.

Then, in 1988, I watched him dismantle the Bengals in less than three minutes, leading San Francisco on a 92-yard drive in 11 plays culminating with a 10-yard touchdown pass to John Taylor, his second—maybe third—option on the play and with just over 30 seconds left on the clock. It gave the Niners a 20-16 lead and the game.

Bengals coach Sam Wyche had been Montana’s position coach in 1979, Montana’s rookie season in San Francisco. In the wake of the Super Bowl loss, Wyche said: “I don’t know of anybody who can play as well in the clutch as Joe does.”

Jerry Rice, the renowned receiver, said, “Joe won’t let you believe you are going to do anything but win. I don’t think anything else enters his mind.”

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Steelers great Terry Bradshaw was more cavalier than Montana, more outspoken and a good ol’ boy to the bone. We got to know one another when I was a feature writer and columnist for the Cincinnati Post and were reacquainted during Cris Collinsworth’s charity golf tournament at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Center at King’s Island.

During a break we were having a beer, talking about his four Super Bowl wins. “You can’t think about losing, oh, hell no,” he said. “I didn’t. How could I? I mean, hey, I was surrounded by giants, legends, Hall of Fame players: Mean Joe Greene, Franco, Lynn Swann. You want me to go on? I can go on: Jack Lambert, Jack Hamm, Mike Webster.

“They wouldn’t let me (think about losing). So, I never gave it a thought—not so’s you could tell, anyway.” – Terry Bradshaw

“They wouldn’t let me (think about losing). So, I never gave it a thought—not so’s you could tell, anyway.” And, he laughed, happy and true. To this day I believe Terry Bradshaw could laugh in the face of Lucifer.

Joe Namath was the coolest and smoothest of them all. I don’t believe Joe ever met a day he didn’t like or a day that didn’t like him. During the Reds 1990 season, he was doing a radio show and somehow, I ended up as a guest. I think I actually ask him more questions than he asked me.

When the topic of pressure came up, Namath was pure Namath. In that silky-slick voice, with hints of Alabama in it, he says: “Oh, man, ya just go do it. Think too much ya get all tangled up. Ya put all that stuff aside and go play. Go play.

Stabler was the raggedy leader of John Madden’s roughneck Raiders. He had long hair and a shaggy beard. They called him “Snake” and he famously said: “There ain’t nothing wrong in readin’ the game plan by the light of a juke box.”

Joe Namath was the coolest, and smoothest, of them all.

He took the Raiders to the championship in Super Bowl XI. He was gifted. He was smart and he was—despite his image—a thoughtful, caring individual.

Back in the ‘90s he was in town on a promotional swing. After an interview at WLWT-TV, he was kicked back in a limousine reminiscing.

After a while, he sighs and says: “As a quarterback the worst thing you can do—and I’ve said this many times—is to show worry or concern no matter how tough or tense things are. You do and it’ll spread like wildfire.

“Oh, sometimes I would think how bad it could get if I messed up. But then,” he said, smiling real big, “I knew I wasn’t going to screw up, so it wasn’t no big deal…I’ve said this over and over and I don’t think I’m alone feeling that way.”

It seems young Burrow is cut of the same cloth as Stabler, Namath, Montana and Bradshaw. Some day, maybe, we will find out for sure, and some day may come real soon.

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