Column: A Kentuckian’s look at Super Bowl LVI

Hunter Shelton

The state of Kentucky came within moments of claiming a Cincinnati Bengals Super Bowl victory this past Sunday.

If not for a late Los Angeles Rams touchdown, the Commonwealth would have had the opportunity to celebrate from Paducah to Pikeville in honor of their hometown-ish team.

Yes, the Lexington Legends recently claimed the 2021 Atlantic League Championship, and they’ll soon be joined at Wild Health Field by the Wild Health Genomes, but with no professional teams in the state to root for, Kentuckians often turn to the Queen City to get their big-league fix.

The Bengals claimed their first winning record and playoff appearance since 2015 this season, while managing to win their first playoff game since 1990. Not only did they break that streak, but they also reached the Super Bowl for just the third time in franchise history.

Lexington is often coated in blue and white, but as Ohio heartthrob and Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow led his team on a Cinderella run, smatterings of orange and black became increasingly pronounced.

“Who Dey,” the rallying chant shared by Cincinnati and its fans, began to creep down south of the Ohio river, taking over local business signs and billboards.

As the fateful Sunday approached, the state was ready to cheer the team on like they were their own, as if the Bluegrass breeze had been taken over by the scent of Skyline Chili, which unfortunately made an appearance at many Super Bowl parties.

Normally, the championship excitement doesn’t come around in Kentucky until March, but even the rabid Wildcat fans and UK basketball players themselves made an exception for Feb. 13.

“All my Cincinnati peeps can I join the Bengals family?” Kentucky guard TyTy Washington tweeted.

A 23-20 final score was not quite the storybook ending Bengals fans were looking for, but boy was it a fun season.

What the Bengals managed to do in the postseason was nothing short of remarkable. Head coach Zac Taylor has led a three-season turnaround that instilled life in the Cincinnati sports world, which has been without a championship since the Reds won the World Series in 1990.

Players like Burrow and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase have enamored fans from Ohio to Kentucky and beyond.

Not since the days of the Kentucky Thoroughblades, a former minor league in the American Hockey League, and the Kentucky Horsemen, a former National Indoor Football League franchise, have Kentuckians had anything close to a professional sports franchise grace its state.

The Legends were dropped from being an affiliate for the Kansas City Royals and demoted to the Atlantic League, a step down in the hierarchy of minor league baseball. The team’s ballpark has seen better days, as it sits in a less than ideal part of Lexington, drawing in tens of fans a game.

Perhaps those Wild Health Genomes will get the ticket booths bustling once again.

For now, Lexingtonians and Kentuckians alike will just have to settle for Super Bowl runners-up, via that big city next door just up north.

Who needs football, anyways? March Madness is right around the corner. I hear there’s a decent team in Murray this season.