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Why Zac Taylor, Bengals players deliver game balls to Cincinnati bars after wins

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When the Bengals beat the Ravens in the wild-card round of the 2023 NFL playoffs, one of the first questions asked of Zac Taylor was whether the team would go around Cincinnati delivering game balls to local bars.

“I know I’m continuing that tradition. That tradition is never going to die,” Taylor said.

And sure enough, not long after the press conference, Taylor, several players, team personnel and family members were back out on the streets of Cincinnati heading out to bars and restaurants to deliver signed game balls from the win against Baltimore to keep the season alive.

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And the game balls aren’t just staying in Cincinnati. Bengals-backers bars in other areas also receive game balls. After Cincinnati’s victory over Baltimore, The Bottom Line in Washington, D.C., that received one of them.

Here’s what you need to know about how the Bengals started this tradition.

Why Zac Taylor, Bengals players deliver game balls to bars

It has been a long time since the Bengals were making waves in the NFL world. Cincinnati had been competitive for a stretch in the early 2010s, but lost in the first round of the playoffs in five straight years. The franchise had not won a playoff game since 1990.

But the Taylor and Joe Burrow era got off to a hot start fast. After winning the AFC North in 2021, the Bengals took down the Raiders 26-19 to secure the franchise’s first playoff win in nearly 30 years. 

The Bengals, like other teams, give away a game ball to one of the top players from the game. Taylor had two game balls from the win against the Raiders. The first went to owners Mike and Nancy Brown. Taylor wanted to do something different with the second. 

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“The next one is a new tradition we start today with our first playoff win,” Taylor told the locker room. “It goes to the city of Cincinnati, and we pass these things out at bars across Cincinnati tonight and we let the fans celebrate with us every single. I’ll select a few [players] to represent. Every playoff game from here on out, the city shares in this with us.”

Following games, Taylor can be found in the equipment room signing the game balls that will be sent around to the different destinations, marking the playoff win, date, team mantra and identifying how many game balls there are total.

Taylor went to Mt. Lookout Tavern — and he was carded at the door — to deliver one of three game balls distributed around the Cincinnati area. When the Bengals beat the Titans in the divisional round, four places received game balls. Five received them after the win against the Chiefs.

“I think you’d be shocked at how caught off guard I am. I always think I’m walking in to like five people sober and it’s usually not how it plays out,” Taylor said in a press conference after the Ravens game. “But it’s fun. It’s fun just to be a part of that. I bet you I was in there four minutes tops and again I didn’t even know there was a staircase to go up the stairs and the people are very helpful and they point you in the right direction. So you get in there and it’s a fun moment there for a minute. And then you give them the game ball and you move on. I didn’t anticipate it always unfolding like this.”

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The Athletic’s Jay Morrison reported on the “Hear That Podcast Growlin'” that Taylor said the team sent people in advance to The Blind Pig, the destination for the Ravens game ball, to tell the bar Taylor would be coming and to make sure he has a clear path into the bar and wouldn’t have to wait in line.

According to The Washington Post, the bars are selected by Taylor, director of communications Emily Parker, an official in charge of community engagement and team executives Caroline and Elizabeth Blackburn. If players go out to deliver game balls, they can also make preferred selections.

It used to be a surprise, but now there are some bars that will lobby to be selected.

“It’s fun to see how much this has gained steam, to the point that people are requesting these game balls because they do really bring a lot of attention to how much support we have in the community and how many Bengals bars we have, not only locally here in Cincinnati but also across the country,” Parker told The Washington Post.

After Cincinnati beat Buffalo, center Ted Karras decided he wanted to make a delivery to Oak Tavern. He explained to the excited patrons that Oak Tavern was the first bar he had been to upon signing with the Bengals in the offseason.

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The deliveries have been spread out so far after Cincinnati’s two playoff wins. Following the win over the Ravens, Cincinnati-based bars The Blind Pig, Crowley’s and Clutch OTR all received game balls. Elsewhere, Burrow’s parents delivered one to Courtside Pizza in Burrow’s hometown of Athens, Ohio; another was delivered to The Bottom Line in Washington, D.C., the backyard of the Ravens; and a third out-of-town ball was sent to Phebe’s Tavern in New York City.

When the Bengals beat the Bills, Taylor returned to Cincinnati to deliver one to Rhinehaus Bar, while Karras and several others dropped one off at Oak Tavern, and Jessie Bates and Germaine Pratt dropped one off at Gypsy’s Bar in Covington, Kentucky. Another was sent to Tailgate Brewery in Nashville. There are two more game balls that were sent out to bars that have yet to be identified.

“We’ve got fans across all states and so you want to find ways to be able to connect with them and show your appreciation for them because I’ve been sent plenty of videos of bars across America of Bengals fans uniting, celebrating, I get texts all the time that people were in different cities, different states and so I think this will be a cool way to include them and know that they’ve got a chance to get game balls also,” Taylor said during a press conference.

As long as the Bengals keep winning playoff games, the tradition appears set to continue. And at the rate Taylor and Burrow have been picking up wins in just their third season together, there could be plenty of game balls being sent around for years to come.


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