The last time the Cincinnati Bengals experienced a run of playoff success that could match this season’s current run, there were only two current Bengals’ players alive.
With a young team overcoming the odds to have a chance to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1988, the Bengals are relying on leadership from the likes of Tyler Boyd, just a 27-year-old in his own right.
Boyd, a Clairton graduate and Pitt star, is one of the unsung heroes of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ biggest rivals this season. And while he’s completely focused on setting the standard for the Bengals, he hasn’t forgotten those Pittsburgh roots.
With fellow Pittsburgh native and Pitt star Aaron Donald on the other side of the NFL, Donald helping lead the Los Angeles Rams to the NFC Championship game, Boyd hopes both will reach the Super Bowl this season — after all, Donald’s inspired Boyd the whole way.
“That’s one of my guys, one of my closest friends,” Boyd told the Cincinnati media Thursday over Zoom. “Went to battle with him at Pitt. Just seeing him prosper and being the best player in the league and seeing him compete for Super Bowls and things like that, you know, wanted me to get to that position because I know how hard he worked and how he got there.”
Donald, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and seven-time (consecutive) All-Pro defensive end from Penn Hills, has long been one of the best players in the NFL, and Boyd has seen that. In watching and emulating Donald, Boyd has finally seen his hard work and everything he’s applied to the Bengals begin to pay off. And he couldn’t be more excited.
“Hopefully we can win this one out and we can play against them. It is what it is, hopefully, he plays well … that’ll be really good to play against a former teammate,” Boyd said.
However, regardless of who the Bengals would play if they can overcome the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday afternoon, Boyd just wants to make it to the Super Bowl. And bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Cincinnati.
“That’s our standard,” Boyd said. “And we always wanted to set our standard for a Super Bowl because the reason why we’re here, that’s the reason why we’re practicing every day, that’s the reason why we’re competing every day and putting our bodies out there.”
Boyd said the Bengals set the standard high, Super Bowl levels of high, because they’ve felt all along that this Bengals team is worthy of that and can legitimately amount to a Super Bowl title. For Boyd, a Super Bowl ring would be the result of a lifetime of work both on and off the field to reach the pinnacle of success.
“I think in my lifetime, that’ll probably be the biggest milestone for me,” Boyd. “It’ll probably be the best sports achievement in my sports career. That’s the reason why I’ve been playing; I’ve been through a heck of a rollercoaster ride … it’s just like a dream come true. It’s like a dream, you wake up that you’re playing in the Super Bowl, and you win and you talk Disney World and you have your kids and family on the field.”
Even though Boyd is still a young player, he’s been in the NFL for six seasons now. He’s not focused on 1,000-yard seasons, he’s focused on winning. Boyd said the wide receiving corps — himself, Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins — knows how good it is as a unit and the friendship they’ve built has only led to success — and not jealousy.
“Some games — I mean, every guy can’t get their rocks off when they want, even when it’s times when they’ve probably been open a few times and the ball’s just not coming their way,” Boyd said. “At the end of the day, we all trust Joe (Burrow) to throw it to the guy that’s open or he feels like has the best chance on that specific play.”
Boyd hasn’t had a huge statistical impact yet this postseason, six catches for 43 yards and a touchdown, but his intangibles and veteran leadership has been invaluable for the Bengals this season.
The Bengals and Chiefs will kickoff at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City at 3 p.m. on Sunday. The game will be broadcast on CBS.