Kevin Huber completely understands how big a deal this really is.
He's living out the dream every Bengals fan has ever had. Including himself.
The 36-year-old punter has been rooting all his life for the only NFL team for which he has played. He grew up in Cincinnati, went to college there and daydreamed as a youngster in the stands at Riverfront Stadium about the Bengals winning the Super Bowl.
And now, the Bengals' longest-tenured player is one victory away from helping deliver Cincinnati that long-elusive title.
“It would be everything,” Huber said, shaking his head. “I mean, the city would just implode if we win this game.”
The showdown with the Rams in Los Angeles on Sunday marks the Bengals' third Super Bowl appearance, and first in 33 years — back when Huber's infatuation didn't go far beyond loving the tiger stripes on the bright orange helmets.
Among his first football memories are of Ickey Woods, the touchdown-loving running back with the unforgettable end zone dance. He didn't have one particular favorite player as a kid, but remembers being excited when Cincinnati drafted wide receiver Peter Warrick in 2000. The then-14-year-old Huber's copy of ESPN The Magazine with Warrick, LaVar Arrington and Courtney Brown on the cover was a prized possession.
But it wasn't long before Huber became well-versed in what it meant being a Bengals fan, with lofty expectations followed by so many frustrating finishes.
“A long time of just waiting for this moment,” Huber said. "You know, getting there a couple of times, but losing and then that long drought in between the last time they went and now, it would mean everything to the city. They would be just completely on cloud nine, just experiencing this, just excited, happy.
“I would assume the parade would be pretty epic.”
Huber has tried to not think about that this week, but that image has decorated his mind many times as a fan and as a player. So has the post-Super Bowl celebration, with confetti falling around jubilant — and sometimes crying — players to punctuate the NFL's ultimate accomplishment.
“You see it every year,” Huber said. “And you always wonder if you’ll get the chance to do that.”
That's coming from a guy who has the perspective of playing 13 years in the NFL and is tied with former cornerback Ken Riley for the most regular-season games played in franchise history with 207.
Huber, who insists his playing days aren't close to being done, also has those scars from his fandom for a franchise that isn't often in this position.
After the Bengals beat Las Vegas in Cincinnati in the wild-card round for their first playoff victory in 31 years, Huber gathered his thoughts for a piece published by The Player's Tribune. He chronicled how he was born and raised in Cincinnati, went to the University of Cincinnati and was drafted by the Bengals in the fifth round in 2009. Huber described the euphoria of the Bengals ending what had been the NFL's longest playoff victory drought, and how much it meant to him and the city he calls home.
“Once that article came out, I got reached out to on social media and also via texts from friends and family, just a lot of people that felt the same way,” he said. “And they were able to just kind of enjoy that article from the same perspective.”
A victory at Tennessee followed in the divisional round.
Next came the Bengals' overtime win at Kansas City for the AFC championship, with Huber the holder on Evan McPherson's 31-yard kick that sent Cincinnati to the Super Bowl.
“It took a couple of minutes to really set in,” Huber recalled with a smile. "And everybody’s running around and you don’t know who to hug or what to do, and you kind of feel lost. I feel like I was running around just hugging the most random people, and I have no idea what I was doing.
“I would love to see a camera on me just kind of running around in circles."
It seemed everyone he has ever met or known in Cincinnati shared in the moment.
“I think by the time the night ended, I had like a thousand messages,” Huber said with a laugh. “But I’m sorry, everybody, I didn’t get to respond to every single one, but I'll try to get some of them back.”
He'll have lots more if everything works out in the Bengals' favor Sunday.
“It’s cool to think that years from now,” Huber said, “our team will be looked at as some of the greats of the organization and the greats of the Bengals that have played.”
During the team's rally Monday night at Paul Brown Stadium, the franchise's home since 2000, the fired-up fans screamed for every player and coach that emerged from the tunnel onto the field.
Huber nearly brought the place down when he offered this to the 30,000 bundled up in the stands:
“Hopefully," he said, "we’ll be back next week for the after-party.”
It would be a big-time Bengals bash that has been in the planning stages for a few generations. And one Huber only imagined all those years ago.
“The whole city has been just really enjoying the ride and celebrating this,” Huber said. “I’m just happy for them to be able to experience this. You know, it’s been a long time coming.”
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