When it comes to NFL history, the Cincinnati Bengals have somehow turned into an afterthought. Although they've existed for 52 seasons, the team has never really been given the respect it deserves, which is too bad, because it's an organization that helped set the foundation for today's NFL. 

Everywhere you look in the modern NFL, you can see shades of things that were created in Cincinnati. The West Coast offense? It was invented by Bill Walsh during his time as an assistant in Cincinnati. The zone blitz? Former Bengals defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau perfected the concept in Cincinnati before making it famous in Pittsburgh. The no-huddle offense? Former Bengals coach Sam Wyche brought it to the NFL in 1985. Seriously, no one in the NFL was running the no-huddle as a full-time offense before that. 

The Bengals are also a team that has more Super Bowl appearances (2) than the Saints (1) and a team that has produced more players that have won league MVP (2) than the Patriots (1). It's hard to fully appreciate the team's history, but that's what we're going to try and do here with the team's "Franchise Five."

If you're new to these parts, the "Franchise Five" takes a look at the most important coach and players that each NFL team has produced over the course of their franchise history. 

For the Bengals, it wasn't easy to pick out four players and one coach, so I recruited three guys to help me. The first panelist is Bengals legend Dave Lapham, who arguably knows more about the organization than anyone, and that's because he's been affiliated with the team for just about its entire existence. Not only did Lapham play for the Bengals for 10 seasons (1974-83), but he's been the color analyst for Bengals games on the team's radio network since 1986. If you're scoring at home, that means Lapham has been around the team in some way, shape or form for 44 of the 52 years that it has existed. 

Our second panelist is Geoff Hobson, who has had a front row seat to the organization for the past 20 years. Hobson was hired as the senior writer on the team's official website back in 2000 and has been covering them ever since. Before being hired by Bengals.com, he spent seven seasons during the 1990s as a team beat writer for various Cincinnati newspapers. That's 27 years that he's been covering the team. 

Our third panelist is Bengals all-time leading scorer Jim Breech, who also happens to be my dad. Since it's almost Father's Day, it seemed kind of fitting to turn to him, and it also seemed kind of fitting because he was in the locker room for the Bengals' most successful run. Breech played for the Bengals from 1980 to 1992 and during that time, he was teammates with two NFL MVPs while also kicking in two Super Bowls. Breech was also recently voted as the fifth-best player in Bengals history by fans, which is kind of unfortunate here, because we're only listing the four best players, so sorry Dad, can't put you on the list, but thanks for offering your opinion on who should be on it. 

With that in mind, let's get to the Bengals' "Franchise Five," which will consist of four players -- one quarterback, three non-quarterbacks -- and one coach. The first three people on this list were all unanimous choices by our panelists. 

Coach Paul Brown

Bengals tenure: 1968-75 (coach), 1976-90 (president/general manager/owner)
Bengals resume: Team founder

When you're talking about the history of the Bengals, the conversation has to start with Paul Brown, and that's because the franchise wouldn't exist if not for him. After a legendary 17-year coaching career with the Browns that included three NFL titles and four AAFC titles, Brown was unceremoniously dumped by Cleveland owner Art Modell in 1963, which set the stage for the Bengals to come into existence. Brown moved south to Cincinnati, where he was awarded an expansion team that would start play in 1968. 

For the first eight seasons of the team's existence, Brown served as the coach, and although expansion teams generally struggle during their first few years of existence, Brown turned the Bengals into contenders right away. By the team's third season, he had them in the playoffs. During his eight years as coach, Brown led the Bengals to the postseason three times.

Although there are two coaches in Bengals history with more wins -- Marvin Lewis and Sam Wyche -- Brown laid the foundation down for the team to become successful. He also served as general manager for the entire decade of the 1980s, which is when the Bengals made both of their Super Bowl appearances. 

Brown is an NFL legend, and if you don't believe me, then maybe you'll listen to Bill Belichick.

"He's the greatest coach in the history of professional football, clear and simple," Belichick said back in November while the NFL was unveiling its 100th anniversary team. "Everything I do today, Paul Brown did. It all started with Paul Brown. He took football from being a sport to a profession."

The Patriots coach also once referred to Brown as the father of professional football. 

 "There's nobody in the game that I have more respect for than Paul Brown," Belichick said back in 2015. "His contributions to the game, to the way it's played, to protective equipment, to the playbook. Every film breakdown, every meeting and everything that he did as a coach, 50 years later everybody is still basically doing the same thing. I really think of him as the father of professional football."

Brown was the game's first great innovator. During his time in the NFL, he came up with multiple ideas that are still used today, including the facemask, the idea to use playbooks, the hiring of full-time coaches and practice. He also was the first coach to use game film to scout his opponents. 

The coaching legend, who passed away in 1991, will always be remembered as the most important figure in Bengals history. 

QB Ken Anderson

Bengals tenure: 1971-86
Bengals resume: 1981 NFL MVP

If there's one player in franchise history that epitomizes how overlooked the Bengals have been for most of their existence, it's Ken Anderson. After spending his entire 16-year career in Cincinnati, Anderson should have been a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame, and although he still hasn't gotten that call, he is getting the nod as the quarterback on the Bengals' "Franchise Five."

Although Joe Montana made the West Coast offense famous, Bill Walsh actually ran it first with Anderson, and Anderson ran it to near perfection. During his four full seasons with Walsh, Anderson led the NFL in passing yards twice, led the NFL in yards per attempt twice and even led the league in completion percentage once. After Walsh left Cincinnati following the 1975 season, Anderson didn't miss a beat. In 1981, he was named NFL MVP while leading the Bengals to Super Bowl XVI (where he coincidentally ended up facing Walsh and his new team, the 49ers). In 1982, Anderson became the first quarterback in NFL history complete more than 70% of his passes. Anderson's 70.6% completion mark stood as the NFL record until 2009. To this day, only two quarterbacks have topped that mark (Drew Brees and Sam Bradford). 

During his 16 seasons, Anderson led the NFL in passer rating four times, and he did it in different decades (1974-75 and 1981-82). By the time he retired following the 1986 season, Anderson held the NFL records for consecutive pass completions (20), highest completion percentage in a single-game (20 of 22, 90.9%, vs. Pittsburgh in 1974) and completion percentage for a season (70.6% in 1982). The former Bengals quarterback also set the the Super Bowl record for completion percentage (73.5%) in January 1982, a mark that still stands as the seventh-best percentage of all-time in a Super Bowl. 

Although many of his records have been topped, they've been topped by quarterbacks who had the benefits of friendlier rules. During his era, Anderson was statistically one of the top quarterbacks, and although the HOF hasn't given him his due credit, he's getting it here. 


OT Anthony Munoz

Bengals tenure: 1980-1992
Bengals resume: Played in two Super Bowls, named first-team All-Pro nine times, 11-time Pro Bowler

Not only is Anthony Munoz the greatest left tackle in Bengals history, but he's arguably the greatest left tackle in the history of the NFL. Actually, let's throw out the word arguably, because there's a good chance no one will argue with you if you were to call Munoz the best left tackle ever. 

During his 13 seasons in the NFL, Munoz was so dominating that the Bengals' offensive game plan was pretty simple to install, and if you want to know why, we'll let former Bengals receiver Cris Collinsworth explain. 

Munoz was so impressive during his career that he was named a first-team All-Pro a total of nine times, which is tied for the second most in NFL history behind only Jerry Rice and Jim Otto (10). Munoz was a key reason why the Bengals were able to make it to two Super Bowls (1981, 1989). During the entire decade of the 1980s, the Bengals offense ranked in the top four in total yards and points scored a total of six times each. The Bengals offense was basically unstoppable when Munoz was on the field. 

Oh, and did we mention that Munoz made the tackle-eligible play famous? During his career he caught seven passes, with four of those going go for touchdowns. 

Not only was Munoz named to the NFL's all-decade team in the '80s, but he was also named to the league's 75th anniversary team in 1994, and more recently, he was named one of the 100 greatest players of all-time. The Bengals legend actually had a knee injury coming out of college at USC, so his selection was viewed as somewhat of a gamble in 1980, but it was a gamble that paid off big time for Cincinnati. 

WR Chad Johnson

Bengals tenure: 2001-10
Bengals resume: Franchise leader in receiving yards, receiving touchdowns and receptions

After Bengals fans watched their team go through football's version of the Dark Ages from 1991 to 2000, the man known as "Ochocinco" couldn't have come at a better time for the franchise. Johnson was selected by the Bengals during the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft, and almost instantly, he revitalized the city's love for football. 

No one had more fun playing in the NFL than Johnson, and you saw it every week with his antics. If you're going to be fun on the field, you have to have the talent to back it up, and Johnson absolutely had that. During his 10 years with the team, Johnson ended up catching 751 passes for 10,789 yards and 66 touchdowns, which all still stand as franchise records. 

The best part of Johnson's touchdowns is that almost all of them came with a unique end zone celebration. 

You want a Riverdance? Check. 

He also wore a makeshift Hall of Fame jacket during one celebration, he pretended to operate a camera, he wrote a letter to Roger Goodell asking not to be fined and he gave CPR to football. Oh, and he also proposed to a cheerleader. 

Although touchdown celebrations going viral is commonplace now, Johnson was a truly a man before his time. 

"Looking at the way social media and reality TV has mushroomed, look at his influence on the culture," Hobson wrote of the Bengals all-time leading receiver. 

One notable thing about Johnson is that he led the AFC in receiving four straight times, making him one of only two receivers in NFL history to lead a conference in receiving at least four consecutive times (Jerry Rice is the other). Ochocinco was also voted to six Pro Bowls while also being named first-team All-Pro twice in his career. 

WR Isaac Curtis

Bengals tenure: 1973-84
Bengals resume: Four Pro Bowls, franchise leader in yards per catch (17.1), catalyst for modern receiving rules in the NFL

It's not easy to pick five players to represent a franchise, and I'm mentioning that because the final spot on the Bengals list was the most difficult one to fill. In the end, the spot went to Isaac Curtis. 

One of the qualifiers for making this list is to have an impact on the franchise, and not only did Curtis do that, but he had an impact on the entire NFL. Although the average NFL fan might not know that name, they should take some time to learn it, because Curtis is almost single-handedly responsible for all the freedom that receivers are given today. 

During Curtis' rookie year back in 1973, the speedster averaged a ridiculous 18.7 yards per catch. Heading into the playoffs, the Dolphins had no idea how to stop him, so they basically decided that they were going to tackle him to take him out of the game. The plan worked to perfection, and Curtis got shut down (one catch for nine yards) in a 34-16 loss. 

During the offseason, Paul Brown made it very clear to the NFL that it was absurd that the league was allowing defensive backs to tackle receivers. 

So what happened next? Let's let Lapham explain that. 

"Paul Brown persuaded the rules committee to change the way defenses could assault wide receivers," Lapham wrote. "The NFL called it 'The Isaac Curtis Rule,' it changed the game and the way it was played."

Thanks to the new rule, defenders couldn't have any contact with a receiver after five yards, which is the NFL that most of us know today. That rule change alone is why Curtis should be forever remembered in the annals of NFL history. 

"He changed the game," Collinsworth said of Curtis a few years ago. "There's no question because no one could keep up with him. They put in the five-yard bump rules and all that crazy stuff that it all eventually became."

During his 12-year career, not only was Curtis named an All-Pro four times, but he also finished in the top nine in receiving touchdowns a total of four times, the top five in receiving yards twice and the top 10 in yards per reception five times, including 1975 when he led the NFL at 21.2 yards per catch. 

Curtis finished his career with 416 catches for 7,101 yards with 53 touchdowns, and although those numbers don't jump off the page, Lapham is quick to point out that Curtis would have put up some stupidly impressive numbers if he had ever gotten a chance to play in the  modern NFL. He also was comparable to Hall of Famers of his era. As noted  by Hobson, Curtis had more catches (416 to 336) and touchdowns (53 to 51) than Lynn Swann, and more yards per catch than John Stallworth (17.1 to 16.2).

Honorable mentions

Just missed (First player out at each spot)
Boomer Esiason -- 1988 NFL MVP, led Bengals to Super Bowl XXIII, finished 3-2 record in playoff games (Bengals are 2-12 in postseason games where Esiason wasn't the QB). 
PLAYER: Ken Riley -- Finished career with 65 interceptions, which currently ranks as the fifth-most in NFL history. Riley had the second most interceptions in the NFL three times (1976, 1982, 1983) and led the AFC with eight picks at age 36 during his final season in the NFL in 1983 (Riley passed away over the weekend at age 72, and you can read more about his life by clicking here). 
COACH: Marvin Lewis -- Most wins of any coach in Bengals history. Led team to the postseason seven times. 

Honorable mention: Tim Krumrie, Lemar Parrish, Corey Dillon, Andrew Whitworth, Willie Anderson, Cris Collinsworth, David Fulcher, Reggie Williams, Jim Breech

Active players who could crack this list one day: Geno Atkins, A.J. Green