From used jock straps to Burrow’s megadeal: How the once-cheap Bengals have leveled up

Ben Baby, ESPN Staff WriterSep 16, 2023, 06:25 AM ET

CloseBen Baby covers the Cincinnati Bengals for ESPN. He joined the company in July 2019. Prior to ESPN, he worked for various newspapers in Texas, most recently at The Dallas Morning News where he covered college sports. He provides daily coverage of the Bengals for, while making appearances on SportsCenter, ESPN’s NFL shows and ESPN Radio programs. A native of Grapevine, Texas, he graduated from the University of North Texas with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He is an adjunct journalism professor at Southern Methodist University and a member of the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA).

CINCINNATI — The jock straps said it all.

When former All-Pro linebacker Takeo Spikes arrived in the league as a rookie in 1998, he noticed something about the protective equipment offered by the Cincinnati Bengals.

At the time, the franchise was near the end of a dreadful decade that produced the worst winning percentage in the NFL (.395). And to acquire gear, getting new items meant turning in the old ones.

But when it came to jockstraps, the replacements weren’t guaranteed to be new.

“[There] would be times they would give out used ones and scratch out the number

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