Lifelong Wilmington friends Dwayne DeWeese, Jason Nichols, Marty Marshall, Cam Storer, Jay Johnson and Kyle Murphy have been football fans as long as they remember.
They etched their place in Cincinnati Bengals lore on Oct. 9, 1988. Their sign “Welcome to the Jungle,” an idea spawned by Guns ‘N Roses legendary song, sparked fan fever and was part of the Bengals ride to Super Bowl XXIII.
“Not too many people get to have something like this happen and it be proven,” said Murphy. “You tell people about it and it’s like, ‘Yea, right, you started that’.”
But the photographs, newspaper stories, radio interviews and television reports at the time more than substantiate their story.
The Jungle Crew, as they called themselves back then, wish it wouldn’t have taken 33 years for the Bengals to get back to the Super Bowl to rekindle the memories of their bed sheet banner.
Said DeWeese, “I didn’t know if I’d live long enough to see it (another Super Bowl).”
Murphy, DeWeese, Marshall, Johnson and Storer got together Tuesday at the Elks 797 Lodge to talk about their memories of that time.
Since that Super Bowl in January of 1989, a 20-16 loss to the 49ers, the Bengals have struggled to regain the magic of that 1988 season. This group laments the bad luck the team has been subjected to, but they’ve all remained close.
“We’re best friends man. Been together since seventh or eighth grade,” said Marshall. “We’ve all been very good friends for a long time.”
While Nichols is currently living in Florida and another high school friend Greg Weiss is living in Dallas, the group has remained tight with the others living in Wilmington. Except for Nichols, they all got together for the Bengals’ first playoff game this season against the Raiders, who Marshall and Storer now claim as their favorite team.
While none expect to make the trip this year to Los Angeles, they’ll all be glued to their televisions … just not together.
“”We have superstitions as to where we were for the previous game and what we were wearing,” said DeWeese. “So Kyle is not going to make it but I think Cam, Marty and I are going to get together.”
Murphy will be “in my living room wearing the same exact clothes as will the rest of my family.” Johnson, not part of the school systems closing down the day after the big game, will likewise be at home watching because of work the next day.
And they all believe they’ll be watching a Bengals victory around 9:30 p.m. on Feb. 13.
”They’re going to win,” said Murphy. “We have to bask in that (idea) and why not, until it doesn’t happen.”
Storer and Marshall said quarterback Joe Burrow gives this team hope. Said Marshall, “It’s different with Joe. This is not the same (Bengals) team.”
The Bengals made their first Super Bowl following the 1981 season, losing to San Francisco 26-21 in Super Bowl XVI in Detroit.
The years that followed were a roller-coaster ride. The team was 10-6 in 1986 then 4-11 (with one game cancelled by the players strike) in 1987. So there was little idea the 1988 team would have the success it had.
But the Bengals started the season with five straight wins. On Oct. 9, 1988, the Jets were coming to Riverfront Stadium. The Wilmington Jungle Crew was getting ready for the game on Saturday night. The guys got together with ideas of what to put on their banners. Each put something in a hat and then they picked out the ideas. They decided to go with two ideas — No Gastineau (in honor of Jets pass rusher Mark Gastineau) and Welcome to the Jungle.
Then prior to leaving for the game that Sunday morning, DeWeese’s mother Sandy suggested taking a photo of the face-painted, orange and black clad Jungle Crew with their handiwork, documenting the proof they came up with the idea on Oct. 9, 1988.
The Bengals defeated the Jets that day, 37-19, to improve to 6-0 on the year. The sign hung on the front row of the second level near the Bengals tunnel.
“You won’t see any signs about the Jungle the first five games,” Murphy said. “But if you see footage of that sixth game against the Jets … there it (our sign) is.”
In Week 7, Cincinnati lost its first game at New England, 27-21, then returned home to face the Houston Oilers. The guys were ready again with their Welcome to the Jungle banner but were surprised when they were greeted at the Riverfront gates by folks handing out the orange signs. JTM Foods backed the Jungle idea, the guys said, and made it synonymous with Bengals football.
“They said they saw guys running around with their faces painted up, acting crazy at the (Jets) game and they saw the sign,” Storer recalled.
Said DeWeese, “We all know who they were,” referencing their group.