The 2008 NFL season is underway, and with it comes a nation's worth of Super Bowl hopes, body paint and beer. A lot of stock will be placed in how the teams fare in their first game, probably more than is fair. Fans should rest easy in the knowledge that however bad their teams may fare this weekend, it could be worse. A lot worse. The year was 1979, and the Cincinnati Bengals were hoping to erase the memory of a dismal 4-12 season. Coach Homer Rice decided that what the team needed was inspiration. Something regal, something forceful, something whose presence could not be ignored. When players arrived for training camp, they were surprised/concerned to discover Rice's choice of inspiration — an actual Bengal tiger.
The tiger, named Atisakti (a Hindi word meaning great power or honor), accompanied the team throughout training camp. He stalked the sidelines, lurked in the dark during game-film sessions, and watched with an unnerving calm as players ate in the cafeteria. At first the team thought Rice had lost his mind, but soon found that they were practicing with a vigor and pride that they had lacked the year before. When they started mowing down their pre-season opponents, every one of them agreed, to a man, that Atisakti was the reason.
Unfortunately, a small problem lay on the horizon. The Bengals' first game was on the road, against a Denver team that had won the division the previous year. Players and coaches alike came to the same conclusion: somehow, they had to get Atisakti to Mile High Stadium.
After much deliberation, the team devised a plan to smuggle the tiger in their equipment truck. One of the equipment managers had a cousin who worked for the stadium's ground crew, and was able to arrange a minor diversion when the Bengals arrived. Emboldened by their totem of strength, the team took the field as champions, ready to claim their first victory.
Until Atisakti followed them through the tunnel onto the field, and immediately made a murderous dash for the Broncos' mascot horse. The horse, a mare named Whisper, made a good run of it for a while, but the tiger's agility proved too much. As tens of thousands of horrified fans watched, Atisakti ate Whisper on the 35 yard line.
The Bengals lost the game, 10-0. They would go on to an identically dismal 4-12 record. Homer Rice did not return as coach in 1980.