Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval Raises Bengals Flag as Team Heads to AFC Championship at 'Burrowhead Stadium'

"Kansas City is known for their barbecue. They're also known for... well, they're known for their barbecue," Pureval said.

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click to enlarge Cincinnati mayor Aftab Pureval speaks before the Cincinnati Bengals flag is raised at Cincinnati City Hall on Jan. 27, 2023. - Photo: Katherine Barrier
Photo: Katherine Barrier
Cincinnati mayor Aftab Pureval speaks before the Cincinnati Bengals flag is raised at Cincinnati City Hall on Jan. 27, 2023.

The city of Cincinnati is shouting "WHO DEY" from the flag pole outside of City Hall.

During a brief ceremony on Jan. 27, Cincinnati mayor Aftab Pureval, city employees and fans gathered in their best black and orange attire to raise the Cincinnati Bengals flag before the team heads to its AFC championship game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The group enthusiastically chanted "WHO DEY" as the mayor set up the game's stakes with Caroline Blackburn, senior manager of digital strategy for the Bengals, and Elizabeth Blackburn, director of strategy and engagement, behind him.

"We are back again, y'all. The Cincinnati Bengals are back in the AFC championship this Sunday," Pureval said, referring to the Bengals' back-to-back AFC championship berths. "I told you last year that this team perfectly personified our city. They are young, they are diverse, they are hungry, they've got that Cincinnati swagger, and they are not 'just happy to be here.' We belong here, and we're going to come back year after year after year."

As has been popular on social media, Pureval called Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium "Burrowhead Stadium" as he described the friendly bet between himself and KC mayor Quinton Lucas: local threads and eats.

"Let's start with the clothing. I really saw this as a cry for help from 'Mayor Q' because 'Mayor Q' needs some fashion help from Cincinnati. So I invited my friend Means Cameron, owner of BlaCkOwned Outerwear," Pureval said. "The mayor could use some Cincinnati swagger, because the clothing he bet me was really quite tired."

Cameron pulled out a Bengals bomber jacket, just like Pureval recently modeled in a series of photos for BlaCkOwned Outerwear. "I'll make sure the mayor gets one of the infamous reversible collaboration jackets between the Bengals and BlaCkOwned," Cameron said.

"You know, the mayor, I love him but he's kind of petite," Pureval pointed out.

"This is an extra small," Cameron laughed.

click to enlarge The Cincinnati Bengals flag flies at Cincinnati City Hall on Jan. 27, 2023. - Photo: Katherine Barrier
Photo: Katherine Barrier
The Cincinnati Bengals flag flies at Cincinnati City Hall on Jan. 27, 2023.

Pureval said that Lucas also bet barbecue, Kansas City's local delicacy with thick, sweet sauce.

"Kansas City is known for their barbecue. They're also known for... well, they're known for their barbecue," Pureval said to laughter from the crowd. "We're known for our chili. And the Kansas City mayor said he had a sensitive stomach, so he did not want me to send him chili. That's fine. You know, he doesn't have that AFC fortitude."

Pureval said that he'd be sending Lucas a six-pack of Rhinegeist beer instead of chili, should the Chiefs win the AFC. "If that's too much for his sensitive constitution, we'll send him a martini – that seems more his speed."

Just like in 2022 during the Bengals' journey to Super Bowl LVI, local municipalities are supporting Cincinnati's NFL team in big ways. In Dayton, Kentucky, mayor Ben Baker has renamed the city "Who Deyton" for the second year in a row, nodding to the Bengals' famous "WHO DEY" chant. The city also has changed its logo to orange, updated its website to something more befitting of a jungle cat, installed Bengals signs at city boundaries and is bathing city hall in orange light at night. Who Deyton postcards are for sale at city hall, and a cutout of Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow is peeking out of the windows of the Tharp Dayton Heritage Museum.

Government officials have been basking in Bengals love lately. Pureval and other members of the city's administration shouted "WHO DEY" and gave the Bengals props during a recent video filmed at City Hall.

Lowdown on the AFC championship

The Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs will duke it out in a back-to-back AFC championship bout. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Jan. 29 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. The game will be broadcast on CBS and Paramount+.

Last season, the Bengals knocked off the Kansas City Chiefs 27-24 in overtime after overcoming an 18-point deficit during a tense AFC championship round. Cincinnati had trailed 21-10 at the half but later rallied to tie it up and then take the lead. The Chiefs tied things up again at the end of the fourth quarter, sending the game into overtime. That's when Even McPherson did what he's now known for – a last-minute, game-winning, 31-yard field goal that glided right through the posts and made the entire Queen City erupt with glee. The win sent the Bengals to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1989.

Since the start of the 2021 season, Cincinnati has beaten Kansas City three straight times, with Burrow becoming the first quarterback to do so. During the teams' most recent battle on Dec. 4, the Bengals beat the Chiefs 27-24 at Paycor Stadium and Burrow became the quarterback with the most passing scores in the fourth quarter. Chase also had finally returned to action after being sidelined with injuries for four games, roaring back by catching seven passes for 97 yards.

But safety Jessie Bates may have had the most memorable, suspiciously timed play of the game as Kansas City closed in on the line in the second quarter. With the Bengals’ defensive subs hitting the field late – which could have resulted in a penalty – Bates suddenly collapsed while clutching his leg, seemingly in pain. He previously had been standing casually, so the timing was convenient.

Burrow recently was named as a finalist for the NFL's Most Valuable Player.

A meaningful journey

The Bengals most recently defeated the Buffalo Bills in the AFC divisional round to advance to the AFC championship for the second season in a row. The game was poignant as Bills safety Damar Hamlin attended his first game in person since his serious injury during a previous game with against the Bengals on Jan. 2. The Bengals were up 7-3 in the first quarter when Hamlin collapsed from cardiac arrest. Hamlin was given CPR for nine minutes before being taken away in an ambulance and intubated at University of Cincinnati Medical Center. The NFL first suspended and then canceled that game after a meeting among officials and both teams' coaches. Hamlin continued recovering at UC Medical Center and recently returned to Buffalo, where he's been chatting with teammates and visiting the Bills' facilities. He has not yet been cleared to play.

On Jan. 26, Pureval presented UC Health physicians, nurses and support staff with a key to the city for their around-the-clocck care for Hamlin.

“What is so incredibly special is that, while Damar Hamlin’s case was noteworthy due to it being on national television, it was not noteworthy for the care that he got,” Pureval said during the presentation. “Every single person, whether they are a professional athlete or someone just off the street, receives the same kind of exceptional, first-in-class care. We are so grateful for your heroic work, day in and day out.”

According to the mayor's Jan. 26 Instagram story, Hamlin saw that his care team was honored, and he private messaged Pureval, saying, "This means the world to me, thank you! They did a wonderful job."

"@d.ham3 dm'd me. Pretty excited about it," Pureval said over a screenshot of their conversation.

On Jan. 22, the New York Times published a feature on UC Health's efforts to save and care for Hamlin.

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