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The two words that will power Zac Taylor's Super Bowl prep

Facing the Rams in the Super Bowl is a full-circle moment for the Bengals head coach in more ways than one.

Much will be made over these next two weeks on the connections between the Los Angeles Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals, and specifically on Zac Taylor's connection. 

In 2016, Taylor was the University of Cincinnati's offensive coordinator. Those weren't Luke Fickell's Bearcats, mind you. This was the team that brought Fickell to town. They'd go 4-8 that year, ranking 99th nationally in yards per play. It was Tuberville's final year in coaching.

Two seasons later, Taylor was back in the Queen City as the head coach of the Bengals. Those two seasons in between saw Taylor work as the Rams' assistant wide receivers coach, and then as the quarterbacks coach. 

So, yes, people are going to explore that connection as heads to Los Angeles for the first time as the Bengals' head coach.

But that's likely not the first thing Taylor thinks of when it comes to the LA Rams. He'll think back to a moment at 1 a.m. in the early morning hours of Oct. 23, 2019.

Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan were in his office, preparing for that Sunday's game with the Rams. The Rams were the defending NFC champions, the Bengals were 0-7. 

Fully present in their misery of trying to scheme some wins for their winless team against Aaron Donald, Taylor and Callahan did something important. They chose to memorialize that moment, acknowledging that, though things were bad now, they wouldn't always be this tough. And when better days arrived, they could look back at the marker they left behind in the valley to measure exactly how far they climbed.

"It was a hard game plan week, preparing for Aaron Donald and all the problems that come with him. We hadn't won a game," Taylor said recently.

"Brian and I wrote on my dry erase board, we put the date, we put the time -- it was a Tuesday night at maybe 1 a.m. I don't think we had a play on our call sheet done... I wrote up on my board, 'Remember when.' There's going to be a day where we reflect back on this moment we're having right now, struggling to get a yard on a game plan call sheet, and we're going to say, 'Hey, remember when we couldn't figure out a way to get a yard against the LA Rams?' 

"Trust me, I look at that every day." 

Visualization and mile-marking have been an important factor in Taylor's success. Here he is speaking to Sports Illustrated following Sunday's win.

“If you’re a competitor and you believe in what you’re doing, you dreamed about this day every day of your life,” Taylor told me, as he boarded the bus. “And every single day that I’ve driven home from work, I’ve envisioned the people on the streets out there celebrating, getting ready for a parade. I think anybody that’s ever done anything special, or been a part of anything special, has had those same dreams. And we hope to make them reality.”

Cincinnati lost that week, 24-10, en route to a 2-14 season. But the tough times didn't last.

The team would add Joe Burrow that spring, then J'Marr Chase the following spring. Of the nine players that produced Cincinnati's 401 yards that Sunday, only three are still on the team.

But the best part of that clip? Taylor told that story a couple weeks ago, long before he knew Cincinnati would face Los Angeles in Super Bowl LVI.

I think we all know the first place Taylor's eyes went when he walked in his office for the first time Monday morning. He'll have much better answers for Aaron Donald this time around. 

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