who dey think gon' beat them...
I’m not entirely sure when the obsession began. I want to say I remember the exact moment in time when rooting for the Cincinnati Bengals became a necessity in my life, but I would be lying. Looking back, many of my memories are painful. Shit, most of them are painful. But, many are not. Many of those memories consist of pure joy and elation, happiness and well-being, and the fact that my city has an NFL team to root for on Sundays. However, judging by my post-game behavior after some of those gut-wrenching losses throughout the years, my mother would be eager to tell you that at the end of the day, “It’s just a game.” After all of these years, I suppose I see where my mom was coming from, but not really. I mean, just a game? There is no chance in hell.
When you sit back and think about it, when is anything ever just defined by one thing? There is always something else down there when you really dig, and the same can be said for sports and our human connection to them. For the Cincinnati Bengals and its fanbase, it’s entirely more than just a sport, and it all seems to be coming to light this year in a way I cannot really explain. Now, before I get talking too crazy, I’ll admit that us Bengals fans have a way of getting ahead of ourselves and looking down the road; even when we don’t intend to do so. But this year, frankly, I just don’t give a damn. Gone With the Wind style:
So, do we need to take this season one game at a time? Absolutely. Do I need to be bombarded with the constant plethora of questions ranging from, “Can the Bengals win in the playoffs with Andy Dalton?” to statements like, “Nothing matters until the playoffs.” Absolutely not. I’m not buying any of it. Have our recent playoff losses contributed to many of these comments? They sure have, but I’m not buying any of that shit. That’s right, I said it. You want to know why? Because they’ve never felt our pain. They’ve never watched every Sunday football game, even when their team was 1–15. They haven’t been to Riverfront Stadium to watch the Bengals play in the same stadium as the World Series Champion Cincinnati Reds. And they sure as hell haven’t been the doormat of the league for so many years, until the tides slowly began to turn. So, who are they you might ask? Oh, you know. They were around before the internet, and social media and live video, but did you see them? Probably not. They were too busy hiding in the grass, away from the world, until that grass was eventually cut. Nowadays, it is just cut a whole lot shorter.
Did life always used to be so complicated? Or, was everyone always this damn scrutinized? Or better yet, did we just not see the scrutiny as often because the internet and online forums were not yet in existence? I’m not entirely positive on that one, but I’m sure someone is debating about that topic somewhere. Now, where was I headed with this? Oh yes, there is something in the air here in Cincinnati and I think it’s about time we threw out everything and just started to enjoy it. That’s right, enjoy it. Throw out your expectations, throw out the past, throw out the disappointments and relish in the fact that we are witnessing history, folks! We’ve never seen the Cincinnati Bengals at 8–0, because, well, they’ve never been 8–0. I repeat, this has never happened before in the history of the Cincinnati Bengals, so why not enjoy the heck out of it? All this team needs from the fans is for us to believe. We must believe we can beat anyone on any given Sunday. We must believe in each and every player, coach, security guard, marketer, ticket sales associate, and intern in that establishment, and better yet, all we have to do is ask one question, “Why not?”
Why not us? Why not this team from Cincinnati with a certain swagger and confidence they’ve never quite shown before? Why not the once doormat Cincinnati Bungles, the former laughing stock of the NFL and the professional sporting world? See, if you’re a Bengals fan, you never forget those days. You will never forget those days. But like that relationship that didn’t work out or that basketball team you didn’t make back in high school, you learn from it, and you move on. Do you ever forget it? No, I don’t think that you ever do. It becomes a part of your story, but you never let it define you as a person, and that’s all that really matters.
So, if you’re reading this, it’s too late. Do I need to copyright Drake on that line? Actually though, do I? Anyway, if you’ve come this far in my tangent, then hats off to you. You’re the shit and I truly appreciate you for reading my work and my crazy thoughts and all the weird shit that comes out of my mouth. That being said, I wasn’t lying with my opening statement in this paragraph. If you’re not a Bengals fan and you’re reading this, then it’s too late. You’re on board for the long haul, and I gotta say, it’s nice to have ya. Remember those painful memories I was talking about?
Here’s one (Bengals fans beware, you might need a paper bag for this one. Rest in peace Chris Henry. What a talent gone way too soon):
I’m sorry. I hate doing that. I hate showing that clip. I hate that fucking clip. And, I hate that day. And, I really don’t hate that many things. I’m a pretty nice, easygoing dude. But, damn, if that clip doesn’t make my stomach physically hurt every single time I watch it. But you know what, fuck it. It’s in the past and it will be there forever. I’ll probably get roasted for this one, but part of me thinks it was supposed to happen. Like the great 50 Cent once said,
“Sunny days wouldn’t be special if it weren’t for rain, joy wouldn’t feel so good if it wasn’t for pain. Death gotta be easy, cause life is hard, it’ll leave you physically, mentally and emotionally scarred.”
For real though, how crazy is that? I just said that a part of me believes that play against the Steelers was supposed to happen. I don’t know, maybe I’m a nut. Hell, I’m writing an article at 11:00 pm on a Tuesday evening about a professional sports team that I have literally zero connection to, other than my love for the game, its history and my city, man. Maybe that makes it even sweeter. The hell if I know. But, who really cares? What I do know is that I love this team and I am along for the ride. In an age of complicated communication and overthinking as a way of life, that simplicity sounds so sweet when I say it aloud. Try it. Actually, say this aloud,
“I love this Cincinnati Bengals football team and I am along for the ride. The whole damn thing.”
That’s it. That’s literally all we have to do.
Okay, a quick story before I let you off the hook…
A few weeks ago, while walking down to a big tailgate against the Seahawks in Week 5, our crew ran into some Seahawks fans inquiring about the city of Cincinnati and the differences between the pregame celebrations here, and out in the PNW (Pacific Northwest — I visited this summer so I know all of the cool lingo now). This all went down around 10:00 am EST. Now, if you’ve followed sports for the past couple of years, you’ve heard all about Seattle’s “12th Man” and their rowdy and raucous fanbase. On this particularly beautiful Sunday afternoon in Cincinnati, one of the Seahawks fans decided to ask our group a couple of questions about the pregame atmosphere.
“Where is the energy down here? Buildings are literally shaking in Seattle at 6:00 am. This just isn’t the same.”
Now, like any respectable person, I informed him about a few tailgate spots that were absolutely bonkers before the game, and that the parking lot we were passing was under construction at this time. He wasn’t having it. So, I decided to take the immature route by telling him to wait for the game when we beat you on our home turf, and I proceeded to walk away. To be completely honest, I’m tired of that nonsense. Your buildings are shaking at 6:00 am? Put the Nati Lights down, bro. Oh yeah, and I told him to get ready for the Who Dey chants. I don’t think he knew what the hell I was talking about, but he soon learned:
Welcome to the Jungle, Seattle. The funny thing is, we saw that guy downtown ten minutes after the game ended, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more distraught fan in my entire life. This guy was beside himself and obviously a diehard Seahawks fan, which I respect, but karma is a female dog, buddy. When asked how the noise level was during that game, the crickets from this guy couldn’t have been any noisier, and I looked onward with a smile that might have lit up the entire Cincinnati sky. But, I digress. Look, it’s probably pretty ironic reading an article from a Bengals fan and his point of view on the sporting world. I get it, we have the longest drought in the entire NFL without a playoff win. While teams like Denver and New England win playoff games every year, we’ve painfully lost four in a row in consecutive years, each one worse than the next. Last year was the peak for me, as I drove solo to Indy to meet up with some buddies for the big game. Part of me had a bad feeling that entire morning. I tried not to think about it, but I knew I wanted to be at that game.
If you don’t recall, Andy Dalton had Mohamed Sanu, and only Mohamed Sanu, to throw to that dreadful afternoon in Indianapolis. Andrew Luck ended up having a field day, helping to defeat my Bengals 26–10. Ouch. It was rough. Maybe one of the roughest losses I’ve felt as a fan. We were without some key guys, sure, welcome to the NFL, but we didn’t have a chance in hell that day. That’s what hurt the most, man. We didn’t have a shot and I don’t care what anyone tries to tell you.
Things are different this year. You can feel it down at the stadium, you can feel it at the local bar, you can feel it when you listen to the press conferences. It’s just different. We are finally embracing who we are, and for that, I am just happy to be along for the ride.