Let me preface this post by saying I grew up in Cincinnati for 25 years before moving to Kansas City in 2006. I am a lifelong Cincinnati Bengals fan, this post is personal to me and honestly too long. Enjoy.
I guess I began being a fan in January 1989. You see that was the last trip the Bengals made to the Super Bowl, and the game was on my 8th birthday. I didn’t have a clue what was going on really, just that I was having a huge party with tons of people over. I even had a birthday cake shaped and decorated like Boomer Esiason. I spent that birthday/Super Bowl playing with Legos in the living room while my father and the rest of the party watched in agony as the Bengals had lost another Super Bowl in the decade.
It probably wasn’t until many years later I became a real fan as I finally understood the game of football and toys weren’t as enticing to me as watching sports. Unfortunately, I was becoming a fan after the passing of Paul Brown, the legendary founder of both the Browns and the Bengals. I became a diehard fan under the Mike Brown era, an era that still exists today.
I followed the team through its worst times, which seemed like every year. Every year ended with hope for the next until the team would botch the upcoming draft. I had to live trough the team selecting David Klingler, Dan Wilkinson, Ki-Jana Carter, Reinard Wilson, Akili Smith and Peter Warrick. Every one of these guys were high first round picks that became complete bust, putting the franchise even more behind. Granted Mike Brown did hit on a few of his draft picks: Willie Anderson, Corey Dillon, Takeo Spikes, Chad Johnson, Rudi Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Carson Palmer. Recent drafts haven’t been too bad as far as bust go, but Palmer (drafted in 2003) is the last player drafted that has made a Pro Bowl.
Occasionally a bad season would result in a new head coach the next year. However, since Mike Brown was always so cheap, he hired from within. Sam Wyche was the head coach that last led the Bengals to a Super Bowl; he was succeeded by Dave Shula (19-52), Bruce Coslet (21-39) then Dick LeBeau (12-33) before the hiring of Marvin Lewis in 2003. These previous coaches never succeeded because of several factors: bad coaching, horrible draft picks and horrible free agent signing if any. It was nearly impossible to get a talented free agent to even visit the team let alone sign. All these coaches were retained too long which again set the franchise back further.
Marvin Lewis was hired from outside the Bengal family and immediately sparked new life into the lifeless team. Bengals fans loved his first draft class; we were excited about Carson Palmer and the future of this team. However, the complete 2004 and 2005 draft classes were all bust. Granted the Bengals put together a playoff run in 2005 and won the AFC North, their first playoff berth in nearly 20 years. The fans were excited; the city of Cincinnati was alive with hungry football fans. Previous years bad draft classes brought the Bengals back to the Bungles again in 2006. The next four drafts provided some talent: Leon Hall, Keith Rivers, Jerome Simpson and Rey Maualuga. These classes may have been better than previous classes; the jury is still out on some of the players, but overall several misses.
Lewis swept the AFC North in 2009 and took the team back to the playoffs earning him the Coach of the Year Award. Fans were again excited, everything was going as planned, the Bungles were no more. The Bengals had made the playoffs twice in four seasons after being absent for nearly 20 years. We were sure our bad luck was behind us, we would be Bungles no more.
The 2010 draft saw the Bengals draft Jermaine Gresham and Carlos Dunlap, a TE and DE that would be key to the future and help push this team further into the playoff in the upcoming season. The team even went out to give a second chance to Adam “Pacman” Jones and signed Terrell Owens. This team was loaded with talent; there was no way they were going to lose. However, lose is all they could do in 2010, going 4-12 and becoming once again the laughing stock of the NFL. I have never seen a team with such talent be so bad, almost like they didn’t care. They never tried to win, the Ocho and TO show seemed more important than football.
After that horrible season I wanted them to blow it all up and start over. Marvin Lewis was in his last year of his contract and I wanted to start with him, however they gave him an extension. I think there is a saying somewhere about how insanity means trying the same thing over and over again expecting different results each time, this is how I felt about Marvin Lewis. This became the first step to me swearing off the Bengals for life. Then came the whole Carson Palmer “trade me or I’ll retire” game. Fans were tired of Palmer and if we could get draft picks to help the team then the fans wanted that over his retirement. Mike Brown refused to trade him before and during the 2011 draft; this greatly upset me and urged me further to not be a fan. I was then brought back to fandom during the draft as the Bengals used their first two picks on WR A.J. Green and QB Andy Dalton. During their second round selection I turned to my wife and said ‘If they don’t take Dalton here I will never be a fan again.” They did and I bought in for a while. Jay Gruden was hired as offensive coordinator and Chad Ochocinco was traded to New England for some late round picks. I was happy to get rid of Chad and knowing TO wasn’t coming back. Now let them trade Palmer.
Mike Brown came out in a press conference before the 2011 season and told the fans that he wouldn’t trade Palmer because Palmer had signed a contract and Palmer needed to honor that contract. I was appalled. No owner in the NFL is obligated to honor any contract to any of the players they sign, they can be cut at any time, why then should a player be forced to honor a contract? This absurdness was my last straw; I decided then and there I would NEVER be a Bungles fan again.
I was serious, my wife and friends knew it wouldn’t last. My wife knew this because I had said the exact same thing before, however this time I meant it. So I thought. I still found myself following the team, hiding the fact I guess. Every time I would talk football with friends I would bring up the Bengals. I kept an eye on their preseason, checked box scores and their transactions, all the time telling myself I was no longer a fan. I reveled in the preseason publications that had the Bengals dead last, and some picked them to be 1-15 at best.
I was at a sports bar during week one in a Chiefs shirt and hat (my new team), however I found myself watching a smaller screen, the screen showing the Bengals game. I watched them come from behind and win. I even got a hug from a stranger in a Maualuga jersey. I was happy with the win, but it was the Browns. I wasn’t a fan so I didn’t care, so I again thought.
They were soon 1-2 and hometown fans weren’t showing up and TV fans saw them get blacked out. Undefeated Buffalo was coming to town to blow them out. However, the Bengals showed signs of a strong, good, young defense. They were emerging as a team, young Andy Dalton was becoming a leader and playing far better than any second round rookie QB had in the past. They shocked the sports world and beat the Bills. The next two weeks the defense was once again strong and Dalton lead them to wins over Jacksonville and Indianapolis. The team that was once left for dead with a rookie QB and rookie #1 WR was now 4-2 entering their bye week. I couldn’t stop talking about them, I was a fan again. Then again, did I ever really leave?
I was watching the Monday Night Game last week, the day before the NFL trade deadline when I said to a friend that the Bengals could win me back 100% if they shipped Carson Palmer to Seattle the next day. I thought Seattle because of the Pete Carroll connection. I woke up the next morning with the best text message ever, the news of the trade. I couldn’t believe the compensation the Raiders were willing to give for a retired player. I had been bad mouthing Mike Brown for months. I couldn’t believe it myself when I told a friend that Mike Brown obviously knew what he was doing, he pulled off a genius move and kudos to him for it.
The Bengals got a 2012 first round pick and a 2013 conditional second round pick for a player that quit on his team and retired. The Bengals have a team that is getting younger in a hurry and in a good way. Their defense is tough, period. The offense is one of the youngest in the league, a rookie WR in Green and QB in Dalton. The other WRs are relatively young and they have a developing pass catching TE, Gresham, in only his second year. With two first round picks in 2012 a new young RB could be on the horizon to replace Cedric Benson.
I’m not saying this team is bound for Indy this year, but they are not what everyone expected, even a diehard like me. With the divas (Carson, Chad and TO) off this team the Bengals have become just that, a team. They finally have the leader Carson Palmer never was and have rid themselves of all the “me first” players that formally plagued the team. I have a good feeling that the Bengals could finish the year 8-8, now which may not be considered great to some, but it is a four game improvement from last year and an eight game improvement from what the experts predicted.
I am a Bengals fan; I will wear it proud like I always did before. Shame on me for trying to quit on this team ala Carson Palmer. This young and focused team with new leadership has great potential and has me as a fan extremely excited. I’m happy to announce that the Bengals are back, the Bungles are NO MORE!!!
Thanks for reading.