Being a Bengals fan in Pittsburgh is tough. But today is a good day. Typically, when the Bengals play the Steelers I watch the game at home, alone, occasionally with a bowl of Cincinnati Chili, and stand witness as the seemingly inevitable outcome materializes--another heartbreaking loss to the Steelers. It comes in so many different forms they are impossible to recount, but Bengals fans know my pain. My decision to stay at home has been largely based on the reality of being a Steelers fan in Pittsburgh. Its actually impossible to cheer for another team in Pittsburgh--people just don't get that there are other teams in the NFL which may actually have fans. The shock and dismay of seeing another teams colors inevitably turns to anger and mockery. But what did Nietschze say? What does not kill me makes me stronger.
My first major experience going out in public as a Bengals fan was in 1999. I was fortunate enough to get tickets to Three Rivers Stadium and watch the Bengals shock the Steelers, essentially eliminating them from a potential playoff spot. With my family, we quickly fled the stadium, justifiably fearing the worst. Since then, there hasn't been much to cheer about. I poked my head out once again during 2005--dressed in Bengals garb I went to a large sports bar, only to watch the Bengals beat the Steelers up and down the field in every category, save the most important one--the final score. And then again, I went to a big playoff party later that season, only to watch the Bengals shred my heart more viciously than Kimo Van Olhoffen shredded Palmer's ligaments.
Since then--seclusion. The Bengals were clearly on a downturn and the Steelers on an upswing, and there is no point in being a masochist. But this year, something came over me. Call it a gut feeling, an instinct, a premonition, or stupidity. I once again donned my Bengals garb and headed to my local sports bar to watch the game. I now feel I have some understanding of what it means to be a homosexual in a fundamentalist family or white Democrat south of the Mason Dixon. Coming out is not easy.
Of course a few of my friends already new, perhaps more suspected, but it was a quite shock to the regular patrons of my local watering hole. A Bengals fan in their midst. After the initial outrage and reprobation subsided, I was greeted with a mixture of respect (Man you've got balls wearing that in here!) and pity (You're a Bengals fan? I'm so sorry).
And as the game unfolded, in seemingly predictable fashion (Bengals make a few good plays, can't capitalize and seem inept at crucial moments--why do I break out in sweat during extra points?), I suffered the slings and arrows as I usually do. What I have discovered, however, is that being a Bengals fan in Pittsburgh gives you a thick skin, there was no insult that could be hurled, no off color remark that could be uttered, no joke that could be made which I had not heard a thousand times--and I sat in quiet dignity as I watched my Bengals go down to what appeared to be a painful and inevitable defeat.
But then something happened in the second half, Jonathon Joseph picks off an errant Roethlisberger pass and returns it for a score, and the bar went quiet, save for the sound of two hands, clapping--is that me? And I sensed fear in the room. But I've been through this before, the Bengals are bigger teases than my prom date and I've come to learn not to expect much.
And then, in the fourth quarter, came the drive. With time ticking away and the Bengals down by five, they have a chance to win, all they have to do is score a touchdown against one of the premier defenses in the NFL. Simple enough. And again, I sat in quiet dignity, hopeful, but still with a pit in my stomach. The sticks move, but 4th down comes like the sunrise, predictably, but always too early. But the sticks move again and.....4th down again!? Leonard catches a pass seven yards down field when we need ten (how typical!) but manages to fall forward for the first down (This is the Bengals isn't it?)....and time is ticking away....
And then, out of a haze, Andre Caldwell (TJ who?) is in the endzone, with the ball...am I dreaming? Just another nightmare? There was still time on clock! No lead is safe! What fluke will hand this game back to the Steelers? And lo and behold, the Steelers f#%$ up, running off 12 seconds on a silly attempt to run back a kick. Roethlisberger's last past flies helpless and I sit, in quiet dignity enjoying a much deserved win.
Sure I drew a few glares and one tongue in cheek rant, but I was happy to weather it, and it was a good day to be a Bengals fan.