The leaves dry out and fall to the ground. A cool breeze cuts through the summer air and serves as a gentle reminder of the upcoming ice storms and early sunsets on their way. The Earth feels older during this time; the magnitude of our own mortality is heightened. Many things start to die when it gets like this, except football—football carries on and it isn't waiting around for nostalgia.
Autumn is a triumph in and of itself, supplying the world with gilded-edged memories of school days and neighborhoods, but then man decided to make football an autumn game and blew it out of the water compared to the other seasons. Now when early September rolls around and the temperature dips into the seventies, the hair on my arms stand at attention. This isn't because I'm cold, but because Week 1 is on the doorstep, and a large region of my brain goes berserk when this concept fully sinks in. Call it a madness, or an addiction, or a disease, or whatever you'd like, but it's there, it's serious, and it needs to be fed. It's like a hungry lion, or, more appropriately, a hungry bengal.
Sure, the preseason is fine to watch during August, but I get less enthused every year about the exhibition stuff. If no one cares about the game's outcome then it can't matter all that much. That's why you should wipe your memory clean of anything you learned in the preseason, because none of it mattered. None of it. The roster you see before you is the only one that matters, all stats are at zero, and past performances are irrelevant. We're all heading into this season blindly together; no one can be certain of anything.
That's what makes Sunday so special—the uncertainty. Unlike the concreteness of the seasonal changes, or the inevitability of the holidays that crop up late in the year, how a football game or season unfolds is the magical unknown. The gamblers' frontier. It isn't the Lakers or the Yankees, it's the NFL, and the men in charge, despite their best efforts, haven't corrupted the essence of competition yet to keep it from being a balanced league of team parity.
I'm not one to claim that Cleveland or St. Louis will win the Super Bowl, but they have a better chance than the Pittsburgh Pirates or the New Jersey Nets do—those teams don't even play football! Our very own Bengals are an excellent example of expectations run amok. In 2002 they went 2-14, in 2003 they finished 8-8. In 2005 they went 11-5, in 2006 it was 8-8 again. In 2008, 4-11-1; 2009, 10-6. You get the drift.
There are lots of reasons to have high expectations again this year, but those reasons will not be listed in today's writing. Like a wet towel wrung dry, we simply cannot glean any more knowledge from this team until they play a real game. We've analyzed and speculated since early February—even NASA doesn't do this much analysis—and if you are a loyal reader, you are equipped with as much information as you will ever possibly need about the Bengals.
All that is left to do now is getting comfortable in long sleeves and taking in the 2010 Bengals season. Don't worry about looming collective-bargaining (dis)agreements or excessive pre-snap penalties. Don't worry about Baltimore or that dumb ass, Chris Colinsworth. And if you do start worrying, remind yourself that it's football and that it's fun...dammit.