It's been a tough stretch for Cincinnati sports. The Reds blew it, the Bengals blew it, and just for kicks, the Bearcats blew it too. It was the Steelers loss, though, that forced our attention to the agony of defeat. I walked around with it for a day or two. Nobody felt like talking about it, only they were dying to talk about it. Even the mere mention of the Bengals would cause typically mild-mannered people to become angry, surly drunks and launch into a rant of negativity and the usual profanity. Yet as you watch them fall into the old trappings of the Bengals Suck textbook, you look down and notice they're wearing a Bengals jacket. Ask them why and they shrug and turn their palms up. Who else am I gonna root for, they say without saying.
I know there are those who think it's the mentality of the city itself that keeps the Bengals from succeeding. They claim other cities would put more pressure on the owner and would get their desired results through any (legal) means necessary. They think that by supporting Mike Brown and the Bengals, by buying tickets and swag, we the people should continue to expect more football losses. Losing is our own fault, they say or at least insinuate. They work at the Cincinnati Enquirer and are named Paul Daugherty.
He's probably right, though. Good owners usually own good teams. There is no more space in the chapter of Mike Brown Sucks (Chapter 1: Bengals Suck) for me to go on about the man, but I have been carefully gracious to dole out my compliments to him regarding some smart recent personnel decisions. I still get my digs in, sure, it's too easy and too much fun not to, but the sun even shines in Paul Brown Stadium once in a while and I make sure to point it out when I can.
But this isn't about Mike Brown, or Paul Daugherty, it's about Cincinnati. The people that make up this metropolis aren't good fans. They are either despicably naïve and think the Super Bowl is a near certainty, or they are total dooms-dayers who seem to cheer on defeat yet still call themselves Bengal fans. Of course, there are still countless reasonable people rooting for the Bengals, but they are atypical of the city and even they, even us, allow those off-putting mentalities into our own way of thinking—it just comes with the territory of being a Bengals fan. Nonetheless, the people of Cincinnati give a damn about its football team. Why the lack of sellouts then, you ask? It isn't because of boycotts or sticking it to the owner, it's because of the ticket cost mixed with the preconceived notion or hidden fear that the Bengals will lose.
Outsiders pull their hair out listening to such illogical drivel. “Why support the team if you expect them to lose?” they ask. Because I'm from here and it's the only pro football team to choose from. And someday, maybe, they will win, and win some more, and maybe even win a little more. And if we die without seeing that happen, guess what, we're dead and it was only a game anyway. It's so easy to criticize the Cincinnati fan for swallowing spoonfuls of hype and chest-thumping prematurely. The reason we get carried away is because it's the only way to have fun with the NFL. We know we look ridiculous at the end of most years, and by and large, it's embarrassing being a Bengals fan, but we're like teenagers buying clothes at a North Dakota strip mall, we work with what we got.
Downtown, I see all types of people wear their Bengals gear everyday, not because they are super proud of the team, but because it's their coat. The Bengals live in Cincinnati and so do we. We're neighbors, and we're used to them. We want them to do well, and we naturally get frustrated when they don't, but neither one of us are leaving any time soon, so what the hell?
I've had to distance myself every now and then, take a cooling off period after really tough seasons, but I come back around. Two years ago, there were a lot of fans on the brink. Some proverbial bags were packed, but the following year made everybody feel better about things. Now we're getting a little grizzly about the team again and times are feeling tough at the moment, but even if the season tailspins out of control again, Cincinnati will never completely turn its back on the team. We simply cannot help it.
The morning after losing last Sunday night, two surprisingly intelligent football discussions simultaneously took place on the Route 17 bus and both groups vehemently expressed their sadness and frustration to one another. Later, during my lunch break, I saw one brave bastard stroll down Vine Street wearing his Steelers hat past the Main Library and five or six teenaged gangstas erupted with Who Dey chants directed at him.
The city cares, and its mood is effected by wins and losses. The rest of the nation can mock us for our simpleton nature and can dismiss us as fools for rooting for a perceived loser, but when they start guilt-tripping us into supporting our home team, they've gone too far. Yeah, I hate the fact that Mike Brown bleeds the county of its tax money, and yes, I get angry at lots of Marvin's time-management decisions, and it really bums me out to see the Steelers thump us at home, but it's not my fault that I was born in Cincinnati and that I like the NFL. I deserve to root for the Bengals, and I think it's a commitment to back your home team. Getting angry with them is okay. Abandoning them isn't.
Those fans who want Marvin Lewis fired have my respect because they want something better for the Bengals. Those who think Andy Dalton is an elite quarterback get a pat on the back because at least they're rooting for the right team. We Bengal fans can disagree until we're purple, but at the end of the day, we're all still Bengals fans and there is nothing wrong with that. Don't let other people tell you how to be a fan. Be a fan.
Mojokong—proud of you guys.