I spent my Sunday afternoon in Paul Brown Stadium and almost let great weather and a great game get away from me by dwelling on the big picture.
"Enjoy this game, everyone. This might as well be your Super Bowl because we won't be seeing you in January."
I was biting my tongue as the words burned through my ears while sitting in Paul Brown stadium on Sunday afternoon. It was the third quarter of the game and the Bengals were up 24-6 as the New York Giants were collapsing on the field. Andy Dalton had just completed a 10-yard touchdown to Jermaine Gresham after Pat Sims intercepted Eli Manning.
It was the first time I noticed two Giants fans sitting directly behind me. I had observed that Paul Brown stadium was saturated with blue and white very early on. It was a strong attendance by the visitor's fans - it was actually fairly impressive. The two men sitting behind me had grown frustrated, and made their presence known as soon as they presumably felt the game was spiraling out of reach, and even Eli "The Comeback Kid" Manning had an uphill battle in front of him.
"This is your Super Bowl."
Again, they echoed this statement as if Bengals fans needed to come back to Earth. As if the game meant nothing other than to say we beat the New York Giants, a team that ended 2011 with the same regular season as the Bengals, but went on a tear in the postseason which resulted in the G-Men hoisting the Lombardi trophy last February.
I had to collect my thoughts. I had to take a moment and rest my already deteriorating vocal chords and reflect on what that day, that moment actually was - what it actually meant to me. While the words of the embittered Giants fans were still being repeated behind me, the words of the Bengals critics across the nation echoed in my mind. This is a team that hasn't pulled together a win against a playoff caliber opponent. I was witnessing a complete performance on both sides of the football for the Bengals, and it was against a 6-3 Giants team that many believe is bound for New Orleans this season. I wondered to myself: Is this game just a tease? The Bengals lost to the Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns this season. How is it that we're completely outplaying the New York Giants but looked pedestrian against two rookie quarterbacks?
My mind was becoming consumed with questions and concerns. I was slumped in my seat with no focus on the game. My beer was gone, and the two Giants fans were still verbally berating their Giants for playing so poorly against a team they deemed so poor.
The team I was witnessing on Paul Brown Stadium's turf was the team I expected in August. Why now? I felt as if Mike Brown was on one shoulder and the guy who sold his allegiance to the Steelers was on the other. I couldn't trust either.
Boom! The crowd erupts.
A lot happened at once. Andy Dalton just completed a touchdown to rookie Mohamed Sanu. 31-6 Bengals. My father-in-law generously bought a beer for me that I didn't realize was sitting in my cup holder for who knows how long. I had a few text messages on my phone from envious friends who were unable to watch the broadcast of the very game I was fortunate enough to have in front of me. Things were looking up, and I almost let it get away from me.
"Hope you enjoyed your Super Bowl!"
The downtrodden Giants fans began to make their way to the aisle. The damage to their team had been done, and they had traffic to beat.
This wasn't the Bengals Super Bowl. This was a very important game for them to win, and you could argue that it may have come too late for them, but Super Bowl? No. Some might argue that this game was just enough to keep the optimists blindly hoping or keep the pessimists on their toes. That may be another discussion for another day. One thing I do know: This is a new team. The direction this team goes has yet to be seen, but in the meantime I'll take in the experiences as a fan of the Bengals - as a fan of the game.
I easily could have continued dwelling on what it all meant on Sunday afternoon, but I had too much of my voice left to let it go to waste, and I planned on losing it with twenty minutes left in the game.
The Bengals went on to beat the Giants 31-13. Odds are that the Bengals won't be seeing the Giants again for a championship this postseason, but they surely found an answer for them on Sunday and I enjoyed seeing it in person. I can't say the same for the guys sitting behind me.