My optimism has faded, my apologies run dry, my hopes dashed. What was once a blooming plant of excitement and pride, is now wilted, browned and angrily tossed near the compost heap. I would set it atop the rest of the rotting vegetation, but following after it simply isn't worth the effort.
Marvin Lewis, in his recent press conference, has once more invoked the spirit of the metaphorical shovel—the layman's tool which represents a hardworking and unglamorous lifestyle for his players—but the only thing I can imagine worth using a shovel for these days is to fling out the bullshit stacked in and around Paul Brown Stadium. After carelessly handing away the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, there is no more defense for the various tiers of helpless leadership within the Bengals organization.
At the very top sits the head villain himself, Mike Brown. Here is a man that has made it clear he is unwavering in the way he runs his business even it persists to perform in unremarkable fashion. He has also proven he cares little to nothing about the Cincinnati community and eagerly awaits the day that he can once more threaten the townspeople into paying him even more of their tax money. He hides behind a shroud of redemption, pointing to the careers he's resuscitated as feel-good tales of second-chances and ultimately marginal more wins. Yet in reality, the people he has helped come at bargain prices and that is the real motivation behind all the signings of troubled young men. When it works—and admittedly it has in many cases—he is triumphed as some kind of humanitarian, but what is conveniently overlooked is that 31 other teams need not stoop to problem children in order to win.
I remain steadfast in my opinion that there will come a day when I can no longer root for a Mike Brown team with a good conscious knowing how unjustly he has served the city in which I reside. I expect that day to present itself once the current stadium lease ends, or once Brown sues Hamilton County for not paying him the promised money it simply doesn't have. He will not back down because he simply doesn't care. He is out for himself.
Next in the pecking order is the team's president and general manager...oh wait, there isn't one. This unorthodox approach saves Brown money and allows his ego to think he has lived up to his father's standard who was able to successfully work as both team owner and general manager simultaneously. If it's one thing Brown seems unable to get through his stubborn mind, it is that he does not have his father's football instincts and this delusion has kept the team from being serious contenders under his reign. The man is in his mid-seventies; without sounding threatening or overly morbid, one can only hope that that number is soon coming to an end.
Somewhere in the flowchart is his daughter and her husband, Katie and Troy Blackburn, who hammer out details over contracts with player agents and end up with either missing out on high-profile free agents (Warren Sapp) or prolonging rookie holdouts (seemingly everyone except Carson Palmer). The value of both of their positions remain something of a mystery and the likelihood of this tandem turning around the team for the better once Brown does finally die, seems, perhaps, overly optimistic. The fact they are younger is the only hope I can muster for a brighter Bengal future, but, considering the family lineage, sometimes you just have to call a scrooge a scrooge.
Next up is finally a person with some football sense, Mr. Marvin Lewis. During the Mike Brown era of this franchise, there has been two distinct time periods: before Marvin, and after Marvin. There's no point on rehashing the dark ages of Dave Shula, Bruce Coslet, and Dick LeBeau, but since Marvin has been in Cincinnati, the Bengals have gone from inept to competitive. That alone is a feat when examining the misery that came before him.
Yet that feat has a fairly quick expiration of satisfaction. Once a fan-base sees their team become competitive, they want more right away, and that is what Marvin Lewis has struggled attaining. For my money, I think Marvin has a good eye for talent and runs a pretty sound operation. He knows what an NFL team should look like and most of his men seem to buy into it as well. However, the man is an inadequate game manager on the sidelines and doesn't seem to have the ability to instruct players well enough individually to see much of an improvement in their development. Once a player joins the Bengals, he typically remains that kind of player until he leaves the team. They rarely get worse, but they also don't get better.
Putting Marvin upstairs next to Mike Brown and making him a general manager makes sense, but I don't think that will happen. Lewis wants more personnel decision-making power, and an indoor practice facility; that would mean Brown would have to concede some of his ego and more of his money. Putting it into that perspective makes that prospect look as dead as a doornail. With that said, I think this may be the last of Marvin Lewis in this town once the 2010 season wraps up and that seems like something of a shame.
Who's next then? Most Bengal fans point to Mike Zimmer. Not only is Zim a fan favorite thanks to his turning around a bad defense in a short time and also persevering through the unexpected death of his wife last year, he also has the undying loyalty of his men. That isn't as pervasive of a sentiment in the NFL as maybe it should be these days. With mediocre players performing at overachieving levels for him, it makes sense that fans would want that to translate into the whole team. The problem I have with it, though, is that it would mean removing him from what he's best at—coaching defense. Let us not forget the examples of Dick LeBeau and even Marvin of making a great coordinator into a poor or average head coach. With today's game, the head coach can be more of an overseeing cheer leader who manages the game and the clock well and need not worry about the X's and O's as much—that's what coordinators are for. Of course it isn't as simple as that, and in this discussion I feel safe in saying that I know little of what I speak of, but I do know that not every great position coach makes a good head coach, so therefore, caution when making such a crucial selection is needed.
The longest standing figure head with the Bengals of course is offensive coordinator, Bob Bratkowski, who has earned the title of least liked sports figure in Cincinnati behind the evil emperor himself. Between squandering loads of offensive talent and constant bewildered play-calling, Brat should be thankful he coaches here because in every other part of the world he would have been fired by now. The latest loss, and even in some of the wins this year, he has demonstrated further ineptitude in leading this offense to the heights it's capable of. Bashing this man has become old hat and, in the opinion of some, too easy, but somehow he keeps it from happening nearly each and every week. I'm sure he's kind enough of a person, but I literally hate him as the top offensive coach of the Bengals. If he ever becomes Marvin's replacement as head coach, I'm immediately bailing on this team.
His star pupil and gem of a talent for the past eight seasons has been the golden boy Carson Palmer. Despite convincing the world otherwise thanks to one great season, Palmer should be labeled as nothing more than average at best, and the parallels between he and Drew Bledsoe continue to hold up. Like no other athlete I have ever followed so closely, Carson has been insulated with numerous excuses as to why he hasn't performed the way he did in 2005. It seems that the majority of the world would rather find any other reason than to admit that maybe he just isn't that good. Yes, he has suffered some injuries, but other great quarterbacks have as well, only to return as greats. Yes, he at times has lacked explosive weapons, but the same response goes for the great ones again. There aren't better quarterbacks on the street right now that should supplant No. 9 this week or even this season, but if this franchise continues to pretend he is as good as it gets, they will fall farther and farther behind. Perhaps he has become complacent with no quarterback to compete for his job, perhaps he feels his average play still justifies his immense contract, but the fact is, he has slid each and every year away from that once heralded "elite" plateau and to think there is still room for improvement in his skills is naive and plain old dumb.
Even though it may not sound like it, the Bengals are my favorite interest in the world. Over the years, I have tried to gain some perspective and tried to care less about the outcomes of their games, but I still can't. I want them to succeed, I want to know what it feels like to have my team win the Super Bowl. I want to feel satisfied for six whole months, but with these men currently in their places, I am dubious that will ever happen. I feel that this franchise has reached its critical mass, and unless a philosophical change within the power structure takes place, I think we will continue to feel the sting we suffered through this past week to Tampa Bay. The Bengals are only 2-3, but I can feel it all slipping away.
Mojokong—somebody's got to say it, and since I don't get paid for this, allow me to be the one.