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The 2011 Cincinnati Bengals: A Team of Hope, A Team of Fears

Over at CBS, Mike Freeman joins the parade of columnists examining the foibles and failures of the NFL's most forlorn franchise, our own beloved Cincinnati Bengals. Of all the recent efforts, Freeman's stands out to me because instead of writing jokes or penning a polemic, he adopts a just-the-facts approach that minimizes the editorializing and -- most importantly -- does some actual reporting on Bengals players and their thoughts on the state and prospects of the team.

What he found was this:

In speaking with several Bengals players this is the portrait they portray of the current state of the Bengals:

• Spirited practices.

• Hard-working coaching staff.

• Players and coaches who truly care.

• Stubborn ownership stuck in the 1970s -- polyester in a dri-fit world.

• A feeling that this year will be better.

• A fear that this year will be the same.

That really struck me, if only because it parallels how I feel about this team so closely, especially the last two points. And I'm not sure if knowing that there are Bengals who are afraid this season will be another disaster makes me feel better or worse. On the one hand, you'd have to be crazy not to wonder if this team is improved, but on the other wouldn't you want all the players to be convinced that's the case? But then again, in that case, wouldn't you then have to conclude the roster was made up of nincompoops?

As for the dim view of ownership, that's little surprise considering what Freeman found about the locker room's view of former QB Carson Palmer:

"There were split feelings about Carson in the locker room. A lot of players privately support Carson," said one Bengals player who like several others spoke on the condition of anonymity, fearing retribution from management. "There are guys who wish they could afford to do what he did. Others have just let it go. They've blocked him out."

I don't want this to become another Palmer thread. We've got enough of those already. The real importance of what Freeman found, at least in my opinion, is that there are still Bengals players (in apparently significant numbers) who would prefer to be playing someplace else. And that suggests to me that the fears of same old, same old will be realized much sooner than the hopes of better days.

I can't help but sympathize with players who want out. But at the same time, I also can't help but think that until the Bengals get 53 players who actually want to be there, they won't be winning much of anything. So let this be a plea. Not to management for change. We know that isn't going to happen. Let this be a plea to those players who want out:

I get it. I really do. But for all us fans who can never get out, who will be wearing paper bags and Mike Brown Sucks t-shirts to our graves, who know hope only as a word in the dictionary, I'm asking. Want to be a Bengal. Just for this season. Do it to spite Mr. Stuck-in-the-Seventies, do it to boost your price tag next March, do it just for kicks 'n' giggles -- or do it for us. Do it to show they're wrong, that eagles can still soar even if the front office is a turkey farm. Do it for the guys who do want to be here. Most importantly, do it for yourself. And we'll be cheering you on.