A couple of weeks ago, a group of Americans came to my bar in Madrid, Spain early in the evening. One of them noticed I was wearing a Joey Votto t-shirt and asked my why. She went on to say her family was from Cincinnati and after I told ther I was a huge Bengals fan as well, she could not help but be surprised. "Why the Bengals," she asked. She did not ask why I was a Reds fan, but why I was supporting the Bengals. In the moment. I managed to shoot back something like, "why not?"
I consider myself a huge Bengals fan. I've never been to Cincinnati, I barely know anybody from there, and I've never seen the team play in person, only on TV.
Why did I pick the Bengals as my NFL team? Nobody would have asked me why if I were a Seahawks, Packers, Patriots or Cowboys fan, but people seem to have a really hard time believing I am a member of WhoDey Nation. However, It is easy to understand.
After the 1988 season the Bengals made it only once to the Playoffs, and from 1990 to 2005 they did not have a single winning season. I can't trace my fandom back that far, but I get why it would be rare to find a Bengals fan outside Cincy, and even less overseas. But it is true that in spite of that the Bengals' international community is not small, and it is stronger than many others. What we lack in number is balanced by our passion and how much we care about this team.
History was not on our side. The Bengals didn't have any superstars during the years I grew up loving the game. Although, you could argue they had great players and some appealing characters like Chad Johnson. By superstar I mean a Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Michael Vick - in Atlanta -, Ty Law, Randy Moss or Clinton Portis. I didn't even like the Bengals' uniforms or their helmets. I still don't like them. Who cares, anyway.
What really caught my eye was their powerful offense, led by Rudi Johnson, Ochocinco, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. They had great players and you could feel they were on the brink of doing something great. Until they didn't, but that's another story. When you are from another country where nobody plays football and there are barely, if any games on TV, the best way to keep up is Madden. The videogame really helped me to develop my love for the game and for the Bengals. How could that offense be stopped? They were flippin' cool - in spite of the uniforms.
Then there was Terrell Owens. I remember being happy about signing Adam Jones, and having no clue why he hadn't been signed sooner. I had no idea who played offensive tackle. But I cared about the Bengals.
Twitter and SB Nation were the next step. These two tools have been essential for me to become the Bengals fan I am. I belong now to a community, in the same way I support my hometown soccer team, something that other sports like the NBA were never able to manage - that is really a superstars league.
Hating on everything Pittsburgh? Of course I hate everything Pittsburgh. And I am not from there, and my connection to this team goes all the way back to thinking they had a couple of cool players in spite of not being good at the time.
SB Nation, specially Cincy Jungle, made me refine my Twitter follows, which in consequence helped me become an even more loyal fan. The Bengals have many good follows and that connection has also been a key for me to get more involved and pay attention to everything that happens around Paul Brown Stadium every day of the year. I was able to pay less attention to the Adam Schefter's and more on bloggers and fans on Twitter.
Twitter has also been a great place to find others that have followed a similar path, even though their connections to the team changes slightly. For example, my good Twitter friend Xavi Mirangels, from Catalonia, had an uncle in Baltimore who gave him season tickets for the Orioles back in the 80s. And he would swap them for tickets to the Super Bowl, Super Bowl XXIII; you might be familiar with that one. There is also a failed love story involved, and his uncle got really mad at him and did not speak to him for months, but did send him recorded Bengals game whenever it was possible so Xavi could follow the team from Barcelona. There's also my twitter friend Manuel Dávila Galindo Olivares, who become a Bengals fan after watching the team many times facing the Steelers. His father was an ardent Pittsburgh fan, but Manuel liked the Bengals' uniforms and Boomer Esiason's hair - yes, this is a real story.
My week stops on Sunday at 19:00 - Spanish time - just as it does for other Bengals fans in Spain. I stay up really late to watch primetime games, even if I have to get up for work a couple of hours later. And I honestly don't care much about the players, but the team on the field and how they perform. There are many fans like me, of course, but what I've seen from personal experience is that when you don't live near your team you tend to focus on players more than the group as a whole.
As you can see, what the Bengals might lack in titles, or Dan Marino's, Joe Montana's or Tom Brady's, they gain in personal stories like these. There is also a huge community in the UK of Bengals fans, I've seen on Cincy Jungle somebody from Serbia, and many fans from Mexico converse on Twitter. Cincy Jungle has been a great place to find all these fellow Bengals fans, and I am sure that another successful season will help develop the Xavis, Manuels, and Albertos who are fans of the team in 2020.
Keep the Jungle rocking, Cincinnati Bengals.