Carson Palmer has said a few words this season about his relationship with Cincinnati. That's good for him that he was able to express himself, but now it's time a fan shares their side of the story...
I think back to where we were as Bengals fans before Palmer came into our lives. The bad old days. The good bad old days. The points where it seemed there was no light at the end of the tunnel. It was the drudges of the 1990s. I grew up thinking Sunday's were just meant for disappointment. Resounding to lose and believing that's just the way these things worked. I wasn't adept at understanding the logistics of winning in sports, I took what I saw sight on seen, losing was what we did and misery is what we felt.
But then there was a shift, a divine light from the galaxy that nudged Cincinnati's franchise in another direction. Carson Palmer was a beacon in the duskiest of times for the soured southern Ohio fans. He brought the sunshine with him from southern California and suddenly the Bengals became relevant. Contending and fighting. Impressively shouldering their Mr. Hyde personality behind them, the relevance of the Bengals seemed almost a party trick among the NFL. What the Carson led high flying offense was doing couldn't be ignored, but at the same time there wasn't a lot of faith in the Queen City to do anything other than fold, explode and fade away. Had we known, hell I suppose we did in our darkest of recesses, that the city's dignity hung on the strained tendons of Carson Palmer's knee, perhaps going in I would have treated this all differently.
The filter of hate for Carson Palmer comes off at odd times. The relationship was so good in the beginning. It was high ceilings, good feelings, hugs and touchdowns. We were going to last forever, we really were. Fans and players on the team both believed it. He got us to believe while he got more entrenched in the city and the Bengals community. We both enjoyed the same things, like beating the Steelers and getting positive national attention. Truly, it was kismet. But of course, it happened. You all know what it is. Kimo von Oelhoffen's helmet and Palmer's knee met.
It's been so maligned over the years. I think I'm just numb to it, I'm bored by it, I've heard the story so many times. Yeah, I can remember the feeling when it happened. The sick, tired, defeated presence that took over as he was carted off the field. No one ever thinks it will happen to them. You read about it, sure. You see it on the news, but that's not us. We were stronger than that. I told myself that every relationship goes through its ups and downs and I suppose that's what you deal with when you're truly in a committed relationship. You deal with the pain. I can't speak for him, but I felt I handled it with great aplomb. Really I do. I was confident in public. I bought that Sports Illustrated article with him on the cover, rehabbing in the pool. I thought, "there you go, he's going to be fine, we're going to be fine." You have to go in with high hopes, build on a positive attitude otherwise you're doomed from the start. And when he was finally ready to take the field again, I was there, in full support. We just wanted to get back to normal. Put the darkness behind us. We wanted to do things that other normal player-fan relationships did. Just go out and win some damn games. That's all we wanted. And it returned... for a while.
Hell, maybe it didn't really come back. In fact, in bitter hindsight, I don't think it did. But you tell yourself things when you're in love. You do dumb things. I should have seen the warning signs. I should have seen what was going on. Chad Johnson? Terrell Owens? What was happening? The vortex was gaining strength. The distractions were mounting. I can't recall the exact day it happened, which is why I struggle to recall the feelings of hurt in the moment. The point when I knew we weren't going to make it. It didn't mean much when I knew it was over. At least that's what I say, but I don't think that's right. It was just a collection of too many little things. It was a death by a thousand paper cuts. The pick-sixes. The unfriendly press conferences. That time he lost it and ripped Ochocinco's name off the back of his jersey on the sideline. And the hobbling around. Oh, the hobbling immobile quarterback. While Pittsburgh enjoys the lumbering shimmy of a quarterback who can slip out of tackles, I get a guy with wooden legs. I couldn't hate him for that. It wasn't his fault after all. I guess, since we're being honest here, I'm just that shallow. This is about letting it out, right? Then that's what I'm saying, I'll stick with that. But my puddle psyche aside, the point is, despite the leering I was doing on the side, the love was there. Slipping away, but still there.
Then, when we were going through the worst of it, content mediocrity and a possible glimmer of something better, he did it. Just like his fragile knee ligament, our relationship snapped. Severed, in the messiest of disordered ways. He demanded to leave. He wanted a change? Well so did I, but you know what, I stuck with him because that's what a real fan does in a relationship. He just up and decides it's over? No, no, no my friend that's not how this all works. What about all those things that we said? What we were going to do together? Finally getting the better of Pittsburgh? Winning some play-off games? Winning the Super Bowl? That's not fair, you left those out there, you let me hang my hat on those promises and then you just up and want to leave? I was tired. He was tired. He moved on and I tried to follow suit. I will say he gave us some nice compensation. He left us something to build a future on, so I thank him for that. I can still look at those draft picks and, I'm not ashamed to say it, I think of him. I then watched him toil out in the California sun. Back where he came from, where it all started. I felt bad initially. Really I did. We were troubled, we were both bad, but he didn't deserve that, not Oakland at that time, we'd been through too much. I then thought it was all over, it looked like his tinker-toy knee might finally give out and I really could forget about him... maybe even forgive him.
Then, like a scene out of a movie where they show up in the rain, knocking on your door, he was there. A punch to the gut. He's an MVP candidate now? He's such an accurate passer? He's such a commodity at quarterback? He's a God-send for Arizona? Yeah, I've heard all that talk before. Ten years ago. It's the same old song and dance and you're not fooling anyone. The desert is notorious for people finding themselves. They get lost out there for days, weeks, they survive and they find themselves and become something knew. But I can tell you, there is nothing new about this Carson Palmer. Just because you're traded in and talk it up in the media doesn't mean that's who you are. Karma's a female dog, old pal of mine. I gave you the benefit of the doubt throughout our relationship, but to you and your new family, don't forget what you did. You can't escape who you are. You broke my heart. You broke everyone's hearts. You can't leave that type of wreckage and expect to get away with it. Now there will never be a forget and forgive with you.
I loved you once, I pitied you before, I loathe you now.
Enjoy the next few days of the quiet among the cacti and sand because your past is coming back to haunt you in a very real way on Sunday.
Who Dey, always and forever.