Why am I a fan of the Cincinnati Bengals? Well, those stripes buddy, and a whole lot more. I seriously picked the Bengals as my team in the fall of 1981 at the age of 9. I saw those beautiful new striped helmets and fell in love. Once I found out the Bengals were Cincinnati’s team, I was sold. My mom bought me K-mart long sleeve number 14 and 80 jerseys. They were cheap shirts that lacked the Anderson and Collingsworth labeling, but I wore them till they were thread-bare.
My real love for the team started after the Super Bowl loss in January 1989 because that loss coincided close to the end of my childhood. I would graduate from High School the following year and enter the Army in 1990. I listened to the last playoff victory the Bengals had while sitting on a cot in a warehouse in Jubail Saudi Arabia in 1991. The loss to the Raiders that year depressed me because I had no idea what would happen to me when the war started. I thought I may never see the Bengals win a Super Bowl. Oddly now I wonder if old age will get me before I see it.
Being a Bengals fan as an adult has been rewarding through the frustration and hopes. I think the struggle has made me feel more kinship with fellow fans, the team, and the city. I used to live in Northwest Ohio were no one was a Bengals fan, but my ex-wife’s OB-GYN during the delivery of our first child was a former BenGal. That felt like fate. My father and most of my family were lifelong Browns fans, but I stuck with the Bengals no matter how much I got ridiculed. First thing I did when I got divorced was move down to Dayton so I could finally be closer to the Bengals and go to or see games. I remember how I almost cried when at a group of people crowded around a TV at Dayton Oktoberfest to watch the Bengals and Washington game. To finally be somewhere that everyone cheered and jeered at the same thing felt like home.
The most reinforcing moment of my fandom came in 2012 when I returned from Afghanistan. USAA had events where military members could sit in on a Bengals practice and then get VIP tickets for the Giants game. During the practice, they moved us to the sidelines and walked us right over to Mike Brown in his warm up clothes sitting in his golf cart. He was amazing, humble, and very conversational. He was like talking to an uncle. Darrin Simmons played catch with some of our guys, and after practice Marvin Lewis said a few words and had the entire team walk by us like we were the receiving line instead of them. It was a dream come true for any lifelong fan and I could never thank the organization or USAA enough. I have my pictures to remember including a great one with AJ while being photobombed by Geno.
At this point in my life I couldn’t not be a Bengals fan. Bad playoff losses, injuries, questionable coaching might get me angry at times, but I could never deny that team’s management or players any more than I could deny my own family. I hope for a Super Bowl like I did in 1988 and 1990, but I also realize this team has given and continues to give me all I need to be a happy and proud fan.