As soon as I found out the date of the Cincinnati Bengals’ home opener, I cleared my schedule. I have always wanted to go to a game on opening day in any sport, and I decided that this would be the one.
What better day to go than the day on which they celebrate 50 seasons of Bengals football. This wouldn’t be a normal opening day. No, I knew this would be a memorable experience. So on May 23rd, I bought tickets without hesitation.
Fast forward four and a half months. I parked in a garage underneath Great American Ballpark, and I could feel football in the air. As I ascended the stairs to the surface of Cincinnati, I could hear loud music, but was unsure of the significance.
When I finally saw sunlight, I felt as though I had crawled out of an offseason cave where football doesn’t exist into a Bengals fan’s paradise. All of East Freedom Way had been blocked off, and the Bud Light Tailgate Zone had taken over.
In order to get from the garage to Paul Brown Stadium, I passed so many excited Bengals fans, food stands, and live music, and even a wedding.
Once I could see Paul Brown Stadium, my excitement grew. The first thing you notice as you approach the stadium is the new 50th season logo installed above the main gates. What was normally clear glass is now a reminder of Bengals history.
Inside the stadium was a number of special banners and logos posted all over. Just inside the entry were posters commemorating many former players.
I had finally settled in my seat and was eagerly awaiting the action. Everyone rose for the national anthem and remained standing until the Bengals received the opening kickoff. The crowd was amped for most of the first drive, even though it ended in a punt. As the Ravens approached the goal line on the ensuing possession, the Bengals and their fans once again turned on the electricity. Carlos Dunlap in particular was jumping up and down, waving his arms about in order to pump up the crowd. It must have worked, and the Ravens settled for a field goal on that drive.
The energy quickly dwindled as the game got progressively worse for the Bengals. As the turnovers mounted, the Ravens fans came out of hiding. I so desperately wanted to say something to the Ravens fan sitting in the section next to me. But I knew that if I spoke my mind, he would probably suggest that I look at the scoreboard and reconsider my options (using different words, of course).
At halftime, the Bengals took this opportunity to honor some past legends. Ken Anderson and Isaac Curtis were among those who were recognized on the 50th anniversary of the Bengals first season. A total of ten former players were honored and applauded during the intermission.
By the second half, the whole energy in the stadium had turned against the Bengals. The cheers had turned to boos as the Bengals mistakes cost them dearly. Every Bengals penalty, every Ravens 1st down, and every punt were met with a resounding vocalization of disapproval.
Most fans could not stomach the entirety of the game. The fans that stayed for the final quarter were rejoiced to see Giovani Bernard’s 39-yard reception, but their joy turned to grief when the Bengals failed to convert on the ensuing 4th-down opportunity. The stadium was nearly empty two minutes later.
Was the game a steaming garbage fest?
Yes, it was. Would I go through this again? Of course. I will stand by the Bengals win or lose, and I am glad I had the opportunity to be a part of history. The Bengals will only have one 50th season. Even though the Bengals may not win Super Bowl LII, but I will always be up for watching them in the Jungle.
So let’s cheer them on twice as loud next week. The Bengals need our support against the Texans, so let’s forget about this game and look to the future. Here’s to the next 50 years!