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The Iron Butterfly: Remembering Lisa Cosenza

She had a heart of gold and was a rabid Bengals fan who is greatly missed. We remember her on her birthday—the first we are celebrating without her here.

She would have been 52 years old today.

In my eight years with SB Nation and Cincy Jungle, this is, in many ways, the most emotionally-charged and important piece I’ve ever written. Many of my posts are of the opinion and analysis ilk—some of you enjoy them, others wholeheartedly disagree with my Bengals standpoints, while some of you gloss over the posts completely. It’s all good.

Regardless, I take both time and pride in my posts and sometimes you can see the emotional nature behind them. This particular post has such emotion, but on a completely different scale.

Daughter, sister, aunt, niece, cousin and great friend, Lisa Cosenza, was cruelly taken away on October 12th, 2017 in a violent and shocking manner by someone she was helping to rehabilitate in her own home. It’s almost unfathomable that we’ve just reached the half-year mark since she’s been gone.

Still, rather than dwell on the negatives with her passing and the devils in the details (and there are many), I’d like to take a few minutes to reminisce about her and some facets of her life that our family would like to share with the CJ community. Indulge me, if you will, please.

You may be wondering why I’m writing this in general, but some may also be asking why it’s taken this long to put something out there about her. The aforementioned date milestones aside, our family teeters more on the private side, and it’s just generally difficult to talk about her no longer being with us.

Because of this desire for our privacy, I’ve gone back and forth about writing something about my sister in a public forum such as this. I still have my reservations, but something has stuck with me in my desire to put this post together to share with you all.

Since I started with CJ back in the spring of 2011, my sister followed the material I put forth on this site. She wasn’t an everyday reader mind you, but she did browse my articles and listened to both podcast episodes and radio stations I’ve been on in my time here.

And, she often told me how proud she was of me and how talented I was at these endeavors. I brushed it off with sincere modesty (and still do), as I couldn’t believe she was proud of my little niche in the sports world.

She was proud of me. This is why I’ve decided to share some memories with you about a big Bengals fan you’ve never met and, unfortunately, will never get to meet.

Aside from the above-mentioned reservations, our family just doesn’t fully know how to address the situation and we probably will never be totally comfortable doing so. What I can say is that, aside from the immense love from family and friends, the support from fellow CJ staff and many readers/listeners of my material during these past handful of months has been amazing. I’ll never be able to put into words what your support has meant, even though the vast majority of us have never even met in-person.

So many of you have donated to a cause we’ve set up and sent well wishes. That, and the fact that CJ has allowed me to even take time to write something about my sister on their prominent space brings tears to my eyes.

The older sister:

Some of you see the “Iron Butterfly” moniker in the title and wonder if it’s actually a compliment. If you knew Lisa, I think she’d take it as such.

You see, there were a couple of sides to my older sister’s personality.

There was the tough girl exterior that sometimes bordered on “tomboy-ish”. The one who loved the beach, fishing, skiing, concerts and professional racing. The same girl who cracked a rib in the mosh pit at a Social Distortion concert at the Whiskey a Go Go on Sunset Boulevard years ago.

Then there was the classy woman who was a sales manager at a prominent national newspaper for almost 20 years, wore dresses, entertained clients and owned her own beautiful home as a single, successful professional. The very same Lisa who was a great listener, had a heart of gold and would lay down in traffic for her family, if we had asked her to do so.

She was a self-professed “daddy’s girl”, who loved spending time with her family and was especially emotionally-crushed when we lost other loved ones within our unit. She never had kids of her own, but her nieces and nephews were loved as if they were her own, showing that immense sensitivity and love of family.

Then, there was the Lisa that balanced the scales—the ardent Cincinnati Bengals fan.

Now, before I get into the depth of my sister’s fandom, you have to know something about the Cosenza’s. We’re not from Cincinnati. We’re not from Ohio. We’re from Southern California and our ties to the midwest are extremely limited.

In fact, the only time any of us have spent any reasonable amount of time in The Queen City is for the sole purpose of watching the Bengals in-person. And, hey, Cincinnatians, your hospitality hasn’t gone unnoticed.

But, to say that the Bengals are a big part of our lives and were also huge for Lisa, is an understatement. The three siblings watched countless Bengals games together—both in-person and on T.V.

Groups big and small, engaging in potlucks of sorts, would get together to watch the Bengals break our hearts, year in and year out. These get-togethers will continue again this season, but, for a very obvious reason, they won’t be the same.

Lisa the traveling Bengals fan:

In 2003, the Cosenza’s were mobile Bengals fans. My brother and I made the sage decision to head up north to see the team battle the Raiders in Oakland. Suffice it to say, we won’t be going to many more Raiders home games, given opposing fan treatment there.

A couple of months later, my sister and I made the trek to Arizona to see Jon Kitna battle old Bengals signal-caller, Jeff Blake. It ended up being a snooze-fest of a game in which Cincinnati lost, but the weekend meant much more than those three hours at old Sun Devil Stadium.

She and I got to hang out on another level, while also spending quality time with an aunt, uncle and cousins who used to reside in Ohio and had traveled west for sunnier weather. We were able to talk quite a bit during the two six-hour car rides (she had to drive and we had to take her car, per Lisa’s “rules”) and it’s in those experiences I remember most about the weekend—not the actual game.

A program from November 2nd, as the Bengals took on the Cardinals in 2003. My sister kept this for almost 15 years.

Later that same year, Lisa engaged herself in a story that has since lived in Cosenza lore. We had family coming into town (those aforementioned cousins who spent significant time living in the greater Cincinnati area years before) and decided to go, as a big group, to the Bengals’ game against the Chargers in San Diego.

For those who have hazy memories, 2003 was the first year in a long time in which fans of Who Dey Nation could be proud, as Marvin Lewis had them back to national prominence in his first season as head coach. Shortly before kickoff, we were hearing “noise” from a belligerent Chargers fan, who thought he’d pick a fight with two male Bengals fans.

Before my brother and I could properly engage, Lisa’s “mama bear” instinct kicked in and she was confronting the “gentleman” in an..ahem..animated fashion. It’s just a slight example of both my sister’s protective nature of her family and her love of the Bengals.

She and my brother were able to catch the rest of the game from some great seats out in the parking lot, after being shown to them by another gentleman in a yellow jacket and a headset.

SAN DIEGO, CA: Lisa Cosenza with family members at a Bengals/Chargers game on December 1st, 2013.

Lisa also made two trips with us to Bengals games in Cincinnati—one being a trek in which she had a broken freaking foot. Try taking two five-hour flights in coach with a gigantic boot on your foot and tell me how awesome it is.

Back in 2004, our first time traveling back there, we were staying at the Millennium Hotel in downtown Cincinnati. Little did we know that the Bengals were staying there for team meetings and we were like kids in a candy store seeing player after player stroll through the lobby.

“There’s Rudi (Johnson)!,” one of us said to our group, quietly. “Enjoy the show this Sunday,” Chad Johnson told us, as we shouted out to him.

Star quarterback Carson Palmer tried to elude our view, but we saw him. We wanted to approach him, as my brother and I were coaching at his high school alma mater at the time, but we balked at the idea—a combination of shyness and personal pride taking over.

“Dude, he’s right there,” my sister said. “Just go. I’ll take the picture!”

We got the shot and chatted with Carson for a few minutes as he was on his way to a team meeting. We wouldn’t have had the great memory if not for Lisa’s urging.

CINCINNATI, OH: Brandon Cosenza, Carson Palmer and Anthony Cosenza, circa 2004.

Is there a need to define one’s fandom by their “ink”? If so, my sister paid her dues in this respect, much to the chagrin of our parents. A large nautical star on her back filled in with orange and black colors branded herself loyal to a team based 2,200 miles away.

There are many great descriptors to use when talking about my sister, but “Bengals fan” was definitely in there. And, there’s a realization I’ve come to when thinking about her digging the team on such a strong level.

Sure, she liked watching the sport and rooted for the Who Dey boys. But, it was more about her connecting with her brothers on something they too were passionate about, as well as spending time with family—even if it was while we were glued to a television set and/or drinking adult beverages in a stadium parking lot.

She wanted to use that “fandom” to grow closer with her family. It worked.

CINCINNATI, OH: Lisa Cosenza, Brandon Cosenza and Anthony Cosenza in front of Paul Brown Stadium, circa 2004.

The 2018 season a special one:

Much has been made about the Cincinnati Bengals and if they are truly going to be competitive in 2018. Like my CJ brethren, I’ve spent a ton of time dissecting what they have done this offseason and how it may pay off after back-to-back losing seasons.

Obviously, we Bengals fans want the team to be successful. They have teased us all for so long that we deserve a magical season at some point. For a number of reasons, I sincerely hope it’s this year.

Though she was busy with certain aspects of her life, she still would have made time to talk to my brother and I about the moves the team has made this spring and the upcoming NFL Draft. And, of course, she’d be there for almost every Bengals game to watch with us during our little autumn football rituals.

An issue of The Cincinnati Enquirer from 2005 after the Bengals made the playoffs for the first time since 1990. Lisa had this in her home.

The Bengals once again play the Chargers in December this year, this time in Los Angeles. We are already making plans to attend that contest and we know Lisa would have joined us.

It will be a bittersweet game for us, as a family, to be sure. We’ll keep many Chargers/Bengals game traditions alive—just not the one she started of getting tossed out of the stadium.

Lisa Cosenza, Brandon Cosenza and Anthony Cosenza, circa 1989.

My family looks to find signs of Lisa communicating with us in a number of ways. Recently, some of my family members have been finding completely random coins with great frequency—mainly pennies—which Lisa always said were good luck. They also see her in butterflies, a creature she loved, especially as the peak of spring is hitting us.

Me? Yes, I’ll find signs of her in butterflies, particularly in those majestic monarch ones whose colors are orange and black. But, I’ll also find her on Sundays when Cincinnati takes the field and my brother pours a symbolic glass of her favorite pigskin cocktail—white wine—in, of course, a Bengals chalice.

We love and miss you, “Saysa”. Happy birthday.

(The Cosenza family has set up a scholarship in Lisa’s honor. You can get more information at and donate here, if you are so inclined. These donations will be awarded annually to students from Lisa’s high school alma mater, looking to achieve their goal of obtaining a bachelor’s degree. From our family to yours, much love and thanks.)