It’s always been assumed that Marvin Lewis significantly improved things for the Bengals.
Free agents began viewing Cincinnati as a possible destination, not a graveyard. The draft resulted in better players, workout rooms were improved and rebuilt and the cafeteria was redesigned to provide better nutrition. Cincinnati was starting to be projected as a postseason participant during most seasons.
Despite the antagonism and denigration that Lewis has received in recent years — most of it being justified, and even if he didn’t have a direct hand at improving every aspect of this organization, he will be remembered as the driving force that lifted a doomed culture.
Before that, the Bengals were a monstrosity on the field, and miserably incompetent off it.
During the period (the “lost decade” or “the age of helplessism” as I once called it) between Sam Wyche and Marvin Lewis (11 seasons and 176 regular season games), Cincinnati lost 70% of their games. They were outscored by an average of seven points, ended six of those drunk-inspired seasons with a scoring differential of -130 points or more and never qualified for the playoffs.
Then there’s New Orlean’s failed trade offer in 1999 when Mike Ditka offered Cincinnati their entire draft in 1999, plus first-round selections in 2000 and 2001, and a second-rounder in 2002. All Cincinnati needed to do was surrender their No. 3 overall pick, which Ditka wanted to use on running back Ricky Williams. Cincinnati declined the generous offer and drafted Oregon quarterback Akili Smith instead, who won three games in 17 starts over four seasons.
How criminally incompetent is this?
Granted, draft picks are never a sure-thing, especially in regards to the Bengals scouting process. Then again, logic dictates that with the accumulation of this many draft picks, you’ll hit on a few.
Yes, yes. We know the story.
We had assumed — mostly based on anonymous reports, player complaints (usually during negotiations), and the quality of play — that the franchise either didn’t want to win, or were blindly incompetent to achieve success. Maybe a combination of both.
Former Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, on the Herd with Colin Cowherd, provided a second-hand account about the team’s frugal conditions.
“We didn’t even have bottled water or Gatorade. It was crazy because when we first got it, guys would be taking backpacks full of Gatorade home. The year before I got there, Willie Anderson was telling me they didn’t even have jockstraps. They would buy, get a bunch of used jockstraps and throw them in the middle of the locker room and say ‘here you go’.
Former Bengals cornerback Ashley Ambrose, who played for Cincinnati between 1996-98 (named to the All-Pro team in 1996), confirmed Houshmandzadeh’s comments tweeting,
“When I got there as a free agent in 1995, Tom the equipment guy at the time showed me a basket full of used jock straps and socks to choose from and I was like hell no. That’s facts!”
“This is what I was told,” Houshmandzadeh continued, saying that Anderson and Ki-Jana Carter, two former first-round picks, would buy a “bunch of (jockstraps) and gave them to guys.”
Most NFL teams stay in hotels during home games; there are last-minute meetings, walkthroughs, and curfews (and coaches prefer keeping tyrannical tabs on their players). Houshmandzadeh said that players stayed home.
“As a rookie, you figure ‘well, I was inactive last week, I’m going to be inactive this week, you’d go out’ and you’d go straight from the club to the stadium on Sunday.”
Absorb that for a moment.
The Brown family, living up to their well-earned reputation of frugality, couldn’t provide players with bottled water — at least there was a water fountain — Gatorade, or unused jockstraps. This wasn’t some cute, tough-as-nails Paul Brown story narrated by Bob Trumpy. We’re talking about a story from 20 years ago, described by a player that’s not disgruntled and continues to have strong relationships within the organization.
Yet, for whatever reason, it’s difficult to look past these murky waters saturated by unwashed jockstraps. Granted, these stories talk about a franchise over 20 years ago and Lewis, according to Houshmandzadeh, has “brought a level of professionalism and structure.”
As a teenager, and a disgruntled fan entering his second decade on Earth, I supported this team. Many of us did. Some of us were even stupid enough to believe that this team could succeed and showed up at Riverfront Stadium. I attended the home opener against San Diego in 2002 thinking, “maybe we have a shot.”
The Chargers routed the Bengals 34-6 behind a rushing offense that generated 241 yards.
Reality is a
This franchise disgusted me throughout this period. Houshmandzadeh’s comments only confirmed what we’ve known.
Why would a free agent have come to Cincinnati knowing these conditions? Why would a draft pick re-sign with the Bengals?
Assuming these stories made the rounds among players and agents, and it’s likely that they did, it’s not surprising that players avoided Cincinnati, forcing the Bengals to sign second-tier players at overrated values while putting an unnecessary premium on washed up free agents.
While 20 years has passed, a credentialed member of the media should press the family about Houshmandzadeh’s comments. Were they true and if so, why didn’t the team provide players with, at least, bottled water, Gatorade, and unused jockstraps.
What else wasn’t available that’s provided by other teams?
How much time did we waste in the 90s?