A Totally Biased Tale of Woe: The Suffering of a Bengals Fan

For his first, featured piece here on Totally Biased, Grover takes us on a sad journey through life as a Bengals fan

For years I have suffered. My colleagues, Justin Y, Kris and Travis, have had good fortune for the majority of their lives as National Football League fans. Kris and Justin especially, growing up in the golden age of Bill Belicheck and Tom Brady. The New England Patriots have won 9 of the last 11 AFC East titles, 4 AFC Champions and 3 Super Bowls. Travis has suffered losing here and there with the Giants, but got the ultimate prize four season ago. The New York Giants spoiled the Patriots’ undefeated season of 2007 by winning the Super Bowl, thanks in part to David Tyree’s unbelievable-once-in-a-lifetime-how-did-he-do-that grab. Bless their souls for not having to anguish as I have these past 20 years. I ask you to read on, to try and feel some of the pain that I have endured since 1990. For those of you keeping score, Travis was still in the womb when this tale began.

It all started innocently enough, the precocious seven year-old that I was, learning about football from my stepfather. It was week three of the 1990 NFL season. My stepfather would always bet me a shiny quarter that the Patriots would beat whoever they happened to be playing. Some of you don’t remember, but once upon a time, New England was bad. Seriously, they were horrendous. It was easy to make quarters. This was the first such bet we made and because of this, I feel that my future as an NFL fan was sealed.

The terrible Patriots were facing the Cincinnati Bengals on this day and I took that bet for a quarter, confident that the guys in the cool black and orange uniforms with the tiger-striped helmets could win they day. Oh, how they did. The Bengals triumphed 41-7 crushing New England, I was instantly enamored. This would be my team, always and forever. A combination of the awesome helmets, the fact that they beat my stepfather’s team and a quarterback named “Boomer” was enough to seal the deal. Little did I know that I was a true glutton for punishment.

Cincinnati finished that season 9-7, winning the old AFC Central. They cruised through their first playoff game, beating the Houston Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans) 41-20. Little did I know, having just turned eight, that would be the first and only Bengals playoff win I would ever witness. They traveled to Los Angeles where they were beaten 20-10 by the Raiders. (As a side note to this, that game happened to be Bo Jackson’s final game in the NFL. Suffering the hip injury that would cut short his promising two-sport career.) Well, I didn’t know much about the sport at the time, so I assumed the Bengals would always be good and always make the playoffs. Delusions of grandeur.

What happened next? Over the course of the next 14 seasons the Bengals won 71 games and lost 153. Yes, they lost 82 more games than they won. They finished 8-8 three times: in 1996, 2003 and 2004. Time after time I saw top 10 draft picks wasted on players who would not make an impact. David Klingler (QB #6 in 92), John Copeland (DE #5 in 93), ‘Big Daddy’ Dan Wilkinson (DT #1 in 94) and Ki-Jana Carter (RB #1 in 95). Now, I’ll break here briefly. Wilkinson played four years with the Bengals, garnering 25 sacks. That’s not bad for an interior defensive lineman, but certainly not worthy of the top pick in the draft. Big Daddy did go on to have a respectable 12 year career, also playing for the Redskins (5 years), Lions (3 years) and the Dolphins (1 year). So the first three years of top 10 draft picks could truly be considered busts, but it wasn’t going to get any better.

We’ve learned today that running backs can be found rather cheaply in the later stages of the draft. Teams only select one in the first round if they feel he truly possesses quality that other backs fall far short of. Adrian Peterson and Darren McFadden (injuries aside) are a couple of recent examples of very good backs going in the first round. In the 1990s however, if a team felt they could get a starting back they would take him in the first round. In 1995, once again with the first pick, the Bengals took Ki-Jana Carter out of Penn State. I was excited. Carter was a collegiate monster, all the draft soothsayers thought he was going to be a star. I remember watching SportsCenter, eagerly anticipating his preseason debut against the Lions. Carter took a hand-off from quarterback Jeff Blake and as he was tackled behind the line for a loss, his knee was blown out. The dreaded anterior cruciate ligament had been torn. Before he had ever played a real down in a real game, his season was over. His career was essentially over. Yes, he played here and there until 2004, but he only started 14 games (all with the Bengals) and played in just 59 for his career. When I saw his knee go on SportsCenter, I was 12 years old and I cried. I’m man enough to admit it. I cried like a baby. Yet another draft bust, more pain for the fan base, another losing season. Somebody hold me.

Yes, I really cried.

With the 1996 draft, the Bengals had the tenth pick and took their second best offensive tackle in team history. Willie Anderson came to the team and was a cornerstone of the line until 2006, making four straight Pro Bowls (03-06) and being named to three straight All-Pro teams (04-06). I can easily say that Willie was one of the bright spots of the Bengals through all the dark seasons I endured. I thank him for his service to the club.

The club picked 14th in 1997 and took Florida State outside linebacker Reinard Wilson, another waste of resources. The one good thing to come out of the 1997 draft was Bengals all-time leading rusher, Corey Dillon who went in the second round. I still remember the early December prime time game against the Tennessee Oilers (not yet renamed) facing the Bengals. Corey Dillon set the single-game rushing record with an incredible 246 yards on 39 carries, scoring 4 touchdowns. Dillon was a loyal servant to the club and he never got to play a playoff game. He was truly deserving of the Super Bowl ring he won with the Patriots in 2004.

Cincinnati got it right in 1998 taking Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons with the 13th and 17th picks respectively. The two linebackers formed a solid core until Spikes left for Buffalo. Takeo has still yet to play in a playoff game. He should have stuck around. However, in 1999 the Bengals were back in the top ten and spent the third pick on Oregon quarterback Akili Smith. I proudly ordered a jersey. This was a mistake. My sophomore year of high school was filled with ridicule whenever I donned that #3 shirt and Smith didn’t do anything to make me feel better about purchasing it. He was out of the league by 2002, finishing 3-14. To make matters worse, the Bengals passed up an insane offer from the New Orleans Saints, who wanted to move up to draft Ricky Williams. The Saints literally offered the Bengals their entire draft. Crotchety owner Mike Brown said no.

It was at the beginning of the decade that drafting slowly started to change, I stress the term slowly. The year 2000 brought WR Peter Warrick with the fourth pick. He never lived up to expectations and injuries derailed his career. The next year was one of the best Bengals drafts in their history. Another top five pick, DE Justin Smith went fourth, but that was the tip of the ice berg. This draft also brought the team Chad Johnson (Ochocinco) in the second round, Rudi Johnson in the fourth and TJ Houshmandzadeh in the seventh. Johnson and Housh became the top receiving duo in team history, Chad as the deep threat and Housh working between the numbers and going over the middle. The next year brought another tackle, Levi Jones in to bookend with Willie Anderson. Things were looking up.

Of course, another bad year brought things back into perspective, the Bengals picking first in 2003. That’s when Carson Palmer came. Our prayers had been answered. A real quarterback! Moving forward, 2004 brought in Robert Geathers (DE) and Stacy Andrews (OT) in the fourth round who are still with the team. The Bengals finished 8-8 in 2003 with Jon Kitna at the helm and 8-8 in 2004 with Carson Palmer at the helm. Back to back .500 seasons? Impossible!

Then, 2005 happened. Cincinnati finished 11-5, won the AFC North and the right to host a playoff game. YES! A playoff game! Such things don’t happen to Bengals fans! How lucky were we!? How lucky was I!? I was now 21 and hadn’t seen a Bengals playoff game since I was SEVEN. To that point, 66% of my entire life had gone by and I hadn’t seen a Bengals playoff game, but here, now in 2005, it was happening! Carson Palmer completed a 53 yard pass down the sideline to Housh. A monster play, things were coming up roses, we were going to beat the hated Steelers… and that’s when Kimo von Oelhoffen came in low on Carson Palmer. Our golden boy quarterback damaged his ACL, MCL and PCL. The air had gone out of Paul Brown Stadium. We would not and did not win that day. The next season brought another 8-8 record. Four straight years of .500 or better. It seemed to good to be true and it happened to be that it was. 2007 and 2008 brought two more losing seasons, but the drafts from 2006 to present are what have shaped the team into what it has become.

And so went the knee and Bengals playoff hopes.

In 2009 the club won the division again, going 6-0 in the AFC North. What a feat and treat to beat Pittsburgh and Baltimore on their turf and sweep the season with them. The Bengals lost to the Jets in the playoffs 24-14, sending me back into the depression they were so good at sending me to. Every single time an ounce of hope about the Bengals seeped into the corner of my conscious, they found a way to assassinate it before it could become something pertinent. That assassination came in the form of a 4-12 2010 season. Marvin Lewis decided to clean house.

Carson Palmer wanted out, Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco certainly wouldn’t be back. It was time to start fresh. All I wanted in 2011 was a strong draft, I didn’t expect the team to compete for anything serious. I knew this was a transition year and was ready to face yet another disappointing season of growing pains.

The 2010 draft was the start of something promising. Jermaine Gresham has the potential to be a Pro Bowl tight end. Carlos Dunlap has some serious skill rushing the passer. Jordan Shipley (if he can get healthy) could be a Wes Welker type threat in the slot. Geno Atkins finished 2011 as one of the most disruptive interior defensive lineman in the league, leading all DTs with 8 ½ sacks. This past draft brought in AJ Green who has superstar potential at receiver. Andy Dalton, the Red Rifle, the Gingerhead Man, whatever you want to call him, he’s a QB for the future.

It started off slowly, but the Bengals made the playoffs. Finishing 9-7, they had 3-4 more wins than I had expected. Carson Palmer is gone, Mike Brown actually made a shrewd business move, fleecing the Oakland Raiders out of a 2012 1st round draft pick and a 2013 second rounder. AJ Green made the Pro Bowl and led all receivers with 11 receptions of 35 or more yards. The defense finished ranked 10th in the NFL. Yes, the Bengals didn’t win a game against a single team that finished with a winning record. I don’t care. I really don’t. This team, this group of players has inspired a hope in me that I’ve never had with the Bengals. An optimism I’ve never felt. Watching the Bengals play the Ravens this past Sunday, needing a number of different things to go right to get into the playoffs, I was nervous. I’ve never been nervous watching the Bengals play, because I always felt the team would collapse. They never let me down in that respect.

The future is taller and can jump higher than you. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Cincinnati lost seven games, sure, but six of those losses were by a combined 30 points. That means we were in six of those losses. The loss to Houston at home should have been a win, it was a typical heart breaker losing with two seconds left on the clock. I am more excited for next season than ever. I know this team can build on what they’ve done this season. I even believe they can beat the Texans in Houston.

It hasn’t just been the bad drafting that’s made life as a Bengals fan so miserable. Ownership, Mike Brown in particular, has been particularly cheap over the years. The Bengals have had the smallest scouting department and Brown has refused a push to have an indoor training and practice field built. Even worse, there’s a story from the early 90s when the old Riverfront Stadium ran out of water to sell at a game. The concessions started to sell tap water at $3 a bottle. Fans caught wind of this and the backlash was so great that Brown had to offer a free bottle of water to anyone who went to that game. There was a catch, however, it cost $3 to park.

This year was just the third season since I’ve been eight years old that the Bengals have posted a winning record. I’m 28 years old now. Losing in the NFL is just about all I’ve ever known. There are millions of bandwagon fans out there ready to jump on the next big thing, the next winner, the next hot team. Not me. I’ve stuck with the Bengals, the Bungles through thick and mostly thin. Disappointing season after season I’ve hung in there with the belief that it would have to get better eventually. I’ve taken verbal beatings from friends because of it, I can tell you there’s been a lot of abuse for being a Bengals fan. My support has never wavered. A couple of my colleagues on this website don’t know what it’s like to suffer through the lows I have as a Bengals fan. They know of the good times, being at the top of the pile year after year. I’m willing to wager that they take that success for granted.

Being a Bengals fan, I’ve learned to take nothing for granted. Patience has paid off. I am finally being rewarded. I hope I can see the Bengals win a playoff game for the first time since 1990 on Saturday in Houston. I want to see this rookie quarterback and wide receiver torch the Texans secondary, especially Jonathan Joseph who left because he felt he couldn’t win in the Queen City.

I’d like to thank any of you that actually made it through this tale of woe and I’d like to leave you with one more line…

Who dey, think dey gonna beat dem Bengals!? Not dem Texans, no, no, no!

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  1. […] They’ve won 3 of the last 11 Super Bowls, the last one coming 8 years ago. Some would say, “Jesus, you’ve had it pretty good!” And while I totally agree, what’s there to keep me from wanting more? My dignity? Fuck that! […]



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