It’s been a long time. The last time the Bengals won in the playoffs, they beat the Houston Oilers 41-14. It was January 6, 1991. Many diehard fans of the Cincinnati Bengals remember that day faster than birthdays or anniversaries. There have probably been a ton of counseling sessions surrounding that date. But, the ride-or-die fans continue to cheer. They bleed Orange and Black like their lives depend on it.
Being a Bengals fan can make you the butt of jokes you’ve never heard before. It’s a cruel and sometimes funny punishment that threatens to push you over the edge. Yet, every year, as the weather turns warm, Bengals fans think training camp over baseball. It’s always about the Orange and Black.
Twenty-four long years have passed since that playoff victory. Twenty-seven years have passed since the Bengals were in the Super Bowl. Yes, for all those who weren’t aware, the Bengals were in the Super Bowl. That revelation came as a huge shock to my son when I told him. He had given up hope on them. His answer for Cincinnati winning a Super Bowl was Sega Genesis.
Playing John Madden Football was our sanctuary from the Bengals of the 1990s. There was no way my son was lacking in Cincinnati Bengals knowledge. But, 30 years later, when told the Bengals had come up a late drive short of winning the Super Bowl, he was shocked. That was my cue to send him footage of the two games. He gained instant respect for the team and has had it since.
True Bengals fans aren’t bothered by what people have to say. They embrace the negativity and shout “Who Dey?!” even louder. It’s been a long time. The wait has been torturous and seemingly unyielding. 2015 has produced a Bengals team that has a chance to go all the way. Orange and Black bleeding fans are ready.
The attitude is different around this year’s version of the Bengals. The players are feeding off the fans and their hunger for a playoff victory. For the most part, the players do understand what the fans scream about. They want to end the drought just as bad. Jeremy Hill addressed the desire to get things going, via The Cincinnati Enquirer.
“It’s just a burden that we really need to get lifted from this city, from this team, from this ownership, from this coaching staff and for coach Lewis. It’s just something that everyone in this locker room really wants to do and it’s just about us going out there and doing it.”
Fans aren’t bitter. Making the playoffs for five straight years is an accomplishment that many other teams can’t brag about. It’s the losing that stings. Understanding that a unit of great players took the field against a lesser opponent and lost is heartbreaking. Coming up short, when the game was so close, is worse than a blowout.
In the mind of the fan, time is running out. The core of players for the Bengals is getting thinner. Free agency is lurking around the corner. Bengals brass has done a wonderful job of keeping players under contract. They’ve even brought some back from other teams. True fans are keenly aware of that fact. How long can the Bengals keep the team together?
The players are hungry. They’re ready to move to the next level. That’s the same mentality of the Orange and Black bleeding Bengals fans. The mindset has been there since OTAs in May.
There’s an urgency that can be felt from the coaches to the players. It’s time for the Bengals to produce on a larger level. Losing is no longer a part of the Bengals culture. But until that first playoff game is won, the stain will stay.
“I feel like more of a hunger, more of a wanting to get over the hump for ourselves as players, and for our coaches and for the city, man,” defensive tackle Domata Peko explained. “The city’s been through a lot of tough seasons here and now we’re winning, but we want to get over that, we want to get farther.”
It seems like the Bengals are ready. Now it’s time to get over the hump and prove to the fans that Orange and Black are the colors of choice in the NFL.
[Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images]