Another Monday morning has crept upon me. Didn’t sleep well and had nightmares. I kept visualizing this huge black and yellow creature chasing me and cursing. It kept saying something about six rings and a stairway to seven. Oh well. I got up, sat down at my trusty laptop, and decided to get my frustrations out. It’s really hard to be a Bengals fan. You never know what to expect.
The year seemed so promising. In the 40 years I’ve been a fan of the Cincinnati Bengals, I had never been prouder. Andy Dalton seemed to have shaken the ghosts of the past, and the weapons of mass production were all together at last. At the start of the season, I was even bold enough to predict them winning the division. In my world, the Bengals were on their way to the Super Bowl before Game 2.
But as a writer and student of the game for 40 years, I knew a win over the Oakland Raiders didn’t count as a blockbuster accomplishment. Yet as a Bengals fan, I wanted to believe. Then came the eight-game winning streak, and I was definitely hooked. My beloved Bengals were on their way to the Big Dance and there was no stopping them.
Suddenly, the Houston Texans and Arizona Cardinals invaded my happiness. If you assume I was devastated, you assume correctly. Then there came a couple of wins over cupcakes that the Bengals rightfully blew out. That’s what championship caliber teams do. They crush inferior wannabes who get out of control.
Then it happened. I was waiting on it.
Just when I was thinking the season was going by without a hitch, the Pittsburgh Steelers come into town with revenge on their minds. They also needed to beat the Bengals to stay alive in their hunt for a playoff spot. Surely the Bengals realized the importance of this game. After all, they’re my team. They got this. No need to rehash the horror. The Steelers beat the Bengals 33-20. In the process, Dalton injured himself trying to make a tackle.
The good old boys at ESPN have indicated that Dalton will be lost for the rest of the year. If you didn’t have those thoughts when you spotted him wearing a cast on the sidelines, you’re delusional. It’s hard being a Bengals fan.
No, the season isn’t lost. But it’s in jeopardy. As a fan, my first thought was to rationalize why Dalton was trying to tackle a 300-pound lineman. Stephon Tuitt is no gingerbread cornerback. He’s a big man. As a student of the game, I realize Dalton was angry about the interception and doing his job. But that makes it hard as a fan. The Steelers’ jeers have started already. The Bengals are the Bungles again. Not only that, the collective “told you so” of the nation will be riding every game until the season is done.
Doesn’t it seem to happen every time? Whenever good fortune shines on the Cincinnati Bengals, there’s a black rain cloud hovering near the excitement. In 2005, it was Carson Palmer and the leg whip. In 2009, Chad Johnson couldn’t run his routes in a Wildcard game against the New York Jets. The past four years have seen a combination of poor preparation and injuries destroy postseason hopes. Now the Red Rifle is out of bullets for the year.
There’s still hope. The Bengals have put their faith in A.J. McCarron to lead them the rest of the way. Is my faith there as a fan? I still have to be convinced. McCarron has shown promise in the preseason. When he entered the game Sunday, he looked rusty. He’s promised his teammates and fans that he will get better with more first team reps. McCarron has three games to get his act together or face the wrath of more disgruntled fans. He’s going to see so many blitzes, he may consider becoming a defensive coordinator when he retires.
There are so many questions I have about the Bengals organization from a fan’s point of view. But honestly, they’re better than the Bungles of years past. They’ll make the playoffs again. Will they keep going? Being a Bengals fan is really hard.
[Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images]