The word is out. The culture has changed in Cincinnati. There’s no longer a stigma attached to playing for the Bengals. Being part of an NFL family on the banks of the mighty Ohio River is in. It’s reminiscent of the popularity Studio 54 enjoyed. Outside of the music blared from speakers in Paul Brown Stadium, the similarities to that iconic nightspot end. Fun is an afterthought. It’s time to win, and players want to be in Cincinnati.
It’s all fun and games until the people involved start taking things seriously. After the Bengals lost their January 9 Wild Card game against the Steelers, the predictions were all over the place. Many analysts predicted a dismantling of the team, while some predicted the firing of head coach Marvin Lewis. The future of the Bengals was dim and gloomy.
Some predictions were cloaked in half-hearted seriousness. According to ESPN, the Bengals are destined to be the AFC representative in Super Bowl 51. Supposedly, the Bengals exact revenge by clobbering the Arizona Cardinals. The article then goes on to mention Charlie Brown finally kicking the football before Lucy pulls it away.
The reality of what’s happening has finally been accepted by fans and players. The Bengals have become a team that has a legitimate chance at making it to the Super Bowl. It’s no longer about getting a check and riding off into the sunset. The atmosphere in southern Ohio is about winning.
When the Bengals announced the re-signing of safety Taylor Mays, many fans weren’t fazed. The talks had been going on for weeks. The inking of the details was a foregone conclusion. What did come as a surprise was Mays’ attitude. After a year hiatus from the Cincinnati defense, Mays is ready to get back to being with a winner.
“Cincinnati is a legitimate team to host the AFC championship game and I saw that on TV watching the Bengals on TV last year,” Mays offered candidly, via the Cincinnati Bengals. “It’s something I want to be a part of and hopefully contribute to. You gain an appreciation and understanding when you step back from it from the perspective of being on another team.”
Bengals brass has finally gotten the message out. Cincinnati is at the door and the players are ready to kick it in. Mays was able to appreciate at what he passed on, by seeing the product from another viewpoint. He’s ready to help the cause and right the ship.
Bengals linebacker Karlos Dansby has been adamant about his desire to win. After being released by the Cleveland Browns, his first thoughts were of playing for the Bengals.
“I feel like I can come in and I can help get us over that hump. I want to be a part of something that’s great.”
It may take some time getting used to reading or hearing Bengals and “great.” But, with the current crop of players, that seems to be a growing occurrence.
The Bengals were just a field goal away from moving on. The sting from January 9 is still fresh in the minds of players and fans. With each off-season addition, Bengals brass wanted to add players with a thirst for winning. Brandon LaFell was released by the New England Patriots. After signing with Cincinnati, his mindset is no different from the recently signed warriors.
“Once you get a taste of winning you don’t want to take a step back and go somewhere where they’re trying to rebuild. If you have options to pick and choose where you want to go, you pick and choose a team that still is winning, has a good quarterback, good system and good opportunity to win.”
Get used to hearing that kind of talk from Cincinnati players. That confidence may be ringing while confetti drops.
[Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images]