Bengals fans at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium rejoice with offensive lineman Quinton Spain. Cincinnati Bengals
I was chatting about the Bengals with a friend when he asked me, “How do we keep this good feeling going?”
I was taken aback for a second, as the conversation to that point had only dwelled on the on-the-field talents of Joe Burrow and Jamarr Chase. But when I thought about it, I realized what his question meant: This is way more than the Bengals.
It’s been a great, thrilling, yell from the rooftops kind of season. So much fun seeing the Bengals, losers for so long, get off the mat and knock out teams that were supposed to be tougher and savvier.
And it feels so good because the Bengals have finally thrown off the loser tag and are swaggering into L.A. of all places, playing a Hollywood-style team that is undoubtedly hearing the footsteps coming from Ohio.
The football has been great. But this is way more than football.
It’s about a city, a region, that’s also labored under a cloud for a long time. When they were the Bungles, they were a laughingstock. Former players would even go public with what they really thought. (Looking at you Carson Palmer and Dan “I hate Cincinnati” Wilkinson.)
We not only had the Bungles, we had Pete and Marge. Sure, we love ‘em here, but their antics didn’t go over well beyond I-275. Baseball banned Pete and took the Reds away from Marge.
Then we had people getting killed by the cops, and the rioting that followed. Around that time, people in powerful places started to put some things in motion. Serious change was needed because Cincinnati couldn’t keep going down this road. The transformation of Over-the-Rhine was started. Fountain Square got a makeover. The Banks went from being a mud pit to a pregame and postgame playground.
But we still had the Bengals. And sports matter when it comes to how we feel about our collective selves, and how we look to the rest of the world.
Football teams can shape the identities of cities, some of them middle-market Midwesterners like us. Pittsburgh would not have the reputation it does without its six-time Super Bowl champion team. There’s a little town in Wisconsin that’s not known for anything besides football by the rest of the country. Even Indianapolis, for heaven’s sake, has a Super Bowl trophy on its collective mantle.
Cincinnati has never had that chip on its shoulder. It’s been 33 years since we even had a seat the Big Game. And never won one.
A season like this makes that all go away.
So how do we keep this good feeling going?
After the AFC championship victory, there was 86-year-old Mike Brown, the subject of so much scorn over the years, accepting the trophy on national television in a ridiculously rumpled overcoat and an equally worn out golf cap. It was so Cincinnati.
But even he understood that this season was about more than football. “Our people in Cincinnati will be who-deying through the night,” he said.
Indeed we were. In my usually sedate neighborhood, people were shooting off fireworks and hollering Who Dey from their porches. It was cathartic.
Mike Brown and his family own the Bengals, but it’s not just a family business. We’re all invested in this. The family is, essentially, holding the franchise in trust for the benefit of an entire metropolitan region, for all of Bengaldom.
Keep the good feeling going by building on what happened this year. Keep investing in the team and the city. What's happening now is how it pays off.
Keep the good feeling going. Who Dey Nation is counting on it.
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