Except for a time from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s, I have never been much of a Cincinnati Bengals fan. I have always rooted for them to some degree since they are the local NFL team, but because they have been frustrating much more than they have been fascinating, whether they won or lost really didn’t matter much.
I have always been beholden to my childhood favorite Dallas Cowboys, a relationship that hearkens back my formative years when people like Tom Landry, Roger Staubach, Bob Lilly and Bob Hayes were roaming the Cowboy sidelines.
But my loyalty could be changing. That’s because there is something about the Joe Burrow kid that plays quarterback for the Bengals that has lured me in since his acceptance speech when he won the Heisman trophy in college. It was unlike any Heisman speech I ever heard, and I’m not ashamed to admit it brought tears to my eyes.
Now an eclectic cast of characters have joined “Joey Franchise” and when they play Sunday for the AFC Championship, I will be parked in front of my TV wearing my one piece of Bengals merchandise. It’s an orange hoodie I think someone left at our house years ago. I had to search for high and low for it before last week’s playoff game, but now I know exactly where it is.
There was a time when I went to lots of Bengals game. That was at old Riverfront Stadium when I worked for a newspaper that had a sideline pass. It’s fun on the sidelines the first couple times, but to me it got old pretty fast, and I found myself wishing I was in the stands like the average guy. So what I would often do is find some buddies who were going to the game and catch a ride. I’d go down on the sidelines for the first quarter, snap a few pictures, then head up to the stands to find my buddies. That usually meant I didn’t have a seat, so I’d let my buddies use my press pass and camera to go down on the field while I borrowed their seat for a while.
There was lots of fun to be had at old Riverfront in those days, and with Boomer Esiason and the gang, the Bengals were usually fairly decent.
Once, I was in the bathroom with the lines about a dozen people deep at each urinal. Just as my turn started, someone grabbed me around the waist and started doing obscene things to my back side, cackling at the top of his lungs. I had not seen this particular friend for quite a while, but I knew who it was — after the initial shock — without having to turn around. I didn’t think it was all that funny, but the 100 or so guys in line around me seemed to get a kick out of it.
Not long after that I gave the same friend my press pass one day when I could not make it to a game. He was on crutches at the time and was not sure where all the pass allowed him to go. So he walked around the stadium to see what he might find. He managed to find the free beverage area and helped himself to a few, then saw a door open to a private box. He went it and had a seat in the back. Before long he noticed that he was hanging ten with Paul Brown, Mike Brown, and others. He chatted with some of the others a bit before they told him he needed to move along.
There are many other funny stories that could be told, but for now they’ll stay between myself and the few others who know.
I was in a college dorm room rooting for the Bengals when they played in the Super Bowl in 1982. The game did not end well for the Bengals, but by the time it was over I don’t think a bunch of college kids were too disappointed.
When the Bengals played the San Francisco 49ers once again in the Super Bowl in 1989, the outcome was the same — a come-from-behind win for the 49ers in the final minutes. I was at my Hillsboro home that time with several friends and while we were disappointed, the fun time spent with friends is what I remember the most.
Until this year, the Bengals had not advanced this far in the postseason since those days in the 1980s. I was a kid then, and if they go that long between Super Bowl appearances again, well, it is highly unlikely I will be around. But I don’t see it happening that way. Because there’s something special about this kid they’re calling Joey Franchise, and his teammates.
Beating the Kansas City Chiefs on their home field with Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill will be a tall order Sunday. If I were placing a bet, I’d likely go with the Chiefs. But the Bengals beat the Chiefs just a few weeks ago in Cincinnati, so who knows.
What I know is that as long as Joey Franchise is a Bengal, I’ll be a fan. And I’d place a big bet that they’ll be in the Super Bowl conversation for several years to come.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette, an AIM Media Midwest publication. He can be reached at [email protected] or 937-402-2522. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.