The 2004 NFL season is my first memory of being able to understand and enjoy the game of football. The feeling of hope radiated from the man that made me a Bengals fan, my father.
Every conversation I have with my father relating to the Bengals usually ends in a ‘Just One’. Just one Super Bowl. One time I want to feel the jubilation and the adrenaline. Only once do I need to hear “BENGALS FANS! YOUR TEAM JUST WON THE SUPER BOWL!” on that post-game NFL shop infomercial. Just one, that’s our prayer, just one.
My Dad has loved the Bengals since 1973. He listened to the Freezer Bowl while chopping wood in that dreaded weather. He said, “If the players play, I can work.” While stationed overseas, he watched the Bengals lose to the San Francisco 49ers in 1989.
Right when Joe Montana came out to make that fateful drive, the Armed Forces Network cut to commercial! When they came back? San Francisco had won. Can you imagine the horror of that? All while having to explain the game of football to my German-born mother.
Despite the heartbreak, he wore a Bengals jacket (the same one) every single winter day in the 1990s. He modeled his mustache after Kenny Anderson (he won’t admit it, but it’s so true). Naturally, he indoctrinated me into this painful fandom. He waited patiently for the day I asked, “Dad, have the Bengals ever won a Super Bowl?”
His Kenny Anderson mustache flipped into a smile and he said, “Let me show you.” He went to the DVD stand (REMEMBER THOSE THINGS) and pulled the recorded copies of Super Bowl XVI and Super Bowl XXIII. He refused to tell me who won, which is both cool and cruel. That experience certainly gave me an emotional connection to the Cincinnati Bengals that goes beyond my generation.
My Dad believed in the Bengals more than anyone in 2005. His patience was rewarded, and the Bengals were Super Bowl ready. He was gleaming with hope and excitement, sitting up in his chair. Sitting right there with me was that 14-year-old kid. The one who dragged a radio in the freezing cold to cheer on his Bengals. ‘Just One’ seemed on the horizon.
Then – Palmer, knee, well… if you’ve read this far, you know the story. It was jarring for a 7-year-old to watch his father go from completely hopeful to unendingly hopeless in a matter of seconds. In his mind, that childhood dream of watching the Bengals win a Super Bowl was dead. My father’s realization was entrenched with the failures of 06 and 07. Then cemented with the collapse in 2008. The fan in him had been beaten into hopeless submission.
Yet, there I was, the optimist. Constantly cheering, hoping, and believing. I believed in T.O. and Ocho, argued for Andy Dalton and AJ Green (even in 2017). Through it all, I wore the jerseys, took the crap from Steelers fans, and still hoped for ‘Just One’. I predicted we’d beat the Jets, the Texans, the Chargers, the Colts, and the Steelers.
Every playoff loss that passed pushed me deeper into the depths of sports hopelessness. The hope of ‘Just One’ seemed dead, until Joe Burrow. The light from his cigar ignited the hope into a blaze for my Dad and me.
Maybe watching Joe Burrow hoist the Lombardi will give us enough hope for a lifetime. It certainly would answer a lifelong prayer for us in Bengaldom.
But hell, at this point? ‘Just one’ playoff win might do.