Didn't want to post this as a front page article, since it's team-specific, but here's a piece I wrote today. Be gentle.
It's not easy being a Bengals fan. Sadness, disappointment, and apathy are ever-present emotions for those of us who not only wear, but bleed orange and black. Every new season brings new hope and renewed faith, but we have been constantly rewarded with failure. The road Cincinnati fans have traveled over the past 20+ years is one littered with losses, unfulfilled dreams, and broken promises. So, what do we do? Do we abandon all hope and resign ourselves to a future without a chance? Impossible. Do we surrender, and sell our fandom, and our souls, to root for a team, a rival even? Unfathomable. What is a loyal member of the who dey nation to do?
Being a fan of any team is rarely a conscious decision. We're fans before we see our first game, before we know a single player's name, before we're even born. My father was a Bengals fan, watching Ken Anderson, Isaac Curtis, and Ken Riley on the prowl before I was even a though. I began watching games before I was even self-aware, and continued as I passed through adolescence. By the time I was old enough to enjoy watching football, I realized I was rooting for the Bengals and didn't even know why. It was just the way it was. Guys named Boomer, Ickey, and Fulcher were my heroes, guys I emulated at any given opportunity. The 1989 Super Bowl loss the San Francisco 49ers came when I was 11 years old, and the heartbreak lingers to this day. I cried as Joe Montana stomped on my chest and ripped the soul right out of me. I wanted revenge, and assumed that I would see retribution sooner rather than later. Who could foresee what would happen?
More than two decades have passed since then, and if that game was a heartbreak, then the following 20 years can only be described as the annihilation of my childhood. Year after year, the team I loved found new and more unpleasant ways to lose. Losing beget losing and a fanbase starved for a return to prominence was smashed over the head with ineptitude. The Bengals became the Bungles and a punchline in the football world. Bad draft picks, poor coaching choices, and a seemingly indifferent front office combined to drain the spirit from a once-proud franchise.
Now, moving ahead to the past few years, and while the Bengals have been better, making three trips to the playoffs, with no postseason wins. The team has improved to highly inconsistent rather than just plain bad. The good seasons have aroused a dormant optimism in the fans in Cincinnati. Those high hopes are then quickly dashed by the crushing blow of a terrible season to follow. This season is no different. In 2011, a rookie QB, a rookie WR, a new offensive coordinator, and a young defense surprised the league and breathed life into their fans by getting into the playoffs. This year looked like it might finally bring some semblance of sanity as the team came out of the gate strong. However, history found a way of repeating itself as four straight losses left fans with that old familiar feeling. Then we come full circle, following a big win over the defending champion New York Giants. Bengals fans now break out renewed hopes, maybe the last hope of saving this season. At 4-5, we want to believe that we can make a run and cheer our team to back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time since the early 1980's. Some fans, however, like myself, have learned their lesson. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me 30 times....
So I'll sit and watch. I'll root root root for the home team, and I'll celebrate every great play and every win like it'll be the last, partly because it just might be. I'll yell at my TV. I'll stand up and scream as a player breaks a big play. I'll even lean my body on field goals as if I can affect the trajectory with my body language. Each loss will ruin my week, even if we're out of contention and the losses only help get a higher draft pick. One thing I won't do is let my expectations get the better of me. I'll just keep repeating, I will not get too excited. I will not get too excited. After all, this is what we do. We lose. Unless... We do have a couple of games against weak teams coming up, which could put us at 6-5. Then a few wins against some other inconsistent teams like Philadelphia and San Diego, and maybe, just maybe... Yeah, who am I kidding? The past has taught me nothing. I'm a sucker, and I'm still hoping for the miracle, wishing for the best, and praying for another shot in the playoffs where, who knows, maybe I'll get that shot at revenge on the 49ers. I can't help myself. It's who I am, who I was born to be. I'm a Bengals fan. Who Dey!
Twitter @vancemeek "I wish I could say something classy and inspirational, but that just wouldn't be our style. Pain heals. Chicks dig scars. Glory...lasts forever."-Shane Falco