Today is Super Bowl Day. The Cincinnati Bengals return for the first time in 35 years to the Big Dance to take on the LA Rams. Fun fact: In the 1930s, another Cincinnati Bengals team played against the Rams. Who played in Cleveland at the time. The Rams have moved three times since then, currently on their second stint in Los Angeles. So, what’s it like living in a Super Bowl City?
Right now, it’s awesome. If the Bengals can’t close the deal… Well… When I first moved here in 1991, my then-girlfriend said the silence after their second Super Bowl loss to the San Francisco 49’rs was deafening.
Contrast that with growing up in Cleveland through Cleveland’s two near misses in the AFC Championship. My brother wanted to intercept John Elway at Hopkins Airport and… Let’s see… This gets shared on social media, so let’s just say do very bad things. He was not even a teenager yet, so he managed to avoid felony prison sentence, and Elway went on to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Needless to say, after the Fumble, we was angry.
I came to Cincinnati in 1991, still an avid Browns fan. Why wouldn’t I be? While the Bengals had two Super Bowls, both losses, they were wildly inconsistent. Still, my then girlfriend insisted I had to become a Bengals fan. I’m not an automatic homer. I’ll switch when the hometown team gives me three seasons of 8-8 or better football. (Now it would have to be 9-8 or better with 17 games.) That’s reasonable. It should take a rebuilding team about five years to pull that off. That year, Boomer went to the Cardinals. Munoz retired. Fulcher left town. Sam Wyche got fired. Paul Brown died just before my arrival in the city.
Fine. New generation, new blood. The new coach was Don Shula’s son, and the Browns showed promise under Belichik and Vinny Testaverde.
Um… Yeah. Dave Shula was a disaster. Mike Brown proved he could not run a football team. And in 1994, Art Modell (the traitor) kidnapped the Browns to Baltimore. The NFL intervened and said this was an “expansion team” (Yeah. Right.) and the real Browns would be back in 1999. (Yeah. Right.) I, a scion of Greater Cleveland living in Cincinnati, was forced to root for the Pittsburgh Steelers for four years. Worse, this was not Terry Bradshaw’s Steelers or Ben Rothlisberger’s Steelers. No, I was treated to Neil O’Donnell. At least I got Kordell Stewart for a season and a half. Kordell had an uncanny ability to know where the end zone was and didn’t embarrass me rooting for a team I was already embarrassed to support from sheer geography.
The Browns “returned,” and oh, what a sorry excuse for a franchise these new Browns were. This is a team that would see more quarterbacks in 19 seasons than the progressive rock band Yes would have in fifty. To put this in perspective. There are now two versions of the band on tour with enough side players and former members still alive to form a third. And they have a better record than the Browns. Both versions still chart.
But then the Bengals brought in Marvin Lewis, a former Ravens defensive coordinator. Lewis wanted to win. He brought it. He gave me two years of winning records and a .500 ball season. On the eighth game of that third season, when the “Browns” couldn’t beat an elementary school pick up team or avoid benching a QB before he could finish four quarters, I switched. Marvin Lewis fulfilled the bargain, and I kept my word. The girlfriend was long gone, but I kept my word.
The next fifteen years would be like watching the local college basketball teams in the NCAA: One and done. As far as participant trophies go, remember, that’s more than you did this morning if you don’t go by Big Ben, Tom Brady, or Peyton Manning. (Or Eli, who hilariously schooled me his first Super Bowl season, the only time I switched teams mid game because… Well… Dayum!)
Marvin’s last three seasons were a disaster. Current coach Zac Taylor’s first two were also disasters.
And then came Joe Burrow. Swagger backed by talent. Even Tom Brady compares him to Tom Brady, and Joe actually comes out ahead in his estimation. Yes, the GOAT is a fan. We in Cincinnati hope you will come to hate Joe Burrow over the next decade as much as we’ve come to hate Brady. Because when he’s your QB… Dayum!*
And here we are. Super Bowl morning. The city is on fire. Covid rages. The average political discussion is driven by people with IQs south of 75. The climate is spiraling out of control. Inflation has made it necessary to take out a third mortgage to get an Egg McMuffin. But screw you. The Bengals are in the Super Bowl. Only Rams fans can say that along with us. If you don’t think it makes a difference, come to Cincy today. Go to LA. Shades of Pittsburgh and Boston, Green Bay and Indianapolis. And we came off a major bowl season for the college Cincinnati Bearcats team. Two winning football teams that didn’t fold up and go home in their respective playoffs. Which means Bearcats basketball, the Reds, and FC Cincinnati will have to step up their games now.
Because championships are addictive. Ask Tom Brady. He switched cities to feed his habit.
*So…. How much do I owe Gabriel Iglesias for stealing his schtick?