I can't believe you did this to me, she said.
My wife and I sat through the last quarter of the Steelers/Bengals game feeling the same hope and excitement mixed with shame, anguish, and disappointment that seems all too familiar to the Bengals Nation. My wife, like every dedicated fan, has her list of people to blame; we talk about it. Sometimes it's the Bengals' cadre of wide receiver divas. Sometimes Carson is still playing like he's worried about being hit. Sometimes the offensive line plays like they're working for the other team. Sometimes the defense plays like they haven't been playing football since they were old enough to support a helmet and shoulder pads. This year, and part of last year, our post-game conversations have focused on the half-life that is Marvin Lewis's career in Cincinnati.
Without reservation, I blame Mike Brown. I always blame Mike Brown.
He tinkers with the team the way I tinker with my chili recipe – except my results get better over time. Mike Brown suffers from the same delusion that another micro-managing football team owner – one Jerry Jones, owner and GM of the Dallas Cowpokers – suffers from. Each of them had one idea that worked once upon a time; and now they believe they are football geniuses. Jones gave us professional cheerleaders – though, as my friend and fellow scribbler Jose recently pointed out to me over Facebook, knowing that guys who watch football will also watch hot chicks in skimpy uniforms isn't really an inspired idea; it's more like common sense.
And for those of you who don't know or remember, Mike Brown's one good idea was to start the Bengals franchise in Cincinnati. It was, I admit, an inspired idea, and one that I am bound to be grateful for. If little Mikey Brown hadn't gone to Daddy Paul and whispered the name “Cincinnati,” the Bengals might have been playing in thrown away Browns' uniforms in some other city – which means that my Dad, who was content to live in Florida until he heard that Cincinnati was getting a professional football team, would have never moved home and married my mom. But one good idea – and a business idea at that – in no way qualifies him to micro-manage. Mike Brown is the brain behind the stadium deal that nearly soured the team's relationship with the city – a relationship salvaged by Marvin Lewis and the no huddle offense. Mike Brown has narrowly avoided being run out of town by the grace of a once solid defense and the fact that other than people he's related to or people he pays, Mike Brown doesn't have any people physically close enough to actually lay a hand on him. He lives in a germ free bubble at some undisclosed location in Indian Hills (where the Nati Affluent guard themselves from the hordes of rednecks and displaced downtown blacks that have the audacity to question terms like “gentrification.”) and only speaks through coded transmissions from a ticker-tape machine.
And while the season isn't over yet, any chance of a post-season appearance is as dead as the fish that get washed ashore from the Ohio River. Last night's edition of the Cincinnati/Pittsburgh grudge match had all the elements I have come to expect; I liken it to Greek Tragedy. Think Oedipus Rex. No, the Bengals didn't fuck their own mothers; but they sure as hell set themselves up for doom, failure, and to wander around blindly. For the next 8 weeks, at least.
The problems aren't new ones. People will talk about Carson's injury and wonder whether he'll ever really “get his swagger back.” Talking like that is about as idiotic as people talking about whether Obama “got it” from the recent mid-term election... only at least swagger is a bit more specific than “it.” When I was 13, “it” meant sex. And while I think Carson Palmer came back from that injury a different quarterback, his swagger isn't the entire issue. The real issue is that the Bengals organization has nearly worn him out, and the only real question I have is the same one that my wife posed last night: so if Carson Palmer were to leave Cincinnati, would his brother Jordan leave too?
I've also been wondering about Marvin's fate. I'd hate to see him go, but maybe it's time. If Marvin goes, though, then there's some other deadwood that needs to go, too:
- Paul Alexander, Assistant and Offensive Line Coach: He's been a coach longer than any of his players have been playing the game, and has been in Cincinnati through several Head Coach changes. My only thought is that he must get on bended knee ever year and give Mike Brown one hell of a blow job … no small trick through a germ-free bubble. That's the only way I figure that he's been able to keep a coaching job.
- Bob Bratkowski, Offensive Coordinator: This guy's Cincinnati career can be clocked with an egg timer. The fact is, he does have an eye for talent, but not an eye for stacking the offensive side of the ball to account for inevitable injuries. And his play calls are predictable. My wife pointed out several times during the game last night that if she could read what the Bengals offense is going to do, then the Steeler's defense must have precognitive knowledge of it.
- Kyle Caskey, Offensive Quality Control: From what I can tell, this guy's a glorified intern. Unsure of what this position actually entails, I did what any dedicated researcher would do. I googled it. And according to the only source that sounded at all reasonable, Legion at finhaven.com posted in a forum two years ago that basically someone in Caskey's position prepares game film, gets the coffee, and has something to do with the scouting team. I guess Caskey's responsible for getting the hookers.
If it seems I'm picking on the offense... well, I am. The defense has problems, but it's player related. Injuries and inexperience have hurt us on both sides of the ball; but with the offense, it's rooted in a coaching structure that's become predictable.
The only way that the Bengals have ever had solid seasons is when they run the ball – which they haven't been able to do this year, in spite of having talent like Cedric Benson. Running Backs are always the most under-appreciated and most critical players on the offensive line. They carry the weight. But this year, with our dual divas, T.O. and Ocho, the offensive strategy has been to throw the ball. And while I will admit I was wrong about T.O. as a talent, I am sick and tired of all the Batman and Robin bullshit. And if something doesn't change, Ocho will get sick of it too. Last night he looked several times like he was suffering from ball envy. And Ocho doesn't like it when he can't show off. The only upside to a break up of the friendship between T.O. and Ocho is that there will be fewer reality tv shows to ignore. Play football, guys, if you want to play ball. If you want to have VH1 reality shows no one will watch, go with god and get out of the way.
When the game was over last night, my wife said the same thing to me she always says when they lose: I can't believe you did this to me. Her claim is that I somehow turned her into not only a football fan, but a Bengals fan. I did no such thing. I only wanted to be able to watch football in peace. The fact is, though, that if we were able to go to home games, she would be one of Those Fans – the face painting waving at the tv camera and trying to psyche out the visiting team kind of Fan. And I love her for that, among the many reasons I love her. I try and tell her that the years of frustration makes for a True Fan; if you can love your team after watching them self-destruct season after season, when the the golden years come – and they do – then you've earned the right to be as obnoxious as you want to be. And my wife, I can tell you, is no bandwagon fan. And while the rest of the season will drown in the rhetoric of trying to “end the season with their heads held high”, the Bengals will disappear from the conversation until next year's blooper reels. Maybe Caskey puts those together, too.