Monday, December 08, 2008

Loser mentality strong in Cincinnati

This is a tough one to write.

For while I follow the Colts very closely, I also keep an eye on that "other team" down the way on I-74. Among all my blue, horseshoe-adorned apparel, you'll find flecks of bright orange and the occasional Bengal tiger stripe.

Yes, I am a closet Bengals fan.

Growing up as a kid in the eastern part of Indiana, the Colts didn't have much of a hold on me. Those teams from 1984-1994 were full of mediocrity, losing, and unfamiliarity. I knew nothing about the Indianapolis Colts. Instead, I followed the Cincinnati Bengals. Boomer Esiason. James Brooks. David Fulcher. Icky Woods. For years, those were my guys. To a certain extent, they still are.

There was a Super Bowl appearance in there, a fun, free-wheeling offensively-driven team that was fun to watch. They had (and still have) the best helmets in the league. Though I've not been a big fan of their recent fashion statement, Bengal tiger stripes are awesome. You can't deny it.

Of course, a guy named Jim Harbaugh came along, played with grit and determination, and won over this sports fan. It was an immediate (but not total) conversion. While I bled blue and white, I urinated orange and black. Or something.

That's about where the Bengals belong. Check urine is probably too good for them.

It's hard to follow the Cincinnati Bengals. They're a punch-line every season. Even when fortune smiles upon them and they draft a guy like Carson Palmer, they manage to blow it. Blame bad luck. Blame injuries. Blame Mike Brown. I've maintained this for the past few seasons: Carson Palmer is too good for the Cincinnati Bengals. He's too good for Chad "Johnson" Ocho Cinco, Chris Henry, Cedric Benson, and the rest of that collection of miscreants. It's a culture of losing there that hasn't changed, won't change. Not until Mike Brown is gone, the taint of his management washed from the hallways and aisles of Paul Brown Stadium.

The Bengals are a complete joke. That football team isn't even competitive. It's hard to believe they've somehow managed to bungle losing every game this season; they beat Jacksonville (and that was extremely satisfying for Colts fans, who have to put up with the talk about how this is the "year" for the Jags, only to delight in watching them implode) and tied a decent Philadelphia team.

I'm the kind of fan who watches just about every minute of every game, no matter how good or bad it goes. I sat through the 41-0 loss to the Jets in the playoffs; the back-to-back deconstructions in New England, the back-to-back 3-13 seasons. I've managed to watch about 90% of IU basketball games this year, a daunting task to be sure.

Yet, I could barely bring myself to continue watching the Colts-Bengals game. There was no fire from Cincinnati, no will to succeed, no passion. There was losing and a loser's mentality. You can start it with Chris Henry.

Oh, I know, he's easy to pick on. The man of a thousand arrests and bong hits. Marvin Lewis wanted him exiled from the team forever, and it looked like the Bengals would do it. Then, there were a couple injuries, Mike Brown decides it's time to bring Henry back because the Bengals are short a few bodies.

Oh, how brilliant.

Not only did Henry provide a little thuggery by taking a cheap shot at Tim Jennings, he also provided one of the most infuriating plays I've ever seen. With the Colts well up in the game, Henry was the target of a pass that was intercepted. Maybe he ran the wrong route; maybe Ryan Fitzpatrick threw to the wrong spot. The result was an 85-yard interception return by Kelvin Hayden.

What did Henry do?

Or, more properly, what didn't Henry do?

Clearly having given up on himself and the Bengals' disastrous season, Henry barely acknowledged the play, nonchalantly walking off the field, calmly taking his helmet off, and resigning himself to the sidelines. He didn't give chase. He didn't look upset. He simply gave up.

Now, it's time for the Bengals to give up on him. It reminds me of how the Pacers treated Ron Artest. After the fight and all the crap they put up with concerning Artest, he turned his back on the team and demanded a trade. Some people simply don't deserve fans' love or an organization's respect.

Thus is Henry.

A true loser playing for a team infected with a losing mentality. Yet, Henry is the worst kind of who doesn't even try.

On the flip side, you have the Indianapolis Colts. They struggled to win three of their first seven games en route to a 3-4 start. Yet, they never gave up, not even in that game against Houston that they had no right to win. They've known for the longest time that they had no shot at the division. Yet, they kept going, kept their nose to the grindstone. Now, they're sitting in good position with a 9-4 record. They won't be AFC South champs, but they refuse to be AFC South chumps.

If only the Bengals had a fraction of that resiliency, you could say with a straight face that at least they're trying. And some of them are. Just not enough of them...and not the most visible players. It's time to clean house in Cincinnati, say a prayer for Carson Palmer's elbow, and hope against hope that there's a way to fix this horribly broken franchise.

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