Paul Daugherty, email@example.com
January 8, 2016
It’s Wednesday night and already he can’t sleep. BengalBoy – the 51-year-old with the “B BOY’’ vanity plates, his basement a shrine to Bengalville and the only Hall of Fame Ken Anderson occupies at the moment – prowls around the 3 a.m. abode, his mind spun by possibilities.
“I don’t know if there’s an emotion I don’t feel,’’ he says. “I’m anxious, nervous, excited, hopeful, skeptical. I’m everything. It’s good versus evil. Man, if we lose again. . .
“I’m just very preoccupied with this game. I’m on pins and needles. Usually, the family sees me behave like this on Saturday night, not Wednesday night. I can’t be at peace. I can’t enjoy this unless we win.’’
Saturday night is about you. It is for you. It will, in some tiny way, define you, because geography is destiny and the local geography includes the Bengals, who have teased you more than unopened boxes beneath the tree on Christmas morning.
Bengals-Steelers is for the players, too. But their agendas aren’t yours. They play for pride and recognition and money. They are stakeholders in this enterprise, but they’re not chairmen of the board. They come and go.
It’s not for the fans of the other team, either. They’re an entitled lot, co-owners with the players of six Super Bowl rings. Their passion is equal to yours, but on Saturday night it will come from a different place. They are big brother, and all Saturday is for them is an appetizer and another chance to slap l’il bro upside his head.
For them and their team, it’s a business trip, a briefcase game. For you, it’s Armageddon.
“This city so desperately needs a win,’’ BengalBoy declares.
Smaller cities are more easily defined by their sports teams. Especially small, cold-weather cities. Los Angeles is too vast to hitch its identity to sports mercenaries. As good as the Joe Montana-Steve Young 49ers were, San Francisco would never proclaim itself “Titletown’’ as Pittsburgh did briefly in the late 70s. Hyper-fandom is beneath SF’s dignity.
The cosmopolitan vastness of New York swallows up the Giants and Jets, who don’t even play their home games in the city. And so on.
If you played word association with someone who’d never been here, and you said “Cincinnati’’, you’d have better than a 50-50 chance he’d respond “Big Red Machine.’’ We who live here might reject that characterization. Or, you know, we might not.
Steelers Week! always comes with an extra kick. This particular Steelers Week! is in a class of its own. The Bengals are clearly as good or better than Pittsburgh at almost every position. Their year had been a carpet ride until a month ago, when Andy Dalton went down. . . against the Steelers.
AJ McCarron has been admirable, but he’s entering a different arena Saturday. And so the city clasps its hands tightly, bounces its legs like a kid awaiting a flu shot and walks the midnight floors with BengalBoy.
“Just once before we die. . .’’
The wanton violence exacerbates the passion. I talked with Ken Anderson this week. We mentioned the horrific hits he took at the hands of Keith Gary and Glen Edwards. Edwards clothes-lined Anderson, “then he put his fist between my eyes when we were out of bounds,’’ Anderson recalled.
Later, as Anderson remembered it, Edwards explained himself by saying, “I didn’t do anything to him I wouldn’t have done to my mother.’’ Gary merely laid a hit on Anderson that’s still admired for its brutality.
Hating the Steelers has been a prolonged hobby here. Some of it is jealousy. Freud would call it Steeler Envy.
“I had the great fortune of growing up with the Big Red Machine,’’ says BengalBoy. “I climbed that mountain. For a lifetime, I’ve been climbing this other mountain. A lot of that climbing involves falling and getting back up. Now, we’re back up. We need to go the rest of the way. This game could be a springboard. A powerful statement to the world.’’
“Everybody doubts us, including me,’’ B Boy continued. “We need to put the naysayers in their place, once and for all. We’ve arrived at this climactic point. Good and evil, and good must prevail.’’
Ever seen a city tell itself to breathe? Ever witness a place on the verge of either covering its eyes or celebrating itself, simultaneously? It’ll be a wonderful misery that commences at 8:15 Saturday night. Three hours later, everyone will feel a little better. Or a little worse. The game is personal, in a way no game here has been, ever.
“Slept like a rock (Thursday) night,’’ BengalBoy reported. “Exhausted by anticipation.’’
Then, he said, “The team, the city and the fans need a storybook ending.’’
Snicker if you like. But there’s a little bit of him in all of us.