Monday, September 11, 2006

I Don't Like the Bengals


As a kid, I always liked the Cincinnati Bengals. Sort of. I had no reason to, really. The Bears were my team, and Bengals games were rarely broadcast here in Chicago, but I thought the Bengals helmets were cool. That's what did it. As soon as I saw those unique tiger-striped helmets as a wee lad, they instantly had a soft spot in my heart. It's not like I actually cared as the Bengals struggled through year after year of ineptitude in the '90s, but I did sort of feel sorry for them. OK, not really, but I would have been OK with them being better.

But that's all changed. Yesterday, as Robert Geathers did his best to permanently injure Trent Green's brain, I realized that, suddenly, I think I hate the Bengals. Marvin Lewis, as quiet and unassuming as he comes off, has assembled a team of thugs, showboats, and criminals. At first, it was sort of funny. All offseason there were plenty of jokes about the numerous Bengals being arrested, which was nice. Chris Henry alone took over the comedic vacuum left by Chris Rock. It was all fun and games.

But beneath the humor lies a team that is based on reckless, thoughtless violence and, quite simply, too many bad people. Lewis readily employs guys like Frostee Rucker (who beats women), Matthias Askew (fights with the fuzz), and AJ Nicholson (steals shit), among others. Granted, the NFL is currently overrun with problems such as these, and the Bengals are far from alone, but Lewis seems to be less the stoic nice guy he portrays himself as and more a shameless shuckster willing to sell his soul and the soul of an entire franchise if it means a few more wins. His nice guy act is appearing increasingly fake these days and beginning to wear thin as he seems to go out of his way to attract dudes with the least character possible provided they can run fast and hit. Remember, it was his Ravens Super Bowl defense that was led by an accused murderer (Ray Lewis). Yeah, Marvin Lewis seems to thrive on finding guys whose very existence has a central and prevalent lifeline of violence, and if that violence runs off the playing field and into their actual lives, well, so be it. There can be no sense of right and wrong where winning is involved, right?

When Geathers made sure to pound Green's head into the turf yesterday, despite Green obviously being on his way down voluntarily, it all seemed symptematic of a team that plays with little to no conscience. And while some may argue that that is exactly what is needed on a football field, there is a difference between playing hard and playing dirty, both on the field and in real life. Marvin Lewis, it seems, has no problem employing guys who have the most trouble differentiating between the two. In fact, Lewis seems most comfortable (and successful) employing guys to whom that line all too often isn't even an issue. Sure, football is a brutal game, and players will get hurt, sometimes very badly, but the hit Geathers laid on Green yesterday should not be condoned or acceptable, though I fear it is exactly the type of play Lewis quietly applauds when nobody is around to see.

All of that said, I think the 2006 Bengals will be a very good team. In fact, I'd list them as co-AFC favorites alongside the Steelers. The Super Bowl does not seem out of their reach and it would not surprise me in the least if they make it that far.

But I sure hope not.

And the longer Chad Johnson is kept out of the endzone, and the longer we're spared his oh-so-important celebrations, the harder I will laugh.

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