Kings of the Queen City


Even though it’s tough being a Cincinnati fan, this season provided me joy. (Courtesy of Instagram)

Once again, the bags of black and orange confetti will be tucked away in some dusty storage room: untouched, unused and unneeded as the Queen City once again finds herself wed to the hopes and dreams of “next year,” the crown still to remain only an object of her desire. So goes the story of the Cincinnati Bengals: a Sisyphus of a franchise who once again found themselves nearly at the precipice of greatness, yet were again forced to watch their hopes cruelly roll away into the darkness.

I have never for a moment believed that being a Cincinnati sports fan was going to be easy. I don’t think anybody ever expects it to be, as most Bengals fans would likely find it appropriate for a sign that reads “abandon hope all ye who enter!” to be hung upon the rusting blue arches of the Roebling Suspension Bridge entrance to Paycor Stadium. Yet, despite being raised in this culture of pessimism, and thus knowing that pain was waiting for me, the ending to this year’s season was more profoundly agonizing than I could have ever imagined. The past 20 weeks of hope and joy were briskly whisked away by a bitter and unforgiving Kansas City wind.

However, I think it hurt so much because there was something special and different about the Bengals teams of the past two years. They were fun, unique and cathartic; their play fostering a childlike wonder and joy that allowed me to temporarily ignore the cold breath of academic responsibility bearing down upon my neck. For a moment, I was caught in a trance, the spectator to artists painting a modern American masterpiece.

Those late nights spent on my couch, watching Joe Burrow make the impossible happen with my father, brother and our sleeping dog mean the world to me. Such memories are so vivid, so real, so cherished. I can feel the couch cushion depressing under me as I coil up like a spring to jump up and celebrate another Ja’Marr Chase touchdown. I hear my father’s voice betraying its gentler nature when he yells “YES!” after a Sam Hubbard or Trey Hendrickson sack. Even now, living far away from my family, I find solace in watching the Bengals. For three and a half hours, I can live vicariously through 55 men, my real-world problems evaporating for a moment as my worries become restricted to whether or not a football team can consistently move the ball ten yards.

And yes, I understand the ultimate triviality and meaninglessness of the entire thing. Humanity will still trudge along through their daily lives regardless of whether Joe Burrow has a ring or not. Everyone’s problems will still be there regardless of what the scoreboard reads when its neon orange numbers hit 00:00. But, at the same time, such a sentiment betrays the power of the Bengals. The Bengals can make the daily struggle all the more tolerable. Knowing you have something to look forward to every Sunday, knowing that you get to see your heroes play in front of your eyes every Sunday and knowing that everyone in your family will pause everything and connect over the same thing every Sunday is an invaluable feeling. Moreover, knowing that you get to cheer for good guys, players who are kind and friendly week in and week out, makes it all the more fun.

So sure, the 2021-22 and 2022-23 Bengals are no more, their respective existences now confined to the realm of memory. But, I would be remiss if I did not ever put into words how genuinely meaningful these past two years have been with the hope and unity they brought to a small-market city, the fond memories they brought to my family and me and the genuine childlike joy they provided every Sunday.