Sunday, January 10, 2016

Dark Days

Dear George,
This is truly a dark day in Bengaldom.  Local hopes were never higher than this season.  The Bengals compiled the best winning record in team history (12-4), even after losing starting quarterback Andy Dalton to a fractured thumb.  Having failed to win a playoff game for four years in a row, fans have been not just confident of a playoff victory but have been thinking about tickets to the Super Bowl.  The only hitch was that our first-round opponent was our division nemesis and arch-rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Having tortured the Bengals for decades, the very mention of the Steelers sends shivers up one’s spine.

The  game, of course, was last night.  The Cincinnati offense, under second-year backup quarterback A.J. McCarron, was tepid for the first three quarters, and Pittsburgh led 15-0 by the start of the fourth.  Just as we’d resigned ourselves to another painful disappointment, miraculous things started to happen.  Running back Jeremy Hill plunged for a fourth quarter touchdown, and Mike Nugent added a Bengals field goal with five minutes left.  With less than two minutes in the game McCarron hit wide receiver A. J. Green with a 15-yard touchdown pass, giving the Bengals a 16-15 lead.  We leapt up and down in front of the TV, joyous and astonished that the Bengals’ 25-year playoff victory drought was coming to an end.  Then on the very next play Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict intercepted a Steeler pass, seemingly sealing a Bengals victory.  All the Bengals had to do was hold onto the ball for four plays.

As fate would have it, a Steeler defender stripped the football from Jeremy Hill’s hands on the very next play and the Steelers recovered.  Still they were pinned back at their own ten-yard line, and we remained confident the Bengals defense would prevail.  Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who’d left the game with a shoulder injury, returned and moved the Steelers toward midfield with a series of short dinks and dunks.  However, with barely half a minute to play Vontze Burfict smashed helmet-first into the Steeler’s star receiver’s head and was penalized fifteen yards for a vicious play.  In the ensuing melee Bengal linebacker Adam (PacMan) Jones was penalized another fifteen yards for shoving a Steeler assistant coach.  The Steelers moved thirty yards down the field on the two penalties, suddenly putting them in easy field goal range.  Their kicker kicked, the ball split the crossbars, and the dreaded Steelers won the game, 18-16, with mere seconds to go.  

Here’s what some of the commentators and principals had to say after the game:     

  • Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post Gazette sportswriter:  “The entire (Steelers) team can thank… some bone-headed stupidity by the Bengals…”  
    Marvin Lewis, Bengals head coach: “Our guys fought their tails off all year … got back and went ahead, and then destructed on ourselves — offense and defense together.  That’s disappointing.”  
    Bengals running back Jeremy Hill (whose fourth quarter fumble contributed to the loss): “It’s on me.  It’s unfortunate.” 
    Adam Jones (penalized 15 yards near the end):  “The [expletive] officials did a horrible job, the whole [expletive] game…I’m done talking to you [expletives].”  
    Vontaze Burfict (also penalized 15 yards; in response to nearly every question asked by reporters): “I don’t know.”  
    Defensive end Carlos Dunlap: "Bengals beat Bengals.”
    Bengals receiver A.J. Green: “You put in all this work for six months.  And then —  Nothing.” 

Katja and I numbingly watched all the post-game critiques we could find.  We turned off the TV about 1 a.m.  Our end of night conversation went something like this: 

K: I don't think I can be a Bengals fan anymore.
D: Me neither.  Do you think I should throw away my new Bengals sweatshirt?
K: No.  Just put it away. 
D: If I die tonight, my final wish is to be cremated.
K: Why would you die tonight?
D: A lot of people in Cincinnati are going to die tonight.  I could be one of them.
K: I don't think you’re going to die.
D:  I'm just saying, if I do die I want to be cremated.
K (who rejects the very idea of cremation):  All right, if you die I'll see that you're cremated. 
K (after a pause): If you’re cremated,  I'll mix your ashes with Mike and Duffy's.
D (enthusiastically):  Yes, yes.  That’s my final wish.  To have my ashes mixed with Mike and Duffy's.  

As it turned out, I made it through the night.  I talked to J by phone in the morning.  We decided that we would give our total allegiance to the Green Bay Packers.  That did make life more hopeful.  The Packers, though, have been really struggling on offense, and they're underdogs against the Redskins.  Just as I’m posting this, the Packer game has started.  If the Packers lose, I won’t even bother to die.  The crematorium is right down the street from our house.  I’m just going to walk down there and get in line. 


  1. So: not only did the Packers beat the Redskins but they saved your life! Moral: don't split your Packer allegiance with any other team! GO PACKERS