Sports vows are as sacred as marriage vows.
There is an “I do” moment with your first sports team. That moment when you declare, usually without realizing, “I’m rooting for X team to beat Y team, and the whole rest of the alphabet.”
It may be temporary. Maybe you move away from X town and move on? Maybe you forget about beating Y team and discover how that extra X chromosome shapes some gorgeous girl named Kathy Yang?
For some unlucky few, sports vows stick like marriage vows. We are destined to literally live and die with our teams.
Will I die before a King hoists the Stanley Cup? I thought I’d die before the Angels shed their curse. And hopefully, I die having witnessed nine more Laker championships.
So imagine my reaction when my good friend Josh decided he was dumping the Bengals for the Giants.1 He reasoned that the Bengals had been dumping on him for 20 years, and he was done being the homeless guy that some fans either pitied with a few pennies of encouragement or peed on with degradations. Other fans generally kept away from Josh and the lingering stench of Mike Brown’s regurgitated lunch.
Nonetheless, my first reaction was akin to a whipped husband’s horror that his friend was thinking about sleeping with his secretary on the side. What about all those years of commitment? How about the kids?
Let’s review Josh Rinaldi vs. the Cincinnati Bengals. Then you can decide: Is it time to divorce your team?
Is the passion gone?
Since Mike Brown took ownership in 1991, the Bengals have essentially lost two out of every three games (115-204-1). They’ve made the playoffs twice in those last 20 years without advancing, like your wife looking good to you one out of every 10 days. They’re picked to finish near the bottom of the league again.
It’s hard to get it up for that.
How committed has X Team been to the relationship?
According to their official directories, the Bengals have four scouts, while the Colts have 10.
Quantity doesn’t supersede quality, except in wins and championships, and the Colts have 115 regular season wins and one championship in the last ten years.
Browsing each NFL team’s official directory, I learned that no other team has fewer scouts than the Bengals. The Ravens, the closest to the bottom, have seven. Every team has basically double the scouting department of the Bengals.
According to James Walker, ex-ESPN AFC North Blogger, even ESPN has a larger scouting staff than the Bengals.
Of course, one good scout sees more clearly than three blind mice.
Big Daddy, Kijana, Klinger, Akili and Warrick. Average draft position: third, total number of Pro Bowl appearances: 0.
Bengals’ drafting has improved in the last decade, but not enough.
Could the Bengals be saving money by having a minuscule scouting staff? Some commitment.
Speaking of commitment, the Bengals threatened to move 15 years ago.
Wait, there’s been cheating?
They sure tried. Mike Brown flirted with moving the Bengals to Baltimore in 1995. He even visited Charm City to be wooed.
Of course, the Bengals stayed in Cincy. Brown went to a new girl’s bedroom before the old girl offered a backbreaking (think Lea Thompson’s enhancements in Back to the Future II) stadium deal that she still regrets.
Any other embarrassing incidents?3
Like the tiger trying to catch its own tail, Cincinnati tried suing the Bengals in 2004.
Or more precisely, Hamilton County, where Paul Brown Stadium was built in 2000, sued the Bengals and the NFL for forcing them into an unfavorable stadium deal.
“This lease is so one-sided that it shocks the conscience,” then-County Commissioner Phil Heimlich said. “We build the stadium and maintain it and yet they get 50 percent from soccer games, concerts and other events that have nothing to do with the Bengals.”
The Bengals also rake in all parking revenue from the stadium, while the county is responsible for the security and upkeep.
You work for all the money, and your wife takes it all.
Paul Brown Stadium was originally supposed to cost $280 million. As for the final cost, the Bengals claim $350 million, Hamilton County $454 million and Judith Grant Long, a Harvard professor who studies stadium finance, posits $555 million.
Of course, Hamilton County lost the lawsuit. “Making a bad decision is not the same thing as being defrauded.”4
Much like an abusive relationship.
Hamilton County owed $35 million to the stadium in 2010. That’s 16 percent of their annual budget. One out of seven people live under the poverty line there. The police and education budget were recently cut.
“If you make a decision to fund something, you can’t try to hold somebody else responsible for that decision.” Bengals Vice President Troy Blackburn is not wrong.
It’s just business, after all.
How about the kids?
Thankfully, none yet. But I have to believe that my recently engaged friend is trying to protect his future offspring from this abusive relationship.
Granted, every sports franchise has abused its fans. So is Josh to be admired for ending his cycle of abuse?
Like Carson Palmer, Josh wants a clean divorce—no alimony. I can’t begrudge him that, as the Bengals have beaten their fans like Harlan beat Thelma.
But there is my nagging loyalty.
Have I lost some respect for Josh as a sports fan? Will he be missing something? Absolutely.
Franchises win, fold, or move. So if Mike Brown dies, if the Bengals ascend to the top a la the Blackhawks post-Bill Wirtz, Josh won’t be able to truly cherish that moment.
And will he ever be as passionate for another football team?
But to quote Chris Rock, “Now I’m not saying he should have killed her...but I understand.”
We are just rooting for our captors.
1 Now about Josh’s decision to select a new team...I don't know. I’m an LA Raiders widow who vowed to wait for the NFL’s immediate return to the country’s second-largest media market, and I'm still waiting.
But he does live in New York now, which makes it easier to root for the Giants and to divorce his team.↩
2 According to official directories (culled from media guides and online), this is the unofficial number of scouts each NFL team employs. I counted each person who had “Scout” or “Scouting” in his/her title, which I know is not a 100% accurate way to judge. However, the point that every NFL team has almost double the scouting department of the Bengals is well-expressed even in this casual manner:
Bills 12, Dolphins 14, Patriots 11, Jets N/A, Ravens 7, Bengals 4, Browns 13, Steelers 8, Texans 11, Colts 10, Jaguars 8, Titans 11, Broncos 10, Chiefs 12, Raiders 8, Chargers 9, Cowboys N/A, Giants 15, Eagles 10, Redskins 8, Bears 7, Lions 9, Packers 10, Vikings 12, Falcons 13, Panthers N/A, Saints 15, Buccaneers 12, Cardinals 7, Rams 10, 49ers 11, Seahawks 10↩
3 I just chose the most embarrassing. These are other well-publicized incidents of note:
In 1998, 11th-year Bengals punter Lee Johnson said he wouldn’t have bought a Bengals ticket if he were a fan.
“No, no way. You’re saying [losing] is OK. I guess if you’ve got nothing else to do. I’d sell my tickets.”
Johnson was cut the next day.
In 2006, there were 10 arrests of Bengals players.
In 2009, on HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” we discovered that the Bengals charged their players to rent TVs for their rooms during training camp.
Most recently, starting quarterback Carson Palmer has declared he’d rather retire than play another game for the Bengals.
“I will never set foot in Paul Brown Stadium again. I have $80 million in the bank. I don’t have to play football for money. I’ll play it for the love of the game but that would have to be elsewhere. I’m prepared to live my life.”↩
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