I’ve been a Cincinnati Bengals fans since I was 8 years old.
I’m almost 43 now, which means I’ve been WhoDey!-ing those orange and black stripes for something like 35 years.
My fandom started, not surprisingly, in 1981. When the local team goes to the Super Bowl, it tends to have that effect on a kid.
Since then, I’m afraid, it’s been a rollercoaster ride with a good bit more downhill than up. Despite that, over the years, being a Bengals fan has always given me something to look forward to on Sunday afternoon. Whether the day ended with me feeling giddy with joy over a win, or nearly crushed with disappointment, I never questioned being a fan.
Being a fan, I explained to my son Saturday when the chips were down and Bengals were on the wrong side of a 15-0 deficit, means being excited to get to watch your team, no matter what happens, win or lose. It’s not only about being happy when they come out a winner.
Never in a million years would I have expected that not even an hour later, my Bengals would test that assertion so thoroughly.
Never, in all the years since 8 year-old me watched Kenny Anderson almost lead my Bengals to a championship, have I felt anything like I felt on Saturday night, when my Bengals lost to the Steelers in the AFC Wildcard card.
I won’t go into specifics about what happened, because billions of electrons have already been pressed into service in blog posts and news pieces about it. In case you don’t keep track of the NFL, still live a world with elves and hobbits, or otherwise aren’t familiar with modern American sports media, all I’ll say is that in roughly 90 seconds of game time, I experienced the most heart-crushing swing of emotions in all of my 42 years.
After the gun sounded on that maddening debacle and the truth that all of it had really just happened, the best I could do was tweet this and then flee to the basement and Netflix, and as far from social media as I could get:
Seriously. I can’t decide if I want to throw *things* or throw *up*
— Jason A. Rust (@jasonarust) January 10, 2016
In roughly the time it takes to order and receive a drive-thru McRib, I went from feeling elation at knowing the game was won and my Bengals were going to advance, to revulsion at not only the loss, but how it came to be.
I didn’t want to talk about it Sunday. I really mostly still don’t. Some people can work through their grief though expression, discussion and dissecting the source, analyzing it from various angles and considering it though multiple filters.
I’m…not that guy. The only ways I know to heal include
- Put a band aid on it,
- Walk it off,
- Pretend it’s not there until it goes away,
- Write about it.
Number 4 is the only reason I’m writing this post about it now. I’m hoping it helps me stop seeing that fumble replay in my head.
Since Saturday night, I’ve been wondering if I maybe I shouldn’t hang up my orange and black boxer shorts. Wouldn’t my life be easier if I didn’t spend my Sunday afternoons gambling with my mood on a franchise that spent a full decade punishing me and the last five years pulling the rug out from under me just as I believe the footing is getting rock solid?
But I keep remembering what I told my oldest son when he was ready to give up on the game in the middle of the second half.
The truth of the matter is, I love the game and this franchise too much to walk away from either without considerable effort. I can deny and swear and pretend I’m not doing it any more all I want, but the fact is I’ll probably always want football in my life. And no matter how hurt, how raw this feeling is right now, I know, deep down, that come time for training camp next year, I’ll be digging out my tiger-striped undergarments and putting on my fanboy hat once again
But I will say this. the NFL and Bengals – both, together! – had better get this dirty, personal foul/excessive roughness/head hunting business figured out and addressed soon. Yes, I may love the game like no other, but even love can only tolerate so much feeling dirty. And that’s about the only constant I’ve gotten from watching the Bengals play the Steelers in the past month.