I’ve only ever cried during one sporting event, and, no, it wasn’t the 2006 National Championship game where Vince Young’s knee was so clearly down on the go ahead score in the second quarter that shifted the momentum in this game that transpired nine years ago today.
Instead, I cried four days later when Carson Palmer threw an incredible 66-yard pass to Chris Henry, then be tackled right at the knees by Kimo von Oelhoffen of the Pittsburgh Steelers. At the time, it felt like a dirty play, but I came to realize the guy was just doing his job. And, while I hate that the game has taken to over-protecting the quarterback, I don’t mind the Carson Palmer rule that ensued from this play.
Because this was our year, his year. That 66 yard bomb was his first throw of the game. I was jubliant, watching Henry reel in the ball only to have my heart stop when they cut back to Palmer. We were legitimate contenders that year. We weren’t just wildcard one and dones.
To be honest, my Bengal fandom wasn’t particularly strong until I started college, because I was never much of a football fan before that. Geography dictated the Bengals and the Reds were my teams, but I was fairly aware we were pretty crappy.
But then Carson Palmer made me love football and, in turn, made me a fiercely loyal Bengal fan. And on the first series of the first playoff game we stood a chance in in ages, I watched him writhe in the grass.
Yesterday, in the first round of wildcard games, I was treated to a similar image, as the opening montage featured Palmer going down with a torn ACL again, face-down in agony in the grass. I wanted Arizona to pull it out because I knew what it felt like to be there. To know you had a chance and now that chance is gone. Plus, I still love Carson Palmer more than any other football player in history, so to see him prove to the haters once again that he is not mediocre quarterback only to go down during his swan song is genuinely fate being cruel. He is a guy who rehabbed from a seemingly unrehabable injury, the kind Peyton Manning gets lauded for all the time.
Perhaps I set the bar too high with Carson and that is why I really am not a fan of our quarterback. I’m used to Dalton Daltoning. Last year, it was almost comical to watch him single-handedly flush our playoff hopes down the drain in a game we were supposed to win.
This year, I can’t even blame Dalton. I knew things would be rough with AJ Green out, then I heard our old, albeit clutch, TE Jermaine Gresham was not going to play either. With Dane Sanzenbacher on IR too, that left us with Mohamed Sanu, Greg Little, and Brandon Tate to catch balls.
I tried to believe that Jeremy Hill could pull through on the offense, even though I constantly find myself undewhelmed by him.
But mostly, my hope that we could somehow break this two-decade losing streak lay in our defense. Yes, Burrfect was out, but Dre Kirkpatrick, George Iloka, Terence Newman, Pacman Jones, Domata Peko, Leon Hall, and, of course, my two Trojans/Bengals: Taylor Mays and the insanely talented linebacker Rey Maualuga.
When Maualuga went down in the first half and I watched him get carted off the field, I thought back to that game in 2006. This year was most certainly not our year. After all, we’ve had basically half the squad in the hospital the entire season. The fact we found success with Sanu and Hill and Gresham resurging in the absence of Tyler Eifert is a remarkable stroke of good fortune that got us to the playoffs in the first place.
I almost wonder though if Marvin Lewis and Dalton and the gang need a break. That maybe not making the playoffs and hearing once again about how terrible we are in the playoffs might just be good for them. Because, as heartbreaking as it was to see Rey carted off, seeing the faces of the veteran Bengals in the fourth quarter was so much worse. Newman’s stoney stare knowing that no amount of effort on defense was going to make up for the fact our offense was all on the sidelines. Dre Kirkpatrick doing everything he could to battle through injury so we could go three and out again before eventually resigning himself and his ankle to defeat.
Who really wants to make the playoffs four years running, knowing every time you don’t a chance and the fact you don’t stand a chance is the only thing anybody is going to talk about in the week leading up to the game?
So, as I sit here in my new Sanu jersey, thinking ahead to our next season and who we will draft, I remind myself that sometimes things don’t go your team’s way. I also think about the many happy regular season moments this team gave me. I fell in love with Mohamed Sanu, I began to think Dre Kirkpatrick is a year or two away from being a really unstoppable cornerback, and my favorite bench player Dane Sanzenbacher even managed an interception against the Steelers last week.
It won’t make up for 2006, but it will remind me this time next year that I should be less preoccupied with the playoffs. When it comes to the Bengals, I think I could stand to cut them some slack and not talk about the playoffs for a while. I’m not gonna kick my guys when they’re down, especially when it is so clear there is no one kicking themselves harder than Marvin Lewis and his squad.
Who Dey? A team to be proud of, that’s who.