Friday, November 6, 2015
Something Like Cheating
As published in the St. Mary's/Calvert County Times (http://countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
A fan has his or her teams; teams have their followers. They are like spouses, a team and its flock, but the marriage is inequitable. The fan’s adoration runs deep. Game day worship resembles religion. Losses ruin weeks. Epic losses scar for life. Wins improve moods. Championships prompt irrational procurements of team gear, the conversion of basements into fan caves and the acquisition of regrettable tattoos.
Teams return no such adulation. They try to be good hosts by providing pleasant game day experiences. Fan appreciation days and autograph opportunities are routine. Savvy players always pay homage to fans around an open microphone. But that’s about where the relationship ends.
To the obligated team, fans are mostly a faceless entity; conversely, the fan is the ultimate, love-of-my-life, for-better-or-for-worst, for-rich-or-for-poorer loyalist.
I’m a fan. If you’re reading this, you’re probably one too. We love our teams…and only our teams. We wouldn’t think of wearing another’s colors. Every now and then though, a player in another town or a vibe from another team catches our fancy. We don’t overtly root for our team-crush, especially if they are playing our team-spouse, so it’s not cheating, per se. But there’s something there; an attraction exists.
I’m having a fling with the Cincinnati Bengals this year, okay? There it is. I’m not wearing orange on Sundays, I don’t sleep with a tiger stuffed animal and I haven’t gotten any Bengal-striped car seat covers. I am, however, quietly rooting for Cincinnati.
The Bengals, as they are currently constituted, shouldn’t exist. Head coach Marvin Lewis was hired in January of 2003. He is the second longest tenured head coach in the NFL, behind some guy name Bill Belichick. Unlike Belichick, Lewis hasn’t won any championships. In fact, Lewis has yet to win a single playoff game. His 0-6 playoff record is worst in NFL history. How is he still employed?
And then there’s Andy Dalton, the habitually embattled Cincinnati quarterback. Dalton is in his fifth NFL season and, having started every game since his rookie year, is a grizzled veteran. He has had his moments in the regular season, but is plagued by inconsistency. In the playoffs, when a quarterback is supposed to show his mettle, Dalton has thrown up all over himself. His post-season record is 0-4, and in those four games Dalton has thrown six interceptions and but one lonely touchdown pass. How is he still Cincinnati’s quarterback?
I ask those questions about Lewis and Dalton because a head coach and quarterback with their shaky resumes typically don’t last. They don’t get 13 years on the sidelines or five years behind center - not in professional sports today where everything is accelerated, warts are over-exposed and impatience is pervasive. Coaches and quarterbacks get a few years, tops, to produce – except in Cincinnati.
That is the endearing element of these Bengals: that Lewis and Dalton, two dead-men-thriving (Cincinnati is 5-0 this season), remain at their posts. The cutthroat nature of professional sports and the intolerance for losing is understandable. The NFL is not a training ground; it is home to the sport’s most accomplished players. Fine. But even at this highest level of football competition, isn’t there room for failure and the application of lessons learned? Isn’t there room for growth? Or is everyone expected to be a plug-in-play All-Pro? Isn’t success nothing if not a process? A process that can takes years? Say, maybe 13 calendars for a coach and a handful for a quarterback?
Somewhere in there I stopped talking about the NFL and started considering life in general (such things happen in this column). Cincinnati is an oasis of an endangered concept of success, one that vindicates the hastily labeled (after a bad moment or week, game or season) and indicts the impulsively judgmental. So yeah, I want Cincinnati to win. I want Lewis and Dalton to roar through the playoffs, slaying their postseason demons. I wouldn’t mind if they hoisted an improbable Lombardi Trophy, provided my ‘Skins are eliminated. Of course that shouldn’t be an issue, my “spouse” is terribly flawed…so be still my loyal heart.