Sunday, January 08, 2006

From our local paper:


Paul Brown has to be grinning today

The Great Man is well pleased. Look at him up there: coat, tie, fedora, impassive and excited all at once, showing nothing, seeing everything. Not sitting, but standing, arms folded across his chest. Nodding at what he has witnessed this fall. "I like this Marvin Lewis fellow," Paul Brown would say.

He hated pomp, but he loved circumstance. The circumstance today is as good as it gets. PB saw the last Bengals playoff game. Now, his team's stadium bears his name and, in the person of Lewis, it retains his stamp. Lewis embodies what PB prized: organization, attention to detail, lack of nonsense, an ability to manage people. "Do your job," Brown might say. "That's how you win. It really is that simple."

The Bengals play the Steelers this afternoon. They were down and now they're back, where Paul Brown always intended them to be. "Winning makes believers of us all," he would say.

How does it feel?

What does today mean to you?

People who don't live here don't get it. People who live anywhere but Phoenix and its environs can't even begin to know. And even Arizona Cardinals fans are not as parched in Desertville as you are here. The Cardinals made it to the playoffs as recently as 1999. They're veterans compared to the Bengals.

It's not like Pittsburgh here. Not at all. When the Steelers lose, their fans want to launch Bill Cowher into the Allegheny River. To say nothing of the Ohio and the Monongahela. You're forgiving and patient. You own the earned wisdom of suffering. You are Job. Steelers fans are Dennis the Menace.

They wouldn't know what today means here. They wouldn't have a clue.

How does it feel?

What's it like to wake up and know that, for once, a Cincinnati sports team doesn't bear the brunt of a punchline or the scent of a scandal? Or that, for once, our city gets a shout-out for something good? Damn, it's been so long.

This isn't San Francisco or Washington or Los Angeles. The Bengals are not a civic bauble, to be pulled out and admired in their rare moments of brilliance. They're part of us.

For a day, we're not Pete and Marge. We're not allegedly homophobic and supposedly racist. For a change, we're not doubting ourselves. We're not talking ourselves out of how good our town can be. The local inferiority complex is taking the day off. The Bengals have shown us the power of striving. We're not so big here, or so cynical, that we can't admit that.

How does it feel?

What does today mean to you?

I know what it means to me.

I was 15 exactly on New Year's Eve in 1972, when the Washington Redskins beat the hated Dallas Cowboys in the NFC title game, to go to their first Super Bowl. I was in the old RFK Stadium with my dad. Our season tickets were up in the 500 Level, about 10 rows from the top. We'd had them for years.

Like the old Bengals, the Redskins were perpetually horrible. Like the current Bengals, they could light it up, but they couldn't stop anyone. Like Bengals fans, Redskins fans attended games armed equally in hope and fatalism.

Then they won.

We were a little community up in 500. Me, my dad and all the guys we saw every September through December. We didn't actually know them. We didn't know half their names. Yet no one will ever be any closer than all of us were that day in 1972.

Someone brought a sleeve of those plastic champagne glasses, the ones where you screw the stem into the base. Someone else brought a few bottles of Brut. The Redskins beat Dallas, the corks flew. In 500, we toasted. Grown men cried. This is what sports can do. It's why we pay for the stadiums.

The reason we build playpens for rich people isn't because we want to keep them happy. It's because we want to keep us happy. Thirty-four years later, I've never felt more alive, or closer to my dad, than I did New Year's Eve, 1972. It was one of the best days of my life.

Maybe you'll have a memory like that today. It'll be fuller than almost any other NFL fan's memory, infinitely harder earned. Step lightly. Given who the coach is, who the quarterback is and the foundation both are building, there probably will be other days similar to this one. But none quite as good.

Trust your emotions. Dance a little, win or lose.

You know PB will. He just has to be.

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