Yesterday, pro football began in earnest. Unfortunately, I’m writing this more than two hours before the kickoff between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Baltimore Ravens so I can’t tell you how my season started yet. That’s what happens when you do your blog posts on Sunday morning.
Anyway, last year was an aberration for me. I actually rooted for the Baltimore Ravens when they weren’t playing the Bengals. Why?
They weren’t the Steelers, and a Cleveland boy living in Cincinnati is honor-bound to hate the Steelers. It more than makes up for the four years during the Bengals’ lost decade when Cleveland did not have a team. Because the Bengals did not meet my standards, I was forced to join Steeler Nation until 1999. Thank you, Al Lerner. Thank you.
But two things happened. Despite all the trappings and records, the Cleveland Browns playing on the lakefront today are not the Browns I rooted for until 1994. No, those Browns were kidnapped and spirited away to Baltimore. While I sympathize with the people of Baltimore, who themselves were treated shabbily, let’s be honest. They took my team away from me.
So how did I not become a Bengals fan until the mid-2000’s? Simple. Let’s say I move to your city: Chicago, Phoenix, San Francisco. I don’t automatically adopt the home team. Why should I? Why should anyone? But I have a rule. New city? Give me three consecutive seasons of 8-8 football. It’s not a winning season, but it at least shows me that ownership is serious and does not have its head up its corporate ass. When I announced to my then girlfriend this rule as we moved in together, the Bengals still had Boomer Esiason and Anthony Munoz. The last Super Bowl was still fresh in people’s memories, and they’d just come off a playoff year. Even if the current roster dispersed, one could reasonably assume that the Bengals would rebuilt within five years. So I would have five years of sweet, sweet Browns football to enjoy. Right?
No. See, Paul Brown, the man who created both the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals, died just before I arrived here in 1991. Little did I know that his son Mike Brown would be a horrible owner.
Eventually, Brown’s daughter, Katie Blackburn, would begin taking over. She pushed Brown to hire Marvin Lewis. Lewis brought the team back from the grave after years of cellar-dwelling football. And it takes a special talent to deal with the likes of Chad Ochocinco or to get Chris Henry to settle down and play football.
So now I have calculus as to who I root for, all based on that history.
- I stick with the Bengals. I’ve been here 23 years, and anyway, I’m paying for the stadium. And now that they have Andy Dalton at quarterback, football is interesting again.
- I do not root for the Steelers. Ever. Except when they play the Ravens. It is the duty of every AFC North football fan outside of the Greater Baltimore area to root against the Ravens, but, now that Cleveland and Cincinnati have pro football once more, living in Ohio and rooting for the Steelers is similar to treason.
- Last year, I gave them special dispensation mainly because Ben Rothlisberger was having such an awful year, but I never ever EVER root for the Ravens. They stole my hometown team, and their former owner betrayed the late owner of my adopted team. Twice. Once in the 1960’s and once in 1994. That is unforgivable. (That said, the Baltimore Orioles were once the St. Louis Browns. If Baltimore would like the NBA to return to the city, I suggest renaming the LA Clippers to the LA Browns. Get crackin’, Mr. Ballmer.)
- There is one team I will pick the Ravens over: The Indianapolis Colts. Don’t get me wrong. I got nothing but mad love for Peyton Manning and was sorry to see him leave the city 90 minutes from my house. But Bob Irsay, the late owner of the Colts, didn’t just steal another city’s team, he sneaked them out in the middle of the night. So Bob Irsay is responsible for so much pain and suffering in both Cleveland and Baltimore. When Baltimore plays the Indianapolis Colts, I’m in a Joe Flacco kind of mood.
So there you have it. How my football calculus works. Which made watching Draft Day the other night fun.