For the first 19 years of my life, all I knew about football was that on Sundays, I would be left angry, frustrated, disappointed, and full of a host of other not-so-happy emotions.
I, sadly, am a huge Cincinnati Bengals fan.
For all my life, they defined the term "terrible football team." Sure, they had glimpses of a quality team like when Jeff “Shake-n-Blake” ran the show. They went 8-8 one year under Blake and to me they might as well have won the Super Bowl.
The year was 2005. I was 20 and a freshman at the University of Kentucky. That’s when I finally got to see what real football was like.
Carson Palmer was in his third season—second as starter—and quickly becoming an elite quarterback. Even before the season started, there was a feeling amongst fans that this had to be the year the Bengals turned things around.
We were right.
The offense was seemingly unstoppable. Palmer consistently threw bombs to pre-ocho-cinco Chad Johnson. T.J. Houshmandzadeh caught pass after pass underneath for yardage. The rookie with character questions, Chris Henry, became another down-field threat for Palmer. Rudi Johnson was in his prime and ran over any one who so dared get in his way.
The defense, who for so many years was abysmal, made timely turnover after timely turnover. Deltha O’Neal and Tory James seemed to always be in the right place at the right time. Rookie David Pollack was solid and rookie Odell Thurman flew all over the field, making big hit after big hit. Thurman made fans believe they finally had an impact linebacker.
We all know how that story ended, but I digress. Point is, the defense was exciting to watch because you knew they would make a turnover you just waited for when the turnover would come.
There were many highlights for me in that season.
I remember the 4-0 start. I remember Pittsburgh coming into the jungle and showing the Bengals they weren’t quite there yet, so we thought.
The highlight of highlights though was the Bengals going into Pittsburgh week 13 and winning. Never in my life had the Bengals gone into Pittsburgh so late in the year with the game actually meaning something. I don’t think I will ever forget Tab Perry’s kick return to about the three-yard line and Houshmandzadeh defiantly wiping the terrible towel on his shoe.
I remember being so excited for the playoff game. My whole family sat inside the living room with our orange gear on to watch the Bengals take on the Steelers.
I remember the excitement when Palmer hit Chris Henry down-field for the long bomb. I also remember feeling like my heart had been ripped out when the replay was shown and it was quite evident Palmer was done.
I don’t necessarily think the Bengals would have won the Super Bowl had Palmer not gotten hurt, but I know they would have beaten the Steelers that day. It was their fate—only it wasn’t.
Since 2005, the Bengals have slipped back into mediocrity and then right back into plain awful. Who knows if they will ever get back to 2005 status. Some think it could be this year, but none of us know until the season starts. I have to believe with a healthy Carson Palmer they will always have a shot.
But even if the Bengals don’t get back to the playoffs for another 20 years, I will always look back at the 2005 season, smile, and remember when Sundays were fun.