Once again this weekend, the Bengals demonstrated how, even with an experienced quarterback and a division title in hand, they can still manage to fail in the playoffs. A Heisman-winning quarterback can't find his receivers. Receivers can't hold onto the ball. Defenders can't hold onto the other team's running backs. You can't explain it.
But if you have been a longtime fan of the Men in Stripes, you know that this is the pattern: The unexplainable happens and defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory.
Return with us to the beginning of this franchise, when a sharpshooting gunslinging quarterback out of the University of Cincinnati, Greg Cook, joined the team and looked all the world to be the leader this young group needed to install itself as a perennial powerhouse. Cook, instead, blows out his arm and is never a factor.
Jump ahead to the second Super Bowl appearance for the Bengals. Super Bowl XXIII in 1989. Boomer Esiason at the helm, a firepower offense. Then Cincinnati nose guard Tim Krumrie got his foot stuck in the turf and his ankle and lower leg spun around in a nauseating 180-degree rotation. Both bones in his calf were shattered.
Krumrie had a 15-inch rod inserted into his leg and was never effective in comeback. Needless to say, San Francisco won the game and solidified the legend of Joe Montana.
And now, let's look at this season. First, the tragedies.
Sharon Thomas, the executive director of the Marvin Lewis Community Fund, passes away in the spring. She was brought to Cincinnati by Coach Lewis himself to run the fund, and became friends with most everyone on the team.
Then the wife of Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer is found dead in the couple's home. No rhyme, no reason, no health issues. Gone.
Then, in December, the death of Chris Henry, who was not with the team because of the broken arm he suffered in an earlier game. You can play all the "what ifs" you want to in this one: What if he hadn't been hurt? What if he was still in Cincinnati? What if he still had the structure of the team and his teammates? But it didn't play out that way. And now he's gone.
Chris Henry's broken arm was just one of the devastating injuries suffered by the team this season: In training camp, dependable tight end Reggie Kelly went out with an Achilles' tear; Antwan Odom was the league leader with eight sacks when, in September, he also went out with an Achilles' tear.
Many other injuries hit the Bengals this season, as they do with any team, but this last series was eerie in its intensity: Promising rookie Rey Maualuga with a broken ankle in the Chiefs game, Pat Sims' broken arm against the Jets in the season-ender, Rashad Jeanty's broken leg in the first play of the playoffs. Three games, three breaks, three IRs.
Coincidence? I think not. Somebody Upstairs isn't doing the team any favors.
So why the bad luck, bad karma, whatever you want to call it for this franchise? Is it a payback for some transgression? Is it a curse on the City of Cincinnati? (I haven't even touched on the Kenyon Martin broken leg that destroyed UC's Final Four chances.) Is it because this city doesn't really like this Bengals team?
Think about that: The Bengals of the late '80s and early '90s are still revered in this town. Yes, of course, they were winning on a regular basis, but most importantly, they became part of this community. They didn't pack their bags and run out of the locker room for warmer climates like we saw this Bengals do on Sunday.
They got married here. They raised their families here. They started businesses here. Krumrie's still here. Max Montoya opened restaurants. Cris Collinsworth married a local girl. Boomer is forever attached to this city through his Children's Hospital partnerships. They became one of us. And that's why we liked them then, and why we like them still.
Carson Palmer complained that he was tired of "being booed at home." We're tired of being jilted by the players who wear our city's name on their jerseys and represent us to the rest of the country but abandon us in the offseason. Stay here year-round.
Be part of this city you play for. Let us get to know you off the field as well as on. We want to cheer for you. We want to like you. We want you to care about the Bengals and the city and the games as much as we do. We want you to win. Maybe together we can break this bad mojo. And God will smile upon the Bengals.