"Tell your sister she was right about me. Tell your sister, she was right." -Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker, as the second Death Star was exploding.
As I watched the Bengals let the defending Super Bowl champs hand them yet another loss yesterday, I began to seriously question my fandom.
I've been a Bengals fan for as long as I can remember.
My parents like telling me about how I first got sucked in to the circus that is Cincinnati football. It's a funny story, and I don't mind sharing it.
I spent my early childhood growing up in Lexington, KY, just a short drive away from old Riverfront Stadium. My grandparents lived in Cincy and my grandpa was a season ticket holder for a while. I've got the media guide autographed by Sam Wyche to prove it.
Apparently when I was two or three years old, my grandma decided to teach me about the Cincinnati Bengals. Mind you, this was back when they were meeting Joe Montana's 49ers in the Super Bowl and not when David Klingler was leading them to 3-13 seasons. My parents came to pick me up one day and found me running around the house in a Boomer Esiason jersey shouting, "Touchdown!" at the top of my lungs.
The point is, I've been through a lot as a Bengals fan. I've watched the Ickey Shuffle with joy and then I've been forced to watch Ki-Jana Carter and Akili Smith become two of the biggest busts in NFL history.
For most of my lifetime, the Bengals have been, for lack of a better word, atrocious. I've done the math and in my 22 years on this earth, Cincy has managed 143 wins. That's six and a half wins per season. But that figure is deceiving. Four three-win seasons and one two-win season are included in that figure.
So you can all probably guess how I excited I was back in 2005 when the Bengals went 11-5 and snagged a Wild Card spot. This was their first playoff appearance since 1990 and it looked like they had a better than decent shot at making a good playoff run.
They were consistently one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the league, racking up huge numbers behind Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh (yeah, I typed that without double checking the spelling), and Rudi Johnson. Their defense also spent the entire season near the top of the league in takeaways.
You all know what happened. Carson Palmer stepped up to throw a deep pass to rookie Chris Henry. The pass was completed for 66 yards, and Carson Palmer was knocked out for an entire season thanks to Kimo Von Oelhoffen. Henry also got injured on the play and ended up having to leave the game.
So there it was; all the hope for a great postseason run was gone. All the hope and expectations for the next season were gone. Things started to get ugly in Cincinnati as players developed serious problems off the field and raced to set a league record for arrests.
Palmer came back and the team hasn't been the same since. In addition to the discipline problems, the team has completely lost the defensive intensity that Marvin Lewis was known for in Baltimore. People are pointing fingers all over the place, but the reason for this collapse is simple.
Chad Johnson was right.
When he came out this past offseason and demanded a trade, everybody called him selfish. But did anybody actually stop and examine the situation?
Johnson is a simple player. All he wants to do is win and have fun doing it. That's what is at the root of all of his antics. He celebrates the way he does to pick his teammates up and invigorate the fans.
He openly criticized Bengals' management in the offseason because he felt like they weren't doing enough to make this team better. The front office refused to listen to him because that would set a dangerous precedent. If the Bengals' brass caved, athletes all over the league would be making similar demands.
After an 0-3 start, it's becoming readily apparent that Johnson spoke the truth. This is a team with a great quarterback but, after the departures of Eric Steinbach and Big Willie Anderson, nobody to protect him. This is a team with great wide receivers but no running game to open up the passing routes.
The defense has been decimated by the departures of Justin Smith and David Pollack, not to mention key members of the secondary like Deltha O'Neal. 'Glue guy' Kevin Kaesviharn was also allowed to leave. O'Neal had 10 interceptions for that 2005 squad. Nobody on their current roster has put up numbers like that.
All Chad Johnson wanted this summer was an honest effort from the front office to improve the team, or a trade to a team that was actually trying to win. He saw the culture of losing, which was so prevalent in the 1990s, beginning to creep back into a team that showed so much promise in 2005.
So go ahead and call him selfish, call him a cancer, say whatever nasty thing you want about him. But you need to ask yourself a few questions. Can you blame him for wanting to get out of a bad situation? Can you call him a bad teammate when he takes it on himself to back up all of his trash-talking? Was he right about the direction of this Bengals team?
After an 0-3 start and the promise of yet another disappointing season, it's clear to me that Chad Johnson was right. So, Marvin and Co., let Chad know he was right about the Bengals. Tell Chad he was right.
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