The Cincinnati Bengals are a proud organization.
Never mind only one playoff appearance in the last 17 seasons, the lack of Super Bowl trophies, and the history of recurring mediocrity. Paul Brown Stadium has sold out 36 straight times. That should be good enough, right?
Of course it is, according to team owner Mike Brown.
As long as the cash hits the bank, what else matters? Winning? Who cares about winning? Since when is that important?
Forget about Marvin Lewis' inability to prepare his football team; his time management blunders; his conservative play-calling; his horrific bend-but-don't-break defense, and his lack of control over the team.
Paul Brown Stadium has sold out 36 straight games, remember?
The problems begin at the top, and, believe it or not, they end at the top, too. Well, actually, the problems are never ending, but I digress.
Mike Brown is the cheapest owner of any big-time organization. Period. If one did not know differently, he would think Brown is still living in the pre-free agency NFL.
Maybe he is.
One must admit—Brown has spent some money. Unfortunately, he has spent it in all the wrong places.
The Bengals' owner dumped an excessive amount of money into defensive ends Justin Smith and Robert Geathers, who combined for a whopping 5.5 sacks. Not bad for a fourth overall draft pick and the man labeled "Adalius Thomas" by his coaches. They certainly deserved the combined $23 million the two banked this past season.
Much more money went into the starting offensive tackles, Willie Anderson and Levi Jones. The Bengals dished out a four-year contract for the aging Anderson, which may have to be terminated this off-season. As for Jones, the left tackle was benched this season by Head Coach Marvin Lewis, even though he was ready to play after injury.
Once again, the Bengals put their money to good use.
The problems will not be fixed for a long time. Most fans will be lucky to see the team make the playoffs again during their lifetimes.
Bengals Nation just has to read the writing on the wall.
Bengals fans, in their desperation for today's Bengals to be better than their Nineties' counterparts, have come to accept a mediocre organization that throws a sad excuse of a football team on the field each Sunday.
Oh, wait. It would be impossible for quarterback Carson Palmer to not speak to the Bengals' general manager because the organization does not have one.
Mike Brown will tell you they do not need one. Lewis can prepare the team, make all the personnel moves and do all the scouting.
Unfortunately, Lewis cannot coach, let alone pull triple-duty. Having no general manager is rough enough, but the Bengals' woes grow deeper.
The Bengals have the smallest scouting department of any NFL organization with six. Yes, six. Not sixteen, or sixty. Six. Too bad it is not five so we could hold up the number of team scouts on one hand.
"I think we're efficient. I don't apologize for that. [Other teams] can do what they do. We do what we do," says owner Mike Brown.
No one can argue that. We do what we do, and what we do sucks.
Clearly the team is reaping the benefits of "we do what we do." Marvin Lewis apparently agrees because, in every post game interview, he says, "We just got to keep doing what we're doing."
Obviously, he is right, because what we do is working. Lewis is living off of one break in the losing system—one breakdown in the system in which the team actually won three more games than they were supposed to. The playoff season in 2005 was a product of luck.
The 2005 schedule was easy. That season, the Bengals played four games against the worst division in football, the NFC North. The Baltimore Ravens were having a down year, and the Cleveland Browns were the Cleveland Browns.
Winning and Cincinnati do not belong together in the same sentence, let alone the same breath. The bottom line is: things will never change under the Brown regime.
When Mike Brown hired Lewis five years and three days ago, he said, "I think we've turned over a new leaf for the Bengals. We are starting fresh. He has the respect of people throughout the National Football League. He sold us, and I think he will sell the people in Cincinnati.''
Lewis did not sell us. He ripped us off.
Lewis led the team to an 8-8 record his first year, and he was labeled 'God'. Five years later, the team is 7-9 and looking once again to start fresh.
How did that work out last time? The answer: it did not. It just goes to prove a point. For most organizations, winning is the top priority. For Brown and the Bengals, however, winning takes a backseat to making money.
As all 66,000 loyal Bengals fans click through the turnstiles, Mike Brown just cracks another smile. He is a happy man, regardless of how bad the team performs that Sunday.
Brown's philosophy is carrying over to the players, too.
In his year-end press conference, Coach Lewis was asked if it were true that one of his main concerns involved players being more concerned about their contracts than the terrible performance of the team.
Lewis responded, "It is. But it's something that you can't allow to get in the way of football. There comes a time for that, but once things are set, there's nothing you can do to change it other than going out and performing at the highest level. It's been part of this discussion every year."
Whether it's Mike Brown saving up his pennies, or individuals being too selfish and too concerned with their own nickels and dimes, the Bengals have too many issues to solve and no time in which to do.
If the Bengals continue to show a glimmer of hope at the end of the 2008 season and give fans one more reason to get excited, the 'Bengal Way' will continue.
As long as things do not change, Bengals fans may want to choose paper instead of plastic the next time they hit the grocery store. They are going to need plenty of paper bags to cover their faces for years to come.