In Cincinnati, sports used to be synonymous with the first professional baseball franchise, the sister bridge to the one of Brooklyn fame and the underground railroad. Yet what 2011 has brought is one of those blah years, where both professional franchises are unable to muster much of anything to be proud of. While the Reds are the equivalent of the long bomb throwing offenses of Bengals' lore much beloved, the paralleled defense is one to shudder and shake at.
The Bengals suffer from a fate that the offense lacks an identity, and the defense has an identified coach who every Bengals fan is only a moment away from leaving Cincinnati to haunt Cincinnati as a successful head coach anywhere but in Cincinnati.
Yet not since Sam Wyche roamed the sidelines and Eddie Brown caught the perfect spirals of the blonde bomber—Boomer Esiason—have the Bengals lacked the individual identities to actually be called a team. Sure, A.J. Green is being evaluated under the microscope of compare and contrast to Chad Ochocinco. And, yes, Andy Dalton is being constantly demoted next to Carson "Heisman" Palmer (hint: Dalton generally loses every time). Yet the Bengals' faithful have some hope in that for the first time in since the Esiason era came to a close, and the Bengals do not have a disgruntled player on the team.
Cedric Benson may be the closest to unstable, but he certainly is buying into being productive and wants the opportunity to lead by results. Corey Dillon is gone. Chad Ochocinco followed the same route through New England.
Which year is the Bengals' year?
What does this all mean? The last time the Bengals lacked as much identity was 1985. The Bengals struggled through a similar quarterback transition from Ken Anderson to Boomer Esiason. 1984—at 8-8—had been the first true split duty year. But in 1985, the team was clearly becoming Esiason's at 7-9. 1986 was 10-6, 1987 was 4-11 (though this was the replacement player year), and when 1988 came around, the 12-4 Bengals narrowly missed winning the Super Bowl.
While every fan lives under the disillusion that their team could win a Super Bowl any given year (any given Sunday really was a stretch no?), the reality is that with the eliminated strike year, the Bengals are one year away—ideally. In reality, the Bengals have rushed a kid with character, charisma and leadership into a role where his NFL level athletic talent is on the borderline of good and could-be-great.
The question is whether Cincinnati is patient enough to allow Dalton to succeed or fail and if Mike Brown will protect the city's assets (not only his family) by bolstering the Bengals' offensive line and defensive pressure.