Over at Cincy Jungle, kirk rounds up some reaction to yesterdays official word that the Bengals will be featured on HBO’s Hard Knocks. To those you can add Greg’s Debbie Downer writeup; OMCWs suspicion that the organization is being paid to do the show (Hobson writes this morning that it is not); and, predictably perhaps, WDR sees yet another opportunity for “Project Mayhem” antics.
Personally, I don’t get all the fuss. I expected to see a fan base excited by the news, especially given the way we always complain when the Bengals get stiffed out of prime-time games every year. But HBO comes calling and suddenly it’s blah blah blah arrests blah blah blah Chad blah blah blah man-boobs…run away, run away! Will you people make up your minds?
Marvin Lewis thinks the team can handle the fishbowl. Brian Billick thinks so, too. “One of the major reasons we did it [in 2001] was people thought of us a certain way,” he says. “People felt like we had a bunch of characters but I wanted to show that we were a team of character. I don’t know if people saw them that way, but what they did see was the human aspect.”
Yes, Chad Ochocinco is still here. But he’s now an exception, not the rule. Lewis has spent the last two offseasons cleaning out the locker room. Ocho is the only one still angling for a trade, and the only guy left moaning about his contract is our franchise kicker, Shayne Graham.
And it’s not the Nineties. Over the past six seasons, the Bengals are 46-49-1, with one trip to the playoffs that would have gone who knows how far if it hadn’t been for Kimo von Kneecapper. Despite that injury, and its lingering effects which worked to short-circuit the 2006 season, and two flunked draft classes in 2004 and 2005, the team’s record under Lewis compares favorably not to the Lost Decade (55 wins from 1991-2002), but to the forgotten glories of the Eighties.
Between Forrest Gregg in 1981-83 and Sam Wyche in 1984-86, the Bengals had their best six-season stretch since the league went to a 16-game season in 1978, going 51-38, making the playoffs twice and the Super Bowl once.
By contrast, during the Nineties, the best six seasons the team strung together were 1995 through 2000, when they went 33-63 with, quite obviously, no playoff appearances. At their absolute worst, the Bengals went 26-70 from 1997 through 2002.
The point is that the Bengals’ record over the last six seasons is only 4.5 wins removed from their best six-season performance ever. It’s 13 wins better than their “best” six-season performance of the Nineties, and 20 wins better than their worst.
I followed the Bengals in the Eighties, and I followed the Bengals in the Nineties, and I can tell you categorically that the quality of the teams bears that record out. The pro football team in Cincinnati today may not be quite as talented — or at least quite as full of proven talent — as those great Eighties squads, but it’s light-years ahead of what took the field back in the Nineties.
That’s what we’re going to see in August, not a Ship of Fools. So stop the moaning and screw the haters. Instead, as Lewis is once reputed to have said to Jon Kitna, “Smile. We’re about to kick their ass.”