Evaluating Marvin Lewis fairly can be really hard for long time Bengal fans. No coach is ever judged in a vacuum, and the situation Lewis inherited should have been classified as a superfund site. For those too young to remember, or for those with selective amnesia, let me refresh your memory a bit on the Bengals before Lewis arrived. They stunk. Bad. From 1991-1995 the Cincinnati had a record of 14-50. From 1998-2002 the Bengals went 19-61, culminating in a 2-14 season that led to the number one draft pick and the selection of Carson Palmer.
In between those two stretches of complete futility was an oasis of much more bland mediocrity, with the Bengals finishing no worse than 7-9 from 1996-1998. All told, Cincinnati hadn’t even sniffed the playoffs since the feuding days of Sam Wyche and Jerry Glanville. (Completely off topic, but here’s the money quote from Wyche on Glanville and Houston, after the Bengals ran up the score on the Oilers en route to a 61-7 victory in 1989: “They’ve got their tails tucked between their legs and they’re going home, which is just the way it should be,” Wyche said in his post-game remarks. “They’re the dumbest, most undisciplined, stupid football team we’ve ever played. We don’t like their team. We don’t like their people. And when you get a chance to do it, you do it. I wish it was a five-quarter game.” Ah, those were the days).
My initial point, before all the reminiscing kicked in, was that the Bengals were rotten for the better part of a decade before Marvin got to Cincinnati. And since he got there they’ve been…well, not rotten anyway. Therein lies the difficulty. Should Bengal fans accept, and perhaps even celebrate, Lewis’s overall .500 record and once-every-few-years playoff trip?
It’s a tough question, because we have seen what is on the other side of the fence, and the grass is not greener. It is, in fact, Brown(er). The idea that Mike Brown has a history as one of the worst owners in professional sports goes without saying. Usually the question comes down to just how bad.