Bengals proof anything is possible

For 30 years, the Cincinnati Bengals have insisted on playing checkers while the rest of the league switched to chess. Now they're in the Super Bowl, which should give hope to everyone.

Parents everywhere were given a gift on Sunday.

No matter how bleak things look for your child, no matter how much paste your kid may have eaten, how many batteries he or she may have licked, you can look that child in the eye, tell them anything is possible and actually mean it. After all, the Bengals are going to the Super Bowl.

Yeah, I know. They’ve been there before. A couple of times. But that was more than 30 years ago in a whole different era. For the bulk of the past three decades, the Bengals have been on the short list of worst franchises in American professional sports for reasons we’ll get into. But now they’re back in the Super Bowl and if they can do that, well, darn near anything is possible whether it’s Washington winding up in the NCAA Tournament (seriously) or the Mariners ending the longest postseason draught in any of the country’s top four sports leagues.

First, big happenings around here last week. If you missed it, I had a soft launch of “The Dang Apostrophe” podcast last week. It’s now available on Apple Podcasts and right here at Substack. If it’s not showing up where you download your podcasts, let me know, and I’ll follow up. Also, subscriptions are available, and I got some fancy new graphics courtesy of Rich Boudet, a really talented designer.

Hard to tell which is more likely: The fact that Joe Burrow is the first quarterback drafted No. 1 overall to reach a Super Bowl in his first two seasons or that the Bengals are the team he’s taken there.

That’s not a criticism on anything Burrow has done in the pros. It was pretty clear pretty early in his rookie season that he was special, and the fact he has played this well one year after suffering a torn knee ligament is nothing short of astounding. But entering the NFL after leading LSU to a national championship in 2019, Burrow gave off heavy one-year wonder vibes. This was a guy who transfered from Ohio State, and while it’s no shame to get beaten out by Duane Haskins for playing time, still. Guys drafted No. 1 overall usually don’t have to transfer from their home-state school so they can get on the field.

Burrow has been nothing short of incredible, though and while I’m already wincing in anticipation of how much people are going to talk about poise, presence and leadership over the next two weeks while they try and pin down just what makes him so cool, I love the way he plays.

What’s most surprising, though, is the fact the Bengals have become competent enough as an organization that they’re no longer capable of bogging down someone like Burrow. For much of the past 30 years, the Bengals have seemed to play the game according to different rules. The marathon-walker amid a field of runners. A .22 caliber operation in a .357 Magnum world. Cincinnati insisted on doing things its own way even when its own way was demonstrably worse.

You know how everyone moves around the board on draft day? The Bengals don’t really do that so much. The last time they moved up in the first round? It was like 1995. That was one of only four times in the franchise’s first 50 years that they moved up in the draft order to pick a player. That’s not just in the first round, but any round. Four! They prefer to make one pick per round in their designated slot. They make their compensatory picks if they have them. Moving around for value? Not so much.

The Bengals are the only team in the league in a cold-climate setting that doesn’t have an indoor practice facility. They don’t have a general manager, owner Mike Brown making those decisions. They were notoriously thrifty when it came to signing free agents from other teams, a trend that only began to change a couple years back with their $60 million deal to acquire defensive end Trey Hendrickson.

The one period of sustained success over the past three decades came under Marvin Lewis when the Bengals became known for signing players whose criminal histories had affected their employability among other NFL teams. Pacman Jones. Tank Johnson. Cedric Benson. Joe Mixon, the top running back on the team, was not a consideration for some NFL teams because he struck a woman while in college at Oklahoma. The Seahawks did not have him on their draft board, meaning he was not a consideration.

The Bengals were 2-14 just two years under first-year coach Zac Taylor, and when this season started I would have listed him along with Matt Nagy and Vic Fangio as the coaches most certain to be gone before next season. Instead, he should be the league’s Coach of the Year and the Bengals are going to play in the Super Bowl.

Anything is possible. Hear that Mariners?

Urinal-ism

By Danny O’Neil | Barrett Sports Media

A week ago, a writer by the name of Sean Beckwith wrote a truly unfortunate column that will go down as one of the worst things that I’ve seen published as Beckwith misidentified the race of a 49ers assistant coach he argued was being given favorable coverage because he was white. The author then mocked the compliment that Anthony Hawkins — who had actually played for McDaniel — claiming he was ignorant of who Hawkins was, and he topped it off by questioning the validity of a quote on Hawkins’ Twitter profile regarding speaking out against injustice. I would say that this is yet another example of a white dude not understanding nearly as much as he thinks, and while I think it’s safe to assume Beckwith is in fact white, one of the underlying lessons of this all-timer of a dunce column is the danger of making assumptions.

Urinal-ism Part Deux

On Saturday, ESPN reporters Adam Schefter and Jeff Darlington reported quarterback Tom Brady had decided to retire. Tom Brady’s Dad told a California television station that wasn’t true. Then Brady himself called the Bucs general manager Jason Licht to say he hadn’t made up his mind, which was in turn reported by Mike Silver of Bally Sports and Rick Stroud of The Athletic. Meanwhile, Brady himself has access to Twitter, the social-media site where these reports are being most prominently circulated, though he’s not saying anything.

The utter insanity of this whole situation speaks for itself. The goal of a report like the one from Schefter and Darlington is to clarify what will happen in the future. The result of that report, however, has resulted in more confusion, which is the exact opposite of what news is supposed to provide. It’s a phenomenon we’ve discussed here before, the modern information economy buckling up and creating an absolute mess when there’s a shortage of information.

March Maybe?

I’m not sure when I wrote off the Washington men’s basketball team. Was it the 19-point loss to Nevada the day before Thanksgiving? Perhaps it was the 16-point loss to Utah Valley in December. Somewhere in between those two games I decided that this Washington basketball team was not worth paying attention to.

I was wro …

I was wwwwwwwwrrrrrrrrrroooooooooooooo …

I was, in retrospect, unduly hasty, and while I am a stubborn man, I am not blind and Washington’s double-overtime victory over Utah on Saturday gives the Huskies five victories in their last six games. I did not see this coming, but the inimitable Boogerbeard1 did. Seriously. He has been telling me about this for a month and a half.

That’s why Boog’s going to be the Husky hoops correspondent for “The Dang Apostrophe” going forward starting with Episode 3 this week.

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