This summer marked the 20th anniversary of Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill, a peak-‘90s touchstone celebrated with an October 30, 2015 release of a four-disc collector’s edition of the album. Aside from forcing an entire generation of seemingly hip, internet-savvy humans to realize how old they now are, the anniversary’s media push also revived North America’s favorite pop culture grammatical argument—that the lyrics to Jagged Little Pill’s hit song “Ironic” don’t actually discuss true ironies. Rain on your wedding day, the offer of a free ride when you’ve already paid, a black fly in your Chardonnay—isn’t it ironic? Well, not exactly. It has long and often been pointed out that these things are not ironies in the true, original sense of the word, but instead a collection of “unfortunate coincidences” (or in the case of the death row pardon two minutes too late, “tragic coincidences.”) And yet, as Morissette’s ubiquity during this recent media tour made clear, time has been kind to the song and its grammatical standing. In today’s culture, Morissette’s versions of irony are widely accepted, both by definition and colloquially. One could certainly argue whether “Ironic” was the catalyst of this shift or simply an early response to it, but that’s not really the point. The point is that the meaning of the word expanded for people over time, and there’s no denying Morissette’s song played a major role in that change.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton fractured the thumb on his right (throwing) hand in Sunday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, an injury that incited a forlorn mixture of outrage and haplessness among Cincinnati sports fans. Aside from the small but boisterous minority of morons who were clamoring for backup QB AJ McCarron before the season and now received their wish in some demented, Monkey’s Paw-esque turn of events, the mood was uniformly fatalistic during and after the game. Monday’s news that Dalton does not need surgery on the thumb was slightly less dire, but his return date is still a mystery, and with only three games remaining and the team in a fight for a first-round playoff bye, Dalton’s absence has the potential to completely derail a Super Bowl contender. Which is kind of amazing.
Think of how far Andy Dalton has come. I realize I’m not pointing out anything that hasn’t already been tweeted a million times, but over the course of his first four seasons in the league, Dalton was the weak link on an otherwise immensely talented team. Despite leading the organization to four straight playoff appearances, he was also the scapegoat for the four straight playoff losses. He was mercurially average, just good enough to get there before promptly wilting under the pressure. Now, his injury is suddenly the cause of a citywide shit-storm, the reason fans and pundits alike are writing the team off. “Losing Andy Dalton Crushes The Bengals’ Championship Hopes” is the headline of a real, unironic, statistics-based article on FiveThirtyEight.com.
The ultimate fallout of the injury remains to be seen. Maybe McCarron will play well—or well enough—alongside a strong supporting cast and secure that first-round bye. Maybe Dalton comes back healthy in time for the postseason. Or maybe the whole thing falls apart and the team does just enough to lose a fifth straight playoff game. We’ll see. But at least for the time being, the most interesting thing about all of this is the play the injury occurred on—Dalton making a tackle after a bad first-quarter interception thrown on 2nd & Goal from the 4-yard line. It’s the type of poor play Dalton has largely avoided during his impressive fifth season, in which he’s blossomed into a top-five quarterback and MVP candidate. It was one of the very few times this season he’s looked like the Old Andy Dalton, the one who had Bengals fans despondently dropping their head into their hands and cursing his massive contract extension and dreading primetime games. It’s the type of play that in previous seasons would have completely and utterly derailed Dalton for the rest of the game, like last year’s home matchup against the Browns, when his first-drive interception devolved into his infamous 2.0 QB rating in the Thursday Night Massacre.
This year was different. This year, that play is an anomaly. Except that anomaly resulted in a freak injury, one that has Bengals fans despondently dropping their head into their hands and cursing the football gods and dreading what happens next. It took a moment that looked a lot like Old Andy Dalton to fully expose just how good and valuable and important New Andy Dalton is, for the team and the city.
Isn’t it ironic?
Justin Williams is an associate editor for Cincinnati Magazine and patiently waiting for the NFL to impose a lifetime ban on Stephon Tuitt’s left leg for its vicious attack on Andy Dalton’s thumb. You can follow him on Twitter at @Williams_Justin.