Chasing Apathy

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Boiled down to its core, football, like any other game, is supposed to be fun. For Bengals fans observing Thursday night’s game against the visiting Cleveland Browns, football was not fun. In fact, it was visually painful.

In the words of Steve Buscemi in Armageddon, “Wow, this is a goddamn Greek tragedy,” a phrase that also properly illustrated the scene during the Bengals’ humiliating 24-3 defeat to the Browns.

For myself and many other Bengals fans, Thursday night wound up being Judgment Day in regard to Andy Dalton’s quarterbacking competence. I truly hate to pick on the guy, because no help was offered from Dalton’s skill players or the defense, but that’s how the cookie crumbles in the game of football—everything begins and ends with the quarterback.

Dalton was historically inept Thursday, playing the lead role in the latest Bengals Primetime Meltdown. I covered the Andy Dalton Experiencein my last post, but Dalton’s latest disintegration under the lights not only pushed the Bengals to 2-12 in their last 14 primetime games, but reinforced the darkest of truths: When the stakes are highest, most Bengals fans expect the worst with Dalton. And more often than not, the worst typically arrives thick with Dickensian plot twists.

Fumble falling forward without contact? Sure.

Attempt to throw the ball away left-handed? Why not?

Thursday night, Dalton’s interception total (three) was higher than his quarterback rating (2.0).

Friday, Marvin Lewis sounded like a parent coaxing his child back off the ledge after a prospective prom date rejected his offspring’s advances.

“There are things that we like in what we do, things that sit well with Andy when we do them, and he feels good about it,” Lewis said—quite cryptically I might add, even for him—when asked about what he can do to help Dalton move on. (I’m guessing Capri Suns and Dunkaroos were in order.)

Yes, after a 52-108 record in the 90s, the Bengals’ 35-21-1 mark under the Dalton-Lewis pairing looks—and should feel like—a successful marriage. When factoring in playoff appearances following the 2005 and 2009 seasons, the franchise has remained relevant for a decade.

But even with playoff appearances in four of the past five campaigns, the end result has been the same: embarrassing disappointment. I’d even argue that the shame associated with the primetime catastrophes and playoff shortcomings outweighs the helplessness of the 90s.

Thursday night felt like a pivotal point for the franchise. Even after the debacle, a fourth straight trip to the postseason remains in reach for the Bengals (5-3-1). But is anyone really expecting an outcome other than futile depression come January? Is Dalton going to suddenly morph into Aaron Rodgers—hell, I’d settle for Joe Flacco at this point, honestly—for the team’s next primetime game, a Monday Night Football showcase December 22 against Peyton Manning and the Broncos? I don’t think so.

To anticipate not just a loss, but utter embarrassment, is a terrible way to cheer for a sports team; it’s a gateway to indifference. Wonder why Bengals fans have trouble packing Paul Brown Stadium week in and week out? Who wants to sit in the cold, purchase overpriced accessories, and pay homage to heartbreak? And considering the franchise’s history of excessive frugality, an all-time record of 321-393-3 and its abominable stadium deal, Cincinnatians should in no way feel compelled to pack PBS because of some misplaced sense of civic duty.

A groupthink exists in this town, and its name is apathy. Bengals fans have become their own social experiment. As I mentioned before, football is supposed to be fun. Around Cincinnati, football is an exercise in self-loathing. During nights like Thursday, one hopes for the miracle of competence to reach the Bengals sideline.

When the lights are brightest and the stakes are highest, that miracle almost always fails to materialize.

Grant Freking is a co-editor for The Ohioan. He can be reached on Twitter or via email at gfreking@gmail.com.

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