It was the ultimate walk of shame. Emerging from the Bengals bar on the lower East Side of Manhattan, my friend Erik and I suddenly found ourselves wearing gaudy Bengals gear, t-shirts and hats we’d paid good money for to support a team that managed to score two field goals and a safety against one of the worst teams in football. Now, making our way home, we were in the aftermath—surrounded by fashionable looking men and women, happy children in strollers whose general contentment meant they did not spend the afternoon as we had.
Eight points. Eight points on a day when teams were coming back from deficits of 20 or more. Eight points—two of which were literally handed to the Bengals when the 49ers took a safety on purpose. We’d spent the better part of a day watching the team will itself to two field goals and now both of us had to make our way home.
Before the beginning of the game, I had promised the Brit I share this blog with, who had traveled across the pond to watch the game in our New York bar, that with each Bengals touchdown, they’d pipe the fight song through the bar. For all I know, Ben might think I’m lying. I’m not. No, I’m really not.
But as of this writing, I’m not sure what I feel worse about—the offensive ineptitude, or the slow, sullen march homewards. At least during the game I was one among many. I could share my frustration and anger, my unheard cries for the team to do something, anything with like-minded folk. Once the game ended, I was on my own.
The walk of shame. This term has been in our lexicon since the first morning after drunken misdeeds. In other words, since the dawn of time. But stripped of its sexual context, the term takes on new life. The walk of shame as we know it implies an evening of some revelry which, at some point, must have been fun. At no point on Sunday, save a few great catches from Andre Caldwell, did anyone around me feel like they were having fun.
I won’t speak for Erik, but I know how I felt. I was embarrassed from what had just happened, what we, as willing participants watching perhaps the worst football game ever played, had just done. And because someone long ago decided it would be a good thing to support a team by wearing its official merchandise, the whole world knew.
Erik took the train to Harlem. I went back to Brooklyn. Ben and his mate went to do whatever British people do (He’s written he played flag football, but I have a feeling he went home to watch Downton Abbey). Once street-level, I found myself hiding my face from the world, or at least those football fans out on the streets reveling in victory (Yes, Buffalo, I know you’re 3-0). I was merely trying to make my way home without heckling, where I could take a shower, regroup and make sense of both the game and what had happened to my life.
Paul Daugherty has written that, mercifully, the game was blacked out. Greater Cincinnati was spared. The same can’t be said for the rest of the country, where in bars and individual homes we watched because we could and believed we should. Indeed, Cincinnati ex-pats, thanks to DirectTV, aren’t afforded the luxury of a blackout. If it’s on, we simply can’t turn away.
Of course we could stay home. We could decide not to subscribe to Sunday Ticket. But asking that for someone who owns a Bengals chip n’ dip helmet is akin to asking Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as her mother once did at the end of the show’s second season, to not fight the forces of darkness.
Indeed, I find myself echoing Buffy’s response, when she tearfully shot back, “It doesn’t stop. It never stops. Do you think I chose to be like this? Do you have any idea how lonely it is?”
Perhaps that’s the worst part about the walk of Bengals shame. The eerie feeling that you are alone in this world, wearing ridiculous paraphernalia that somehow seemed appropriate over a breakfast burrito and Miller Lite, but afterwards now only reminds you of a misspent day.
In the last day I’ve pondered a more subtle strategy should the team possibly lose to the highest scoring team in the NFL on Sunday, one that’s beaten the Bengals 10 straight times. I could wear a white collared shirt with just a hat. I could wear a burka with a “Who Dey” shirt beneath.
But doing that would deprive you of that triumphant gait, the gloat that kicks in with victory. No, we’ll all be there, wearing what passes for clothing, watching what passes for football, willing to endure mockery and indifference. I’m going to put my Bengals stuff in the laundry tonight, hoping the spilled beer and coffee stains come out, ready once more for my walk of shame.