As a Tampa Bay Buccaneer fan I don’t put much investment emotionally into my hometown team of the Cincinnati Bengals. I’m not a fan of Mike Brown and think the stadium deal he made with the city was a bad one compounded by a mediocre product he has put on the field over the last several decades. Even though lately his teams have been in the playoffs year after year, they always end up a disappointment. But the Bucs haven’t been very good this year, as they weren’t last year. They seem to have fixed many of their offensive problems, but the defense just isn’t working—and for me and Tampa Bay, I get excited about defense. So it’s been a pretty mundane year so far. Because of all those elements, I don’t get to the local Bengal games very often. I have always loved the NFL experience, but don’t often get down to a game. However, it was a good week for me last week and I had a packed weekend full of activities and an opportunity to go to the Bengal game against the Seahawks presented itself so I went with my family.
The game itself was fabulous, an overtime thriller that nobody will forget anytime soon. It was a magnificent October afternoon and we spent some extra time before and after the game enjoying the new Banks developments and all the tailgating activities. It was sunny, warm—the leaves were changing color—it was a wonderful day for football and two very good teams were playing in the usual ramped up rock n roll environment typical of professional football. The Ohio State marching band was at the game performing—which was impressive—the game itself and all the festivities around it were just perfect including the overtime win that rocked the stadium with much deserved enthusiasm. I was very glad I went to that particular game at that particular time.
But those kinds of things to me are never just about the game—I enjoy the larger picture. I like Paul Brown Stadium because it’s the hometown arena even though I think it’s not nearly as spectacular as Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. The Club area at PBS is everything you’d want it to be—luxurious, well-managed, and optimistic. It was quite enjoyable to watch all the NFL games occurring from the lounge within the high intensity environment of the Bengal game. The Bengals have done a much better job of capitalizing off their mascot theme of a Bengal tiger the last several years. The video promotions shown around the stadium were much better than they have been in the past even though the stupid song they play with each touchdown sounds like a broken 45 vinyl record from a crusty old man’s treasure chest. It sounds outdated and lost—but the whole experience was otherwise very exciting and stimulating. The people were from all walks of life and in many cases had spent thousands of dollars to be there which put my nose on the economics of what was happening.
I love the NFL experience for the things connected to the events. The economic stimulus connected to the National Football League is staggering—everywhere there are advertisements for various products, promotion work for various cancer fighting awareness, and lots and lots of beer being sold. People generally stayed relaxed and enjoyed themselves for a much-needed four hours of bliss on a Sunday in October. The rock music, the video images, the connectivity to the entire stadium network around the country simultaneously is quite something to behold.
There are several interesting things going on at football games. Fans are quick to assimilate to the phrase “we” when talking about their favorite team. It’s a form of collectivism that is dangerous to our society as perfect strangers were brought together by rooting for their favorite team to score points. When the Bengals went to overtime with a last-minute field goal the stadium was nearly in an orgy of enthusiasm for each other. There were hugs and high-fives everywhere as people who normally wouldn’t speak to each other held one another in warm embrace. That was very interesting. Clearly politicians utilize the same type of unifying force to solidify support for their various impositions. Yet in spite of that alarming trend the essence of capitalism was unmistakable. There was no way that the collective unification of the masses would adhere to any kind of communist banter if it meant robbing them of their Sunday afternoon football.
I enjoyed immensely the pre-game ceremonies of tail gating, the obvious recklessness of the activity being conducted on a mass scale. It wasn’t my first time of course, but with a football team that had a chance to be 5-0 after coming off a playoff year previously, there was a lot of hope in the air. Because the weather was warm there were the typical fair weather types mixed with the hard-core maniacs who come all dressed up to the stadium for war. Some people had fixed up school buses dedicated to the Bengals they tail gated out of, some had million dollar RVs all decorated up in the team colors. There was an obvious sizable investment that people had dedicated themselves to for the exclusive enjoyment of those three hours of battle. So it was even more intense that all the pent-up emotion before the game was released after the game with an overtime win against a good team. The economic engine driving the experience mandated a bold support of capitalism to generate that type of energy. There was no danger of Bolsheviks generating a communist revolution among NFL tailgaters. There was a lot of conflicting human behaviors on full display, but generally it was all very optimistic and healthy—and uniquely American.
If I had to pick a hero of that particular game it wasn’t the enthusiastic crowd, Andy Dalton, A.J. Green or the coaching staff—it was Carlos Dunlap. I watched him carefully between downs even when the fourth quarter started; the Seahawks had the ball and were up 17 points surely headed to a victory. Dunlap, number 96, was in position dancing around as enthusiastic as if the game were just starting. I put the victory on his shoulders because it was obvious that the Bengals as a team fed off his energy. His body language carried the crowd and the team in a time when it would have been acceptable to start looking toward the next game regarding the present one as hopeless. I thought he was the unsung hero of the day. It’s that kind of football that makes a distinct difference between the one that is played around the rest of the world with soccer and rugby. In American football, sure it’s a team sport, but the individual often has a more important role than the collective efforts of the team. Not everyone understands that, but it’s obvious if you know what you are looking for. Carlos Dunlap had it. It didn’t show up on the games I’ve watched on television, but it was sure present in the stadium while the TV audience was in commercial breaks. Dunlap was all energy all the time and that had to be the momentum killer for Seattle. I know the story of the game was that Dalton went after Sherman and all that—but it was Dunlap who led the way for the Bengals to win that game. In the fourth quarter that defense turned down the screws and that is what put the offense back on the field three times in the fourth to secure a tie, then an eventual win. That was the key to the game led by Carlos Dunlap.
Overall, the Bengals did a good job as an entire organization. I have been critical of them, but I admired the effort from the people behind the scenes who made all the graphics on the score board, to the sound guys, to the people who scheduled all the special guests—to the employees in the Club section who were professional and enthusiastic about providing a great experience for the people in those areas. Even the police outside trying to manage the traffic were in on the fun. It was a wonderful experience for me. I liked it so much that I almost bought a Carlos Dunlap jersey—almost. If there had been one in the pro shop outside my seat entry at the Club section, I would have bought it. The product of the Bengals had improved enough for me to consider it.
I waited for the crowd to clear after the game and sat in the lounge watching recaps of the other NFL games. My Tampa Bay Bucs had won 38 to 31 but that didn’t impress me because they gave up way too many points for my liking. Still, it was a pretty good day to cap off a nice week. The NFL offers a great product that is important to American philosophy—a mixture of not such good things with a whole lot of things that are. But one thing that it isn’t is calm, passive, or in any form conciliatory against fever pitched competition. And that’s what I loved most; the intensity, the furious melodrama of strategic objectives set against a ticking clock, and the high-pitched temperament of a packed crowd excited about a 5-0 start to the season after an overtime win on a beautiful afternoon. It was something I will always treasure as a sports fan.