Hats off to the Cincinnati Bengals, winners of the AFC North after an impressive 41-17 blowout win over the Detroit Lions.
Never mind that it's the Lions . . . this Bengals squad hasn't witnessed glory in over a decade. Carson Palmer was a class act, and he didn't have the best game, but he sure played well enough to win. Chad Johnson's routes were rather crisp. Rudi Johnson surged his way down the field. Deltha O'Neal helped seal the Lions fate. After it was all said and done, with a handful of seconds left, Palmer and Kitna showered Coach Marvin Lewis with a couple of coolers of Gatorade.
The best part . . . I was there.
I obtained a free ticket from my friends at the last minute. I didn't find out about the game until my friend and former roommate, Jim, was about to head back into town. For me, when I was asked, the game didn't really matter . . . I wanted nothing more than to hang out with my buddy.
My back's hurting right now, but it's worth the pain. Recovery from a back injury doesn't afford a person too many fun days . . . lack of money, lack of energy, and lack of mobility make for a challenge. However, on this day, not only would I hang out with my pals, but I'd also see a rare event . . . a meaningful game in Ford Field. ;D
The Bengals needed a victory to wrap up a great season and a clinch of the top spot in their AFC North division. The Lions were staring at 20-57 under honcho Matt Millen's guidance, with 4-9 written on their foreheads. The game was over before it began. Before we reached our seats (upper deck, facing the field, Bengals were on my right side of the gridiron, the Lions return man (was it McQuarters?) fumbled and lost the ball.
By the end of the 1st quarter, Cinci notched a 17-0 lead on Detroit. Carson Palmer played well enough to win. He had a couple interceptions, but Detroit wasn't stopping anyone on defense, especially Carson, Rudi Johnson, and Chad Johnson. Each had a hell of a good game. Meanwhile, Jeff Garcia proved to be every bit of an albatross, tossing 3 laughable interceptions, some of them caused by the butterfingers of his receivers.
Before the game, a "Fire Millen March" organized outside of the stadium. National media has highlighted Detroit in recent weeks, covering every piece of inept play, allowing players like Dre Bly to choke themselves with callous and apathetic sound bytes, and pointing the focus upon Matt Millen and the Fords, a trio of executives who couldn't lead the Lions to anything better than 20-57, heading into tonight's game. Everyone in the media warned against the presence of poor behavior. Once again, the media feared, Detroiters would rear the ugliest of the city.
I didn't participate in the march, but I did show up to the game in an optic-orange hunting hoodie. I wore my Pistons hat, just in case anyone accused me of being a traitorous Detroiter. However, I am a Detroiter, and I hold dear what is worthy of my respect. Of which, the Lions are worth none.
To everyone's surprise, Detroiters behaved beyond well. They were quiet, calm, and as a body, they allowed a large number of Cincinnati fans who traveled to Ford Field to enjoy their great moment in peace. Orange, of course, filled the stands, not just from Cincinnati fans, but from many Detroiters, including myself. The crowd's level of noise fell upon a giant silence throughout most of the game, starting from right after the opening fumble. Most of the time, I could hold conversation with the people next to me. This would never have been possible in the Silverdome, and the level of noise was far lower in sum than any other Lions game I've attended. Cincinnati, of course, did receive the greatest bunch of cheers. When the Lions managed to do something, like score, there was less support. Cincinnati truly enjoyed what was a home game in Detroit. Boos would follow Garcia all game, since he couldn't help but choke at most every turn. Fans jeered the 3rd-and-long-short-passes-and-runs. It's obvious that a 3-yard-play is not going to cut it when 9 is needed for a first down, lol.
To say that Detroiters were disrespectful in this game would be a total lie. The fans cheered for the people participating in the half-time kick contest. None of the participants won the trip from the 40-ish-yard kicks, but one guy came close. Fans cheered for Jason Hanson's FGs. Jason's worthy of praise, as he will be one of the few Lions to be remembered outside of Barry Sanders from this era. When a US armed forces veteran was introduced, he received a hearty batch of cheers. The loudest, most supportive, and exuberant Lions cheers, however, were reserved for the most and least likely individuals.
"FI-RRE MILL-EN! (*clap-clap-cla-cla-clap*)" was the biggest chant of the game. All game, it would trade with chants for Joey Harrington. Late in the 4th, the crowd would not be denied. For what may be the last time in Detroit wearing Honolulu Blue, #3, "Jesus" Joey Harrington, was allowed into the game. The crowd let out with cheers, finally receiving something that they wished. In turn, Joey did not disappoint. He marched the Lions down the field, capping the drive with a long TD pass to none other than "Bobblehead" Charles Rogers. The last time I witnessed this, from what I can remember, would have been Sunday, September 7th, 2003, when Arizona faced Detroit for what would be one of Charles Rogers's best and only games that year. It was his rookie season, and expectations and hopes remained high. The crowd erupted with cheers on that day, and they matched the intensity on this cold December night. Both Charles and Joey could be gone in the off-season. I savored that pass, of which such connections came very infrequently.
As the final seconds of play remained on the board, Carson Palmer and Jon Kitna doused Marvin Lewis, the Bengals coach, in a couple of Gatorade showers. An almost-empty crowd allowed hundreds of Bengals-clad fans to rush down to the edge of the stands behind the Cinci side. One of the Bengals tossed them a ball. I enjoyed this sight, as I understand just how such moments can be infrequent and worth every moment of wait.
Chants of "Whoooooo . . . DEEYYYYY!" rose from the packs of fans as we filed out into the cold night. It was great to be a part of a positive momentum, despite it for another city. Detroiters wish nothing less for all football cities, and they only wish that their own city could achieve some of that success.
I'll never forget the one drunk guy who made his way around the stands near us. He eventually filed up right to our row, screaming at the crowd to raise hands if they were a Lions fan. I did not raise my hand. He shouted, over and over, "WHO'S A LIONSFAN? Win or lose, WHO'S A LIONS FAN? . . . AAAAYYEEE AMMM!"
Many of us laughed, but some of us were laughing at him. The poor bastard was drunk enough to withstand the quiet chuckles. Bless his heart. Curse him for buying more than one seven-dollar beer. Of course, he's a Lions fan, lol.
What boggled me the most . . . as I filed out of the stadium, the many kiosks featured a handful of people at them, purchasing . . . Lions merchandise. For the life of me, I can't wish a greater insult on someone than giving them a Lions hat or jersey for this Christmas season. Who the fuck does that to their friends and family?
I managed not to spend one cent at the game, and I was happy for my resilience. I wanted to get a pop, some nuts, or something to hold off my hunger . . . yet, I did not. No money from my pocket will ever be directly spent on this franchise. It will take nothing less than a change of ownership to renew my fandom with this team.
If my theory proves correct, the only true way to really hurt an owner is through lack of use of your pocketbook. Attendance drop-off and merchandise sales slumps will produce results faster than any demonstration, march, or wearing colors of the opponent. Empty houses look horrible on television, and that's the quickest way to make the world notice that a team is not worthy of anyone's time.
However, Detroiters may not achieve this show of force. I fully expect Millen to be the main executive in charge of this team in the fall of 2006, complete with summer spins of hope and new direction under some other quarterback. A faux-show-of-change will feature a handful of ill-fitted players in exodus, followed by a trumped-up media blitz for the newcomers. The new guys will be billed as improvements, regardless of the reality of the talent level. I see Lions sellouts for the next handful of years. It probably would take time to run out leases on luxury boxes, of which teams count and hold most dear. Merchandise will probably remain the same level, and the franchise, like most in the NFL, will be in the black by the end of their next fiscal year.
You must remember that this ownership allowed an entire weekend in Florida to pass, after watching the Thanksgiving Game in person, before Millen did the inevitable in the canning of Mariucci. To which, Millen promised Detroit that it would play a lot of its younger players. To which, Dick Jauron, after statements of no wish to be the coach or to see Mariucci go, accepted the position. To which, Jauron made 'winning' his first priority, failing in these games to start or play few of the younger players very often. To which, all of Detroit's executive decisions amount to a giant fluttering of arms and legs, twisting in that perpetual wind.
On the way home, Dre Bly embarrassed himself in post-game chat. Over the radio, he commented on the lack of faith, support, and understanding demonstrated by Lions fans, clad in optic orange, cheering louder for Cincinnati than the home team, and chanting for the canning of Matt Millen. Bly expressed disgust, wondering out loud why fans would do such a thing. He complained that he had zero energy from the display of the fans, implicitly blaming his poor coverage of Chad Johnson on the detrimental effect of the lack of Detroit's fan support. He then commented upon his high regard for Chad Johnson. Apparently, Chad Johnson noticed Bly's shoes, and he mentioned to Bly that he liked them. Bly mentioned that he was flattered, in so many words, and he apparently gave Chad his shoes.
I'm not sure if Bly realizes it, but his comments after the game were far more disrespectful of Detroiters than any lack of support he feels he was given on the field. Blaming the fans for his shitty performance on the field today was a classless act. He also couldn't keep his mouth shut in the wake of Mariucci's firing, going out of his way a handful of weeks ago to voice his disapproval of Joey Harrington with so many words amounting to apathy, lack of respect, and lack of common sense.
Well, here's two cents for you, Dre. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out of here. We don't need your mouth, we don't give a fuck what you think, and you can complain all you want, but motherfucker, that check cashes, doesn't it? You're about as professional as the rest of your loser teammates. Eat a dick, Dre.
When I returned home, I shared my experience with my mom. She mentioned to me that she became rather angry at one point. I asked her what happened in the game that made her get angry, and she told me that immediately following the Harrington touchdown to Rogers, the cameras captured an extended shot of the executive's booth. Apparently, Matt Millen, after Joey's TD, shook his head in disgust, as if he wanted nothing of the sort to happen. It didn't surprise me. Millen didn't support his own choices for personnel. He's certainly not vilified for little reason. ;D
Forget the Lions.
I enjoyed myself, and I didn't destroy my back on a good night out with friends. I didn't have to spend a dime, and it was one of the better moments I've had all year. I can't say this enough . . . with enough shit in anyone's life, one begins to appreciate the good times far more than one ever had been able to appreciate.
Congratulations, Cincinnati. I couldn't be more proud of a similar franchise, especially since that loser franchise, on this day, is a loser no more . . . they are now winners. You have my respect and sincere gratitude for your great play today. Play hard, smart, and focused. Make the games count, and deliver to your starved fans the post-season they can only imagine.