(Photo: Getty Images)
What struck me as I looked around Paul Brown Stadium last Sunday was how, after 15 years, it'd felt like the Bengals had come full circle.
Everything about the experience at PBS - the lopsided game, the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, the empty stadium, and the sense that more and more people would be paying less and less attention - had a decidedly 2002 feel to it.
Most of us remember what being a Bengals fan was like before Marvin Lewis took over as coach. The team was a local punchline and a national afterthought. Rooting for the Bengals ranked in 2002 on the coolness scale where wearing cargo shorts to a Nickelback concert ranks on it today. They were a civic embarrassment.
Marvin Lewis changed all of that. Not singlehandedly, of course. Players he both inherited and brought in had a lot to do with that. Ownership earned credit for simply yielding power. But Marvin Lewis did change things around here. He pulled the Bengals into the 21st Century, got people talking about them, and in many respects, made being a Bengal cool again.
Which is why I hate how his tenure is ending.
Coaches, the cliche goes, are hired to be fired. Even the best and most accomplished among them have had their time with a team come to an end in unceremonious, often ugly, fashion. New voices are needed. New executives and owners want their own guy. The game passes coaches by.
But for the best, the inevitable ending comes a happy story. Tales of signature victories, memorable conquests, perhaps some funny anecdotes from his players, and maybe, a look back at a championship or two. Everyone shares some good feelings amid the sadness.
That doesn't feel like it's happening here.
As the Bengals finish out 2017, it feels like Marvin Lewis is finishing his time in Cincinnati. Maybe not, but probably so. Yet as much as it might be for the Bengals and Marvin to move on, and as much as both parties might be well off without the other, there's a sad hue to the way this is being talked about in what feels like Marvin's final few weeks.
It shouldn't be that way.
There was a time, and it might be hard to remember this, when Marvin Lewis owned this city. From sometime in 2003 to, I don't know sometime in 2006, Marvin Lewis was not only Cincinnati's most important sports figure but its most beloved. He'd taken an historically inept entity and made it matter, defying those who thought that no man could ever make the Bengals relevant again. His teams captured the imagination of a fan base that not long before had essentially checked out, delivering things like meaningful games in December, national attention, prime time home games, a division title, and, well, his teams made being a Bengals fan cool again.
Maybe he wasn't a brilliant game manager or quick with a memorable one-liner at the podium, but both his players and his bosses seemed to buy into what he was selling, his early team's were always interesting, and it felt like a near-certainty that when - and unbelievably, not if - the Bengals were ever crowned champions, the indelible image would be of Marvin accepting the hardware.
If you would've told me around this time 12 years ago when my favorite Bengals team of all-time -Marvin's 2005 AFC North Champions - was headed toward the franchise's first playoff appearance in 15 years, that'd we'd be talking about the end of the Marvin Lewis era 12 years later with him having not won a playoff game, I'd have used whatever catch phrase Chad Johnson was using at the time to express incredulity.
Yet, here we are. Marvin is likely coaching out the string, the Bengals are not going to the playoffs, and the coach's startling 0-7 record hangs over everything good and bad that's happened here over the last decade and a half. Meanwhile, his final two teams have lost more than they've won. His coaching style seems stale. Little about the Bengals seems interesting. It's hard finding much likability in them. Being a Bengals fan is no longer cool.
Those are the things people want to talk about. That, and who the next coach will be.
All of this is very understandable. Marvin Lewis was brought here to win championships, which didn't happen. And the most memorable of his tenure's signature games involve heartbreak, second-guessing, anguish, and with each Bengals failure, a growing sense that this coach simply can't be trusted to win the big one.
Those are part of his legacy.
So too is that time when Marvin Lewis was the biggest sports star in a city that was starved for one. There was a time when Marvin Lewis could do no wrong, a fleeting period of optimism and excitement that's as much of the story of Marvin in Cincinnati as all of those playoff losses and the agony that came with them.
We should be talking more about that time. I understand why we're not. But this isn't how it was supposed to end.
BENGALS v. VIKINGS
When you're taking a look at bringing Rey Maualuga back to fill a whole at linebacker, you're probably in for a rough Sunday.
The team I've watched play its last six quarters would struggle against the Princeton Vikings, much less have a chance to beat the Minnesota Vikings.
With a beaten-up defense, too much is being asked of a Bengals offense that struggles to get the ball to its best guys when its healthy. The Vikings are really good at taking away what teams do best. Right now, I don't know what the Bengals do best.
Chances are, Mike Zimmer does.
Vikings 27 Bengals 13 (Minnesota -10.5)
THERE ARE OTHER GAMES
And we head into week 15 after last week's 8-8 performance, which sent the record for the season to 109-94-5. I know you've been counting.
Denver (-2.5) over Indianapolis. The Broncos are bad. The Colts are bad. The Broncos at least look like they give a shit. You should watch this classic tilt with me.
Detroit (-5.5) over Chicago. A favorite December past time of mine is remembering on late season Saturdays that, oh yeah, there's NFL games. Granted, not great ones, but still.
Chargers (+1) over Kansas City. I'll be keeping an eye on these Saturday games from establishments in LA, preferably near UCLA after I knock Pauley Pavilion off my bucket list. Anyone reading this have any suggestions? Preferably somewhere where we aren't swarmed with Charger f-oh wait, no one cares about them.
Miami (no line) over Buffalo. Don't you want to watch more games played in the snow?
Carolina (-3) over Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers is back. So is the Panthers defense.
Cleveland (+7) over Baltimore. Losing this would be classic Ravens.
Houston (+11) over Jacksonville. You know, the Jaguars could very well get a top-two seed.
New Orleans (-16) over the Jets. I think I've bet every Jets game correctly. I think. Maybe not. But I think.
Philly (-7.5) over the Giants. I miss Carson Wentz
Washington (-4) over Arizona. You know the thing I typed about Marvin Lewis that you probably glossed over? I could've written the same thing about Carson Palmer.
Seattle (-2.5) over the Rams. To be the man, you've gotta beat the man, you know?
New England (-3) over Pittsburgh. All I have left is the hope that Rex Burkhead scores like seven touchdowns against the Steelers.
San Francisco (-2) over Tennessee. The Niners are doing some good things. I used to be able to say that about the Titans.
Oakland (+3) over Dallas. Maybe Dak Prescott is not as good as you thought he was last season but also not as bad as you think he is this season? Imagine if I made you pay for that kind of insight.
Atlanta (-6) over Tampa Bay. Matt Ryan won't be that bad again, will he?
Enjoy your weekend. Those were the days....