A fresh 16-game Bengal season, bloomed and fully ripe, rests inside our cable boxes waiting to be slowly and painstakingly devoured, bit by blissful bit.
It seems like a lot at first, 16 games, but the wins and losses stack up fast and suddenly teams are playing in games that they must win in order to keep their season interesting. That’s the beauty of Week 1; it’s the same for everybody. The rosters are set, every team is tied for first place and the pressure of losing has yet to surface. There’s little to worry about and much to enjoy.
I usually wake up on the Sunday morning of Week 1 wearing a weird grin along with my disheveled pajamas and bathrobe. I make it a point to put on some NFL Films music on that day, complete with its string orchestras and dramatic tympani drums and go about my morning business in exaggerated slow-motion, juking my dog on the way to making coffee or stiff-arming the doorways as I walk through them. I erupt with spontaneous fits of giggling and clap my hands together for no visible reason. I become a giddy schoolgirl; I can’t help myself.
There are countless reasons to behave this way on the Second Sunday of September. Everyone’s experience is unique in their own way, but here are some of the more basic and universal reasons:
First off, it’s the NFL; the best of all the professional sporting leagues in America. The fewer number of games and the league parity make wins more of a premium than in MLB or in the NBA. The sport is perfect for television and falls on a day when responsibilities are customarily ignored anyway. Outside of God and grass-mowing, what else should Americans do on their Sundays?
The second reason to celebrate the elation that comes with the return of football season is because we’re lucky enough to share a favorite team.
The game is aesthetically pleasing enough on its own to entertain the most casual and indifferent of spectators, but to be emotionally invested in the action by rooting for a favorite team harkens back to sport’s oldest cliché concerning the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat (the skier that springs to mind when hearing those words turned out to be fine after that dreadful crash). Having a favorite team makes a person feel more participatory within the sport, and the emotional highs and lows somehow make the experience more fun. It’s a strange drug, the NFL, and right now I’m completely off the wagon; it’s too bad the local dealer only peddles the lower to mid-quality stuff around Cincinnati, but it’s Week 1 and I’m jonesing so I’ll take it.
This year’s crop of Bengal, however, promises to be of higher-grade compared to the foul-smelling dregs of last season. How much better is still anyone’s guess as opinions and predictions of this year’s team are all across the win-loss spectrum. Still, it’s almost unanimously agreed that the Bengals won’t repeat last year’s misery and that is reason alone to crack a smile.
Even if Cincinnati doesn’t win many more games, they will be, without a doubt, a more interesting team than a year ago.
There’s the young promising defense with new heavy-hitters, including one dynamic rookie linebacker who should blossom into a superstar right before our desperate eyes. The defensive line looks deep and fierce and is likely to get more pressure and sacks. And don’t forget about the two first-round corners, healthy and ready to come into their own, plus another linebacker returning from a broken jaw who could be the best of them all.
The offense has elements of intrigue as well. There’s the new veteran receiver to replace a pony-tailed legend, a new hotshot tight end and four running backs that can all do different things. They have a loud-mouth who looks sharp, a slim third receiver with tons of potential and their golden-boy quarterback returning from injury.
Yes, there is plenty of reason to smile on the eve of Week 1. All the stress and heartache, the yelling and cheering, the seriousness of it all, will come. For now, let’s toss aside the caution and analysis, allow our inner-fan to emerge and all agree that the Bengals will win the Super Bowl this year, once and for all.