Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens flash their winning smiles for the masses, as throngs of media members and adoring fans swarm them to and froe. Their enormous talent and undeniable charm seems to disarm even the crankiest football purists and old schoolers. It seems no one can keep from joining in on the fawning.
There’s no denying that adding T.O. to this team has been an absolute boon to the Bengals. It has given the franchise its first major star free agent signing in its history, giving them instant credibility as a legitimate super bowl contender and freshly minted national respect and exposure.
Indeed, Batman and Robin have taken over the Queen City.
But while the carnival continues, Coach Marvin Lewis and the local media have thus far largely ignored the elephant in the room. Perhaps mesmerized by the glitz and glamour of our celebrity receivers, another one who was meant to be a super hero in his own right has continued to fly very conspicuously under the radar.
It may be difficult to remember, but wide receiver Antonio Bryant was the team’s marquee free agent acquisition this spring. The fact is they chose to sign Bryant over Owens back in March. Since then, the team has brought in the mercurial Owens and Bryant has practiced only once.
For weeks now we’ve been left to speculate and allow the rumor machine to develop a gamut of possible scenarios. They’ve ranged everywhere from him practicing in the coming days to him being cut, to his career being over. All the while, Lewis has been mum—even defiant—in a complete avoidance of the issue.
Getting any kind of information from Coach Lew is notoriously difficult, even during the best of times. His “between me and my team” approach surely wins loyalty within the organization, but breeds frustration and contempt outside. With cut-down days approaching, fans and league observers alike need to know what the real story is with the man they call “A.B.”
Lewis must peel back his striped iron curtain long enough to allow us to know what’s going on. The most he offered recently was, “He had a good day.” As for the man himself, Bryant has said he’s “really close” and plans to be ready for the opener.
The Politburo would be proud.
Perhaps the cloak-and-dagger routine is meant to protect reputations and super bowl dreams, or perhaps it’s meant to hide embarrassing truths. Did team doctors pass Bryant properly during his physical? Was his knee fully examined? Did Bryant do enough rehab in the offseason, and if not, who was responsible on the organization’s side? How on earth could a team invest 28 million dollars in a player in questionable health?
For now, these questions meet with the sounds of crickets chirping.
Nonetheless, the answers will come soon enough. Teams must cut rosters down to 75 on Tuesday, and to 53 the following week. It’s only a matter of time, and it’s running out on Bryant. AB gets 3 million dollars if he’s on the opening day roster, and meanwhile there are talented and healthy receivers grinding every day for his spot.
With a healthy AB, the circus has three rings. And so could the Bengals in a few years.
Without him, the water gets muddy, and players like Quan Cosby, Jerome Simpson, and Andre Caldwell must step up. With the most talented roster in years, the threat of a labor dispute in 2011 and a small window for NFL glory, the team must handle this situation right. And we deserve to know the truth.
So if Bryant cannot perform this year, put him on injured reserve. If his knee is shot, move on. If he’s actually close to practicing, for God’s sake let us know!
While Batman and Robin play the pied piper, leading the lemmings away, can someone please demand answers from Two-Face and the Riddler?