By Fergus Head.
The NFL claims to breed parity. Equal chances for (almost) every team to believe at this stage of the off-season they have a chance to do something great in the coming year, at least relative to themselves. The Browns for example only require a single win for their year’s burst of euphoria, whereas on the flip side the Eagles and Patriots have the hope and buzz of an already proven roster poised to do it again. All the way in between, the rest of the league promises personal, team, and world endeavour. For this I am truly grateful, but I’d argue that this electricity leaves the NFL indebted to one entity. The Cincinnati Bengals. The only team with no genuine belief that improvement or devolution is coming in any shape or form any time soon. No excitement whatsoever, just humdrum everlasting. Having a single team representing everything the NFL claims not to be, is like Plutarch depicting dastardly individuals in his Parallel Lives, to show us all what it could be like if we didn’t have the good.
First, a comprehension of the scope of what the Bengals have achieved is necessary. Imagine if in golf, in a theoretical world, there was one player regarded as utterly and abrasively middling. He’s never hit over or under par, in every competition he enters he smacks a handy 72, trots home down the middle of the road, indifferent in the face of mediocrity. No matter who says what, regardless of legendary advice, cash prizes, and historic allure, he does everything exactly the same to avoid progression or regression. He even pummels the odd drive into the rough if the round is looking too good, and hits a couple of eagles to rescue a dodgy one. Those closest to him clamour for a new trainer, or regime, or approach, but on he blindly ploughs resigning to the average. Now however unlikely, in golf, it’s somewhat feasible to imagine that the autonomous player, individual to the utmost degree, could make this call. The whys are irrelevant, point being it can be done, there’s no pyramid of power, only he has to decide that that’s what’s happening and it happens.
Now consider that the Cincinnati Bengals have translated this formula into a mass enterprise. From the 52-man roster, to the Head Coach and his staff, to the front office, and to everyone affiliated with running the franchise, they commit whole-heartedly to the bland, painful, so-so certainty of hitting a 72. As a result, Goodell and his merry men selling the sport have a dipstick of epic proportions, a 32th of the whole league is a constant, marching unstoppable force of complete and utter stagnancy. In return for this morbid commitment, the league always knows where it stands and everyone gets a metaphor for what not to want. Now to allow for the continuation of such a selfless device, many things need to be in place, and here we see the many grandiose debts that entwine
themselves with Cincinnati’s franchise and impact the way the NFL works today.
First and foremost, to have achieved this, the Bengals are indebted immeasurably to A.J. Green. A cunning ploy to justify their running-of-the-mill, having drafted a real-life stud, they can point at him for his entire career to show they can do their job and should be kept on in this mind-bogglingly flat lining existence. Many have been lulled into a false sense of security by what is effectively football’s version of ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ as Green and everything he possesses is poured into keeping mediocrity alive. He bails out Dalton, he bails out Marvin Lewis, he bails out every OC, and the GM. The method is maintained by this spark of quality. Of course, to redress the balance and averageness, Burfict is kept around to weigh down the other side, but together they handily cancel each other out. Moreover, another debt can be seen, endless, tired, repetitive storylines. ‘Burfict Banned’, ‘Burfict Out’, ‘Burfict an Evil ***t’ and the such like. It
is amazing how rich and deep the history of monotony in Cincinnati goes. Ask yourself when the last time Burfict didn’t have to start a season by being let off by Marvin Lewis. I’ll tell you the answer. It’s never. Even when Bart Starr was throwing TD's, Burfict was getting banned. It’s always been and always will be. Marvin Lewis is the man for the job because he’s not going to upset the balance. Oh how we are indebted to him for his undying tedium. Andy Dalton is such a non-entity, I don’t actually remember him doing anything. Did he play last year? Don’t know mate, I was in a blind stupor, wallowing in filth exuded as I resigned myself to sameness for life.
The greatest debt then goes to the fans. Subdued to boredom, we lack initiative as poignantly as all those in the club. “At least we aren’t the Browns!” we clamour. But to be honest, at this brazenly endorphin free crossroads, I’d rather we were anything else but what we are. But too much rides on it, the NFL could crumble. Can’t be risking that kind of thing, straight and narrow, faith in the system and all that. I just don’t know how long I’ll last…
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Mowlem is a sports writer from Reading, United Kingdom. All articles are written by Reece Mowlem (unless stated otherwise).