Thursday, September 06, 2001

Bengals fans just looking for hope

        Bengals fans don't need a Super Bowl to be satisfied. They need to think it's again attainable.

        They need a reason to believe, a reason to return to the full-throated fanaticism of the “Who Dey” days, something to lord over those louts from Cleveland. Either that, or they could use a transfusion from Troy Blackburn.

        Blackburn is the son-in-law in charge of sunshine, the Bengals' director of business development and cockeyed optimism. When asked about her confidence in her father's football team Wednesday afternoon, Bengals vice president Katie Blackburn suggested the question be posed to her husband.

        “Anything short of 16-0 would be a disappointment,” Troy Blackburn said.

Dare to dream
        Because the Bengals finished last season 12 games short of 16-0 (and this preseason 1-3), Blackburn's declaration was a trifle dumbfounding.

        Blackburn was not predicting 16-0, mind you, but aiming at it — daring to think outside the dreary box of diminished expectations. It was a very unBengal thing to say.

        Even around the best of teams, football discourse tends to be dominated by tired euphemisms and timid disclaimers. Even in better days, Bengal oratory has been distinguished by its dullness.

        “When you win, say little,” Paul Brown decreed. “When you lose, say less.”

        With the notable exceptions of Sam Wyche and Boomer Esiason, the Bengals generally have adhered to PB's wishes. When asked to identify a source of confidence for Bengals fans Wednesday, head coach Dick LeBeau was as vague as a tobacco executive during a deposition.

        “I feel very good about the people in that dressing room over there and the account they will give of themselves,” LeBeau said. “I feel we've made significant strides on both sides of the ball. I feel good about the attitude of our team. I feel good about the mental toughness of our team ...

        “I am very confident we will be much better. How much better — and how much better the other guy is — we'll find out.”

        Bengals president Mike Brown, true to form, was similarly obtuse.

        “Like the chairman of the Federal Reserve, I want to guard against irrational exuberance,” Brown said. “But on the other hand, I'm hopeful.”

Can't win without belief

        Brown has been around football long enough to understand the perils of predictions. Yet though the meek might inherit the earth, they don't often win the Lombardi Trophy. Defense distinguished the Baltimore Ravens from their rivals last season, but there was also something to be said for their swagger. Confidence should not be curbed in pro football, but cultivated.

        “First of all, they need to know they can compete against anybody,” Bengals tackle John Jackson said. “Second of all, they've just got to go out and play football. Bad things happen. But the more adversity you have, the better you are. It makes you stronger.”

        If there is strength to be found in adversity, the Bengals should be able to bench-press Belgium by now. No other team has lost so consistently, drafted so disastrously and changed so reluctantly.

        The good news is that the Bengals don't have to be good to be better.

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