Monday, September 30, 2002

Misery continues for Bengals' fans

By Erica Solvig
The Cincinnati Enquirer

John and Janie Elliott drove from Camden hoping to celebrate their third anniversary and a Bengals victory.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
        Decked out in an orange and black jersey and hat, John Elliott - a diehard Cincinnati Bengals fan since 1968 - had high hopes that Sunday's football game would end in a win. He and his wife, Janie, even made the nearly one-hour drive from their home in Camden, about 20 miles north of Hamilton, to celebrate their third wedding anniversary at the game.

        “I think Akili (Smith) is going to come out and give them the mobility that they've been lacking,” said 42-year-old Mr. Elliott at a pre-game tailgate party.

        But sitting in the south end zone, they watched those hopes fade with each Tampa Bay play. The game ended with a Buccaneers win, 35 to 7.

        “We're very disappointed,” Mr. Elliott said. “This ranks up with one of the worst season starts I've seen.”

        Many Bengals fans shared the Elliotts' disappointment Sunday afternoon. Those same fans had come to the game with curiosity that changing starting quarterbacks - benching Gus Frerotte for Akili Smith - could lead to a respectable performance.

        Instead, it led to a 0-4 season start.

        “The embarrassment has to stop,” said Wayne Herbers, 38, of Green Township. “I'm going to put my Tampa Bay hat on. Either way, I'm going to win at least one game this season.”

        The Bengals scored during the first quarter with a 51-yard interception return by linebacker Brian Simmons. It was the Bengals' first lead of the season.

        But the Buccaneers followed by scoring 35 consecutive points. Three of the touchdowns were on passes by quarterback Brad Johnson.

        Frustrated fans expressed their feelings by donning an “Official Mike Brown Bag” over their heads. The grocery bags, with two punch-out eyeholes that could be “cut only if you can bear to watch,” were distributed outside the stadium before the game.

        By halftime, the Buccaneers 21-7 lead over the Bengals had Andy Bakes considering putting his brown bag on.

        “As season ticket holders, we're fulfilling our end of the contract by coming to the game,” the 38-year-old Colerain Township man said. “But they're not fulfilling their end.”

        But for many longtime fans, a slow start to the season is nothing new. The Bengals are off to a 0-4 start for the third time in four years.

        “I'm heartbroken about it, and I'm sick of it,” said Ricky Ehemann, 40, of Eastgate. “But if it doesn't work out this year, maybe next year will be better.”

        That optimism is the reason that Dina Cain and her family have been Bengals fans since the 1980s.

        “Even if they don't win today, we'll be back,” said the 42-year-old Dayton, Ohio, mother of two. “We've been through this before. But they'll turn around eventually and make us proud.”

        John and Janie Elliott expressed similar sentiments as fourth quarter started. And when hundreds of people started leaving the game early, the couple made a pact to stick it out until the end of the game.

        “You can't blame them - they've given up hope,” Mr. Elliott said as people filed past them. “Us, never. It gets hard, but you can't lose hope.”

        Mark Curnutte contributed to this report.


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