Thursday, October 27, 2011

No Success Like Failure

Mick Jagger was right: you can’t always get what you want. For years now, all I’ve wanted is a football franchise that wasn’t weighed down by endless mounds of futility. All I’ve wanted is a front office that wasn’t constantly striving for mediocrity. All I’ve wanted is an owner that would toss his stubbornness and egotism aside for two freaking minutes, just long enough to realize that he needs to hire a general manager, a man proficient enough to avoid spinning his wheels for nearly two decades of agonizingly frustrating football. All I’ve wanted is a collection of players that weren’t defined by a select few goofballs and chowder heads in love with their own reflection. All I’ve wanted is a quarterback that was willing to stick with it through the thin times, that looked off receivers, played with more animated facial expressions than Simon Cowell and didn’t grab his ball and stomp home the first time someone gave him a rough time for sucking. All I want is some competence.

But if you try sometimes…

Don’t worry – I’m not overreacting. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that the Cincinnati Bengals are playoff bound, that Andy Dalton is the red-headed reincarnation of Jesus Christ, that A.J. Green should be fast-tracked to the Hall of Fame, and that if this team’s defense would have been stationed in Poland in the 1940s, WWII would have never happened. Those things would be ridiculous. I won’t even say that this year’s Bengals squad (which currently stands at 4-2) is really even that good. They’re probably just a lot better than anyone thought they would be (ditto for Dalton, Green, and the defense) and have been aided early on by an easy schedule. And I won’t say that the recent trade of Carson Palmer to the Oakland Raiders makes up for the infinite displays of ineptitude and stupidity by Mike Brown during almost 20 years at the helm. But it’s nice to change up the status quo. It’s nice to have a group of excited young players encouraged by early success. And it’s nice when Mike Brown finally gets something right.

I’d rather not discuss at great length how I feel about the whole Carson Palmer situation. In fact, I’ve made a concerted effort to avoid delving in to the whole ordeal…so I’ll just keep it short. Yes, I can completely understand why coming and working for the Brown regime everyday might drive a player away. And yeah, I can respect to a certain degree the idea that Carson felt his relationship with the team had played itself out in Cincinnati. And true, hearing Mike Brown lecture someone about commitment and responsibility is like the Jersey Shore cast teaching a calculus class. But it doesn’t make what Carson did ok. It doesn’t change the fact that he quit, walked away, and (quietly) whined about his current state of affairs. It doesn’t change the fact that he did sign a contract and did commit to the team for millions of dollars over the next few seasons. Brown warrants heaps of criticism for his track record, but to his credit, he’s taken that in full. Carson now deserves some, too. That’s why I was basically on Mike Brown’s side through this saga. If Palmer wanted to sit home and pout, fine. Go for it. We have a new quarterback. We have football. We have a team. You can have your fancy house in Southern California and a giant pacifier. You weren’t that good anymore anyways. No one suffers from you walking away except you. Stick to your guns Mike Brown. For once, be yourself.

Is that slightly childish on my part? Wouldn’t it be smarter to just get rid of a player we didn’t want and who wasn’t going to play for something that could help the team? Wasn’t this all a little too “cut off your nose to spite your face?” Yeah…but I didn’t care. I catch enough flack for being a Bengals fans from the rest of the world. I don’t need it from the guys on my (yeah, I said it – my) team. But then something happened. Raiders QB Jason Campbell busted up his shoulder, just as Oakland was shaping into a pretty good squad. Chalking up the season to an injured quarterback wasn’t an option, so the Raiders grew antsy, hasty, maybe even certifiably insane. They called up the Bengals – who remained adamant about not trading Carson – and offered a first round pick and a second-round-could-be-first-round pick for the same guy that slings interceptions like a baker flinging pastry. Mike Brown may be dumb, but no one is dumb enough to turn that down.

It was a weird feeling. I’ve certainly agreed with a few Mike Brown decisions over the years (signings or draft picks) and have even been relatively happy with him at times (’05, ’09), but I’ve never been simultaneously as shocked and proud as I was with the Carson trade. I was in Brown’s corner to begin with, but when word started trickling out what he was reportedly swindling from Oakland, I had two thoughts, in this order: first, I thought someone was holding a gun to his head and this was his way of signaling us; then, when things became too definite to be ransom-driven, I actually – for a few fleeting moments – wondered if Brown was some evil genius. I know, but it’s true. How had he done it? Did the Raiders have no game tape on Palmer after 2006? Was Carson holding a gun to their head? Mike Brown robbed the Raiders like he was Jesse James on a train car. I was confounded, flabbergasted, flummoxed, and dumbfounded. I still am.

On the surface, it was a win-win. Carson got the trade he had been pining for, and even to a west coast team like we all knew he wanted. The Bengals (and more importantly, Brown) made the fans happy by unloading Palmer’s distraction riddled persona, fat/stagnant contract and carcass of a throwing arm (all of which were providing no benefit to the team) for two top-end draft picks (both of which afford endless potential to benefit the team). Hell, even the Raiders and their fans were excited, making it a win-win-win…at least for a few days.

Which leads us to Sunday, October 23, 2011 – a day I will forever remember quite fondly. Palmer didn’t arrive in Oakland for practice until mid-week, forcing the Raiders to start Kyle Boller in Week 7. But after Boller turned in what could only be described as a pathetic half of football, Palmer got tossed in during the third quarter, facing a 21-point deficit. Now I would never wish any harmful or malicious ill will on another human being (or at least this is what I tell myself), and I would never want Palmer to suffer another terrible injury or somehow hinder his chances of living a successful life away from the game. And yet, I wanted nothing more than for him to crash and burn. I wanted everyone else to see what I had seen, what other Bengals fans had seen for the past few years, even if it took us all a while to admit it. I actually wanted people to realize and praise Mike Brown for what a brilliant move he had made. And you thought I was being childish before?

Lo and behold, some otherworldly force out there felt the same way I did. Carson Palmer threw three interceptions in the second half, only one of which wasn’t a completely vomit-inducing pass. The first – a quintessential Carson Palmer pick-six – was telegraphed so blatantly that everyone in the universe saw it coming, except Palmer himself. My granny could have nabbed it and taken it to paydirt. And as Carson was jogging after a wide-eyed defender and his clear path to the endzone, I couldn’t contain the grin that spread across my face. It stayed there the rest of the game, and I have a feeling that Mike Brown was feeling the exact same way. Which is good. For once, he deserved a moment like that. I hope it’s not the last.

When it comes to the Bengals, I’ve wanted a lot of different things for a long, long time. There have been fleeting instances here and there, and at least for right now, I’m stuck right in the middle of one yet again. I have no clue how long it will last this time around, but I’d be a fool to start worrying about that. Instead, I’ll embrace the fact that I finally got what I want, if only for a moment.

Carson got what he wanted, too, and I hope it’s everything he dreamed it would be. So far, it sure as heck has been for me.

Thanks for reading

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