The magic of 1988's Super Bowl run lives in Cincinnati. What if the Bengals win?: Doc's TML

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I’ve never seen the Republic of Cincinnati more jazzed than the weeks leading up to the ’88 Super Bowl. We like to think this is a baseball town and in some ingrained, historical ways, it is. But the Reds haven’t moved this town and brought us all together the way the Bengals did in 1988-89. Not even in ’90.

It’s even more obvious now. Some of that owes to the changing times. The NFL lapped MLB a long time ago. Now, it’s just piling on. When it comes to our choice of games, baseball is never going to be #1 again, even here.

Baseball Town? If griping about the team were the local measuring stick, then yes. Cynicism regarding the Reds has never been higher in my 34 years here. Meantime, the resurgent love affair with the Bengals grows with every win.

Baseball’s stitch in the local fabric will never be challenged. The Reds tap into the local psyche in ways the Bengals can’t reach. Tradition, history, Pete and Johnny and the Ol’ Lefthander. A hundred years from now, hushed tones will still be reserved for the Big Red Machine.

But excitement? Passion? The whole city, joined as one cheering the deeds of Joe and Ja’Marr?

Look at the way we feel about high school football. Friday nights are every bit the big deal that Sunday afternoons are. UC’s phoenix-like rise has added jet fuel to the football fire. In ’88, “Ickey’’ and “Boomer’’ and “Sam’’ rolled off our tongues just as easily as “Eric’’ and “Barry’’ and “Pete’’. Maybe easier.

Baseball has become event-driven here. Opening Day, bobbleheads, reunions, nights honoring former stars. Baseball is a time machine.

During the 2005 season, I wrote a column headlined, “RIP, Baseball Town’’ decrying the low attendance and the flailing team. I wrote lots of stuff then I’m writing in this post. Bob Castellini told me once that reading that column was a reason he decided to buy the club.

Intermittent success has not been enough to keep baseball at the top of the local sports heap. And now we can’t get enough of the Bengals. All it ever took for Cincinnati to be a Football Town was for the Bengals to be somewhat better than heartbreakers. And to win a damned playoff game.

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That day has come. Given the roster makeup, it’s not a stretch to say the title will remain for several years, at least. The magic of ’88 lives.

What if the Bengals win Saturday?

Now, then. . .

HERE’S A FAIR TAKE on why we love the NFL, even as it falls short on so many social levels. NY Times columnist Kurt Streeter:

It weathers all storms — from Hurricane Kaepernick to the deluge of pain, uncertainty and death caused by Covid-19. It has an ever-tightening grip on America and its culture, tapping into our fascination with violence, our need for high drama, our desire to witness brilliance unfurling under extreme duress. (See: Brady, Tom.)

Why can’t we turn away?

Right along with the drama, the crushing blows and brilliant spectacle of it all, another reason is the game’s unrivaled ability to bring people together. The most ardent boosters of rival politicians find themselves elbow to elbow at bars or perched together in the upper tiers of N.F.L. stadiums.

You will argue that the NFL doesn’t exist to be a shining light on our collective conscience. Here we are now. Entertain us.

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I’d suggest the all-powerful league does have a duty to set a decent example on how to be better, given the money it rakes in owing to its massive popularity. It’s a corporation, it is powerful. Don’t we ask other corporations to be good citizens?

MEN SEEKING REPEAT. . . Week 8 last year, the Bengals improved to 2-5-1 with a 31-20 busting of Tennessee. They were up 24-7 with 14 minutes to play.

Burrow was 26-37-249, two TD passes, zero picks. Ja’Marr Chase was still at LSU.

Derrick Henry ran for 112 yards, but the Bengals held the ball for 36 minutes. If that happens this weekend, the outcome could be similar to last season.

Stopping The King: Here's how the Bengals run defense stacks up against Titans star Derrick Henry

"Enough to make you puke," was Titans coach Mike Vrabel's opinion of the proceedings.

FROM THE MEN PRESSER TUESDAY. . .

“You’ve got to tackle him as much as he wants to run the ball.’’ – D.J. Reader on Derrick Henry.

AND YOUR DAILY JOE. A COLLECTION OF Joe quotes, always enlightening:

“The key for us is getting that first 1st down. It’s almost always points’’ from there. “We can be aggressive, take our shots.’’

“I always think about how long it takes me to feel comfortable about where I’m going to put my eyes.’’ -- Burrow on how much film study he does.

“Stay level-headed. If I go out rah-rah, I know I’m going to burn out in the 4th quarter.’’

AND IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING. . .

The Titans are 2-3 in the postseason at Nissan Stadium, with the losses all at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens. They haven’t won a playoff game at home since edging Pittsburgh 34-31 in overtime in the divisional round in January 2003.

Cincinnati has never won on the road in seven playoff games.

I MISSED TML TUESDAY because I was interviewing Mike Brown. Frequent and Long Time Perusers might know of my affection for Mike, even as I understand why 99.999 percent of Bengals fans don’t share that view. Mike’s a good human being, and that should count for something.

He’s funny, drily. His intelligence intimidates me. He does stuff like feed the birds daily from his office window. He’s reading two books now, one about the Aztecs and another on, he says. “the development of the English language.’’

I asked him to compare Burrow with his favorite Bengals QB, Greg Cook. On Cook: “Football just came to him. He didn’t have to study. He was the A student who didn’t have to do the homework.’’

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On Burrow: “I’ve never seen anyone as intense as Joe. He reminds me of Peyton Manning. He was on top of the game. You always felt he was a step ahead. Joe has some of that.’’

When I look around the league and see some of the men who own teams, I like Mike even more. Mike or Dan Snyder? Mike or Jerry Jones? Mike or anybody who has owned the Browns in the last half century?

I’ve always said that if circumstances were different – if he weren’t the owner of a team and I did something for a living other than write about teams -- I’d like to think Mike and I would be friends.

THE GREATEST USE OF PROFANITY IN SPORTS was captured by a Chicago radio guy named Les Grobstein. He died at 69 Tuesday. AP:

Grobstein was the overnight host on WSCR radio, and he served for a decade as the station's sports director. However, he was best known as the person who captured the legendary profanity-laden rant by Cubs manager Lee Elia on his tape recorder after a difficult loss in 1983.

Grobstein was one of four reporters present in the manager's office when Elia exploded after a loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers that afternoon dropped his team's record to 5-14.

In a 2018 interview with The Athletic, Grobstein recalled how he insisted a producer at WLS radio record a copy of Elia's comments for Grobstein's show later that day, even though the station wasn't allowed to play tape live on the air:

"I called into our production studio and our engineer, a woman named Renee Tondelli who now lives out in L.A., I called her and said, 'We’ve got to roll tape.' She says you know we can’t do that. I said, 'Just shut up, roll tape and comment after you hear this.'

Here's the USAToday story, rant included. Not for tender ears.

TUNE O’ THE DAY. . . meant to play this one the other day, in honor of Ronnie Spector. She died this week. Here she is with Southside Johnny.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: NFL playoffs: What if the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Titans Saturday?