NFL Season Preview: Cincinnati BengalsS

We are officially less than a month before the start of the NFL season, so it's probably time to start previewing the monster. The key to the NFL's success — other than fantasy football and gambling, of course — is the rabid nature of its fans. That is to say: You don't see a lot of people painting their faces for their favorite golfer.

We asked a gaggle of writers, from the Web, from print, from books, even a TV guy or two, to tell us, in as many or as little words as they need, why My Team Is Better Than Your Team. This is not meant to be factual, or dispassionate, or even logical: We just asked them to riff on why they love their team so much, or what their team means to them, or whatever. We will be running two a day until the beginning of the NFL season.

Right now: the Cincinnati Bengals. Your author is Shari Goldhagen.

Shari Goldhagen is the author of the novel Family And Other Accidents. Her words are after the jump.

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I am from Cincinnati — a town best known for kicking out pornographer Larry Flynt, arresting an arts curator for showing Mapplethorpe's cock photos, our former racist baseball team owner, Mayor Jerry Springer and a police force that occasionally starts riots by shooting random unarmed black kids. You may have heard of our chili, had a layover in our airport (inexplicably in Kentucky) or looked at your box of tampons or tube of toothpaste and noticed that it was born in the Queen City.

We have a football team, too. For years, almost everyone seemed to forget that. But lately the Bengals have been garnering some attention, most notably for our gimpy quarterback and the fact that 43.7 percent of our players were arrested during the offseason.

But in my youth, oh my youth ... well, we still were weird about race relations and sexy pictures, and we still produced a lot of toothpaste, but when the Bengals were good, the town transformed into a throbbing orange thing of beauty.

In the 1980s, the toothpaste took a back seat, and the city hummed with the kind of small-town pride about its team that you see in movies. For the entire season, every Kroger, Thriftway and IGA grocery store had racks of sweatshirts with pouncing, poorly drawn tigers and those cheap baseball caps that aren't adjustable. We bought these things and wore them without irony. Gas stations sported displays of orange and black key chains, bottle openers, socks, mugs, towels, floor mats, bumper stickers and can cozies. Every bakery had tiger-stripped cupcakes; Chili parlors sold cheese coneys in big boxes with tiger tails on the side.

It was contagious. On the playground we'd do the Ickey Shuffle. Girls who thought Boomer Esiason was cute would twirl permed hair and hope he "scored a home run." (I might have been one of them). My parents had friends and went to game day parties with beer. In art classes we made tiger pi

atas.

In middle school, my friend and I sold and misdelivered Girl Scout cookies to Anthony Munoz's family, and when we went back a day later to explain the Thin Mint/Ho-Down mix up, the Pro Bowler himself told us they'd already eaten the cookies. Recounting the story made us something close to heroes; it was briefly almost cool to be a Brownie.

When the Bengals made the Super Bowl, we had spirit days at my junior high, where it was required for everyone to wear team colors. "Welcome to the Jungle" was played between classes, even though most parents wouldn't let their kids buy the album because of its racy lyrics: We don't like those things in Cincinnati. Some of the players' kids who went to the school play-acted the potential win on the cafeteria stage. For some reason, one of the lesser-coaches' kids felt the need to run in slow motion; I think someone tripped. It didn't matter. We cheered and applauded, a part of something bigger than ourselves.

It's been a barren stretch since then, a time when Cincy was all toothpaste and layovers, but now you can feel the orange in the air. During last year's breakthrough season, a girlfriend of mine started talking about how Carson Palmer was cute and might have grand slam potential, my parents had Sunday activities, the Diet Coke I got at BP came in a black and orange cup. It's time.