Bengal Ball

By Kevin Faris

During the non-stop media coverage following the death of former President Ronald Reagan, one of the things that was often said about him was his ability not only to be optimistic, but to bring out the optimism in others. He wanted to be the President who helped Americans believe in America again. Optimism is a tricky thing. Anyone can say the words or go through the motions, but to spread that optimism, to share it with others and make them truly believe, requires a lot of trust, faith, and maybe a little something extra and mysterious. Something few people have. Cincinnati Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis is someone who possesses this gift.

There is no need to re-hash the history of the Bengals. To sum it up, during the 1990s, no NFL team lost more games. They were beyond simply being a bad football team; they became a national joke. Even the construction of one of the nicest football stadiums in America did not stop the slide and it appeared that the owner of the Bengals, Mike Brown, was poised to go down in history as the worst owner of all time, which is hard to do since Donald Sterling of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers is also in the running. Then, before the 2003 season the Bengals hired Marvin Lewis. When he arrived, everyone knew his reputation. A young, bright defensive mind who won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens. What we did not know about him was his gift of optimism, and the way it affected so many people.

This optimism is why the Scott County Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Monday, June 22 was packed full of people. The Bengals are no longer a “new” sensation, the time for curiosity has long since passed, but the chance to hear Coach Lewis speak was not an opportunity to be missed.

Lewis began his talk with a “State of the Bengals” of sort. The 8-8 record of 2003 was “Ground Zero,” he stated, and his leadership requires that you do not “worry about the past, because if you are worrying about the past, you do not look to the future.” In one simple phrase, he seemed to focus those in attendance on what the Bengals can do.

He praised the great facilities at Georgetown College and the city of Georgetown itself. Georgetown College plays an important role for the Bengals, the “relationship and friendship” are part of what they bring to the table. The ability to sleep, eat, and work all in one place helps put the team’s “body and mind in condition.” In Coach Lewis’s view, “role players makes successful teams” and Georgetown should be proud of the role they play.

As Coach Lewis segued into the question and answer section, he was faced with the obvious and inevitable quarterback question. After a Pro Bowl caliber season, why did Lewis feel the need to demote Jon Kitna and promote former Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer. “Carson Palmer is the best quarterback on the team. He must take care of the ball, or he won’t be.” He talked about how the goal last year was to bring in free agents that would “raise the level of professionalism” on the Bengals, something else that slid by the wayside during the miserable 1990s. Kevin Hardy, Tory James, and Reggie Kell fulfilled that need and this season they tried to get younger. Without talking in specifics, he feels the 2004 draft class will be “great” and have a real chance to look back and see the mark they were able to put on the team.

While all of the questions about the nuts and bolts of the team, players, free agents, draftees, etc, served a purpose and allowed Lewis to explain what he expects of his players, his organizational philosophy was what reeled the crowd in. It was his ability to help them forget the past and look forward. When asked what the team’s goals were, Lewis simply stated that the goals “don’t change.” “Go undefeated at home. Win the AFC North. Win the AFC. Win the Super Bowl. These are our achievable goals.” Now, most, of not all, coaches say this, but less truly believe it. Although it may be inconceivable for a Bengals fan to see these as achievable goals, when Lewis stated this to the luncheon crowd they seemed to believe it, because they believed him.

In the past couple of years, the excitement of having an NFL team work out in Georgetown seemed to have worn off a bit and there was talk about not continuing the relationship. All of that seems far in the past now. No one can tell you for sure what the Bengals will do this fall. Palmer could struggle. The free agents and draft picks could not live up to their potential. The team could lose. But today, Bengal fans are heading into the season with hope. Marvin Lewis has helped Bengal fans believe in the Bengals again. Lewis ended his talk reinforcing that belief. “Everyone seems preoccupied with what we can’t do. We can’t do this. We can’t do that. We are going to do everything people thought we couldn’t do. Why not us?” n

Bengals camp runs from July 30-August 25th. The evening scrimmage with fireworks will be Friday August 6th and the Black/Orange mock game will be Saturday August 7th. Wednesday night practices are August 4, 11, and 18. Admission is free, but parking is $10.