Struggling with eternal optimism

Brock Harrington

Growing up around a terrible football team (the Cincinnati Bengals), I developed eternal optimism for the teams I follow.

Bad quarterback? No, Akili Smith is still learning Bruce Coslett’s system, was my excuse.

If people know those two names, then they understand how bad the Bengals were when I was growing up on the east side of Cincinnati.

The Bengals struggled when they won. They struggled when they had a great running back. They struggled when they had a seemingly talented defense. But I always thought positively about the team.

And they struggled when they had coaches who came from good stock. The Bungles struggled when a Shula coached the team. The Steelers’ genius defensive coordinator Dicky LeBeau?

Yeah, he was our coach for a few years, and he struggled. But I was always the guy saying, “Dude, you can see Big Daddy (Dan) Wilkinson taking in the coaching.”

The Bengals became the laughingstock of the NFL, and it became worse when other perennially losing teams, such as Tampa Bay, started winning. And I was there saying, “Hey, Reinard Wilson (14th overall pick in the 1997 NFL draft and six-year player) can be our Warren Sapp (eight-time Pro-Bowler with 96.5 career sacks).

And just as I was graduating high school, the Bengals emerged as contenders, easing my mind that my predictions finally came true.

Just as I was walking out of NFL fan hell, I leaped into a world of lateral passes that are dropped, quarterback draws that originate as dropback passes, red zone interceptions and goal-line fumbles. I danced into the wide world of Kent State football.

Saturday, the Flashes played an inferior team in Delaware State – inferior because the Hornets are a lower-division team with talent that suits them. Athletically, maybe the Hornets were even with us, but there was a clear division.

Kent State won 24-3.

The Flashes haven’t played terribly in the first three weeks, but they have struggled enough for me to realize that it’s going to be a long season. As talented as senior quarterback Julian Edelman is, he hasn’t grasped the passing offense, just like Akili Smith. The Flashes’ defense can pin down plenty of offenses, but it doesn’t matter if that offense starts its drives five yards away from the end zone because of a fumble or blocked punt, just like the 1998 Bengals.

Like the Bengals, the Flashes don’t finds ways to win games – they find ways to lose them. Like Kent State, the Bengals have talent to compete in a tough, parody-filled conference, but injuries and money issues hurt their chances.

The Bengals can’t sign a free agent defensive tackle. The Flashes can’t afford to play more teams from the Mountain West or Conference USA because they don’t cash in quite like Ohio State or Iowa State.

By the time the Bengals develop that rookie run stopper, Jamal Lewis (or in 1998, Eddie George), has already helped the Bengals land a 1-3 first-half record.

By the time the Flashes reach that early Mid-American Conference match-up with Akron, the Flashes are already 1-3 (which would have been awesome in 1998, considering the Flashes were 0-11 that year).

So how does the culture change? Well, for Cincinnati it happened not with the hiring of Marvin Lewis but with a win over the Browns in 2003. After that 21-14 win Sept. 28, 2003, the Bengals went on to have an 8-8 season and show fans there was hope. In 2005, they made the playoffs, and Skyline gave away free coneys and 3-ways for everyone.

So is this 24-3 win over Delaware State the beginning to a culture change for the Flashes? The Flashes started 0-2. The Bengals started 0-3 in 2003.

Could Julian Edelman turn into Jon Kitna and Shawn Bayes emerge as the artist formerly known as Chad Johnson?

Well, like I said, I’m struggling with eternal optimism, and the Bengals are 0-2 and look really bad. But I think if Edelman keeps running the option with Eugene Jarvis catching pitches, this team could win some games. They have to, right?

Then again, I’m still waiting for 1995 No. 1 overall pick Ki-Jana Carter to make a comeback.

Contact sports editor and struggling eternal optimist

Brock Harrington at [email protected].