CINCINNATI, OH — I haven’t known a Bengals team like this in my 31 years of life.
My parents have a book of Jim Borgman cartoons at their house, mostly from the 80s and 90s while Borgman was the cartoonist for the Cincinnati Enquirer. There’s one cartoon, familiar again now, depicting a scary-looking tiger sitting in the end zone. The caption just reads “Next…”
This confused me as a kid, because I didn’t know this fearsome Bengal. I only knew that Cincinnati in the Super Bowl felt like a far-off dream, even in the years when we reached the first round of the playoffs.
Now, we are all swept up in the joy, giddy at the idea we could see our team win the Lombardi trophy.
Cincinnati, which sits on the Ohio River, has an identity. Other cities try to change and reinvent themselves. Cincy is Cincy and will likely always remain so, even with new entertainment districts, streetcars, and current national media exposure.
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The city is alive right now, clad in black and orange as its residents await the biggest Cincinnati professional sports moment in more than 30 years. The Queen City has been in a championship drought since 1990, when our Reds won the World Series. We’re ready to be a championship city again.
I stood with some of my fellow black and orange believers the other night on Fountain Square, the symbolic center of the city (you may recall seeing it in the opening credits of WKRP in Cincinnati), and we were so excited — singing, dancing and “Who Dey”-ing at one another.
The hope, belief and pride in this city are wonderful to see. And people are happy, which is also wonderful to see. It has been a hard time for all of us, and feeling the joy even on a small trip to the store is a balm for the soul.
I want to mention a place about 155 miles east of Cincinnati, and that’s Athens County. It’s one of Ohio’s 32 Appalachian counties, with the beautiful Hocking River rolling through.
Joe Burrow is a beloved son in Athens County. Jim Burrow, Joe’s father, coached at Ohio University from 2005-2018. The Burrows lived in The Plains, where Joe was during the 2020 NFL Draft.
Even before Burrow won the Heisman, local businesses showed their support for him on billboards and with signs. The purple and gold of LSU was just as common as the green and white of Ohio University, which has its main campus in Athens.
I actually lived there, too, from 2018-2020, and saw how proud people are of him. When Burrow won the trophy, signs went up almost overnight in The Plains celebrating him.
I mean, the Athens High School football stadium is Joe Burrow Stadium. They are so proud of him there.
You may remember from his Heisman speech that Joe Burrow loves Athens County back — he spoke during his Heisman speech about the poverty there. sparking a big fundraising push for the food bank.
“It’s a very, very impoverished area and the poverty rate is almost two times the national average,” Burrow said at the time. “And there’s so many people there that don’t have a lot and I’m up here for all those kids in Athens and Athens County that go home to not a lot of food on the table, hungry after school. You guys can be up here, too.”
The Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fund, which supports the Athens County Food Bank, has raised more than $1 million. That money has meant so much to families experiencing food insecurity.
Sports. They really help bring us together.
We’re not long now until the big game. I’ve loved seeing Bengals faces of old, including Boomer Esiason and Ickey Woods, celebrate us. Bengals support has flowed in from all corners of Ohio and around the world, further exciting Who Dey Nation as we get ready for a historic night.
We’ve embraced our new fans from Louisiana who followed Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase and Tyler Shelvin north, with a local bakery even making a special “Rule the Jungle” king cake as a nod to our bayou Bengals. A plastic “baby Joey” is inside one of the slices.