The day was January 24, 1982. The Cincinnati Bengals were preparing to play the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XVI, and young Chad had a choice to make.
Growing up, baseball had always been in the background, in one way or another. I was born during the heyday of the Big Red Machine, and though I have no personal memories of actually watching the Reds dynasty, I do remember people talking about them. Baseball cards were everywhere in our neighborhood in those days. Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall always seemed to be chattering on the radio as we went about our daily business. The sport was just ever-present in our lives, and it has remained so in the years since.
Football was different, for some reason. My very first memory of the NFL — and the Bengals in particular — came during the aforementioned Super Bowl XVI. I remember the day very vividly, even though my age was still in the single digits at the time.
I remember it so well because we went to a party! A Super Bowl party, something that seemed terribly exciting to me. I was just beginning a lifelong love affair with sports, and the idea of getting together with friends and family to eat junk food and watch a game…well, I don’t have to explain the appeal of these gatherings to you. I suspect most of you have attended similar events.
But it was new to me at the time. We rolled up to our uncle’s house and my brother and I jumped out of our AMC station wagon and ran to the door. Soon thereafter, as the adults were discussing the upcoming game, it began to dawn on me that I didn’t really know anything about the Super Bowl. I was even completely baffled by the letters after “Super Bowl.” (Those aren’t numbers!)
At some point, I did become vaguely aware that the game was between teams called the 49ers and the Bengals. I literally knew nothing about either of these teams. Well, that’s not quite true, I suppose. I knew that every adult in the room seemed to be pulling for the Bengals, and some were quite excited about it.
With the pregame show rattling on in the background, I distinctly remember my uncle asking me who I would be cheering for in the big game. In retrospect, I believe he was probably on a recruiting mission. That particular uncle has been a lifelong, die-hard Bengals fan. He just wanted to make sure that his young nephew wasn’t led astray when it came to important matters like American football.
It occurred to me that I had never even thought about who I would be pulling for. But I remember my response. In a early fit of stubborn contrariness that would later mark my teenage years, I decided I was going to go against the grain. If everyone else in the room was a Bengals partisan, well, I was going to be a 49ers fan. “San Francisco is my favorite team,” I announced on the spot.
My uncle, and several others, protested. “We’re Bengals fans! You can’t cheer for the Niners!” Oh, but I begged to differ and the budding little narcissist in me enjoyed the attention that was directed my way. (In reality, my uncle probably just rolled his eyes and went back for more chips and dip. But this is my memory, and I’m telling you what I remember!)
I knew the basics of the sport — we played two-hand touch in the neighborhood occasionally — but for the first time in my life, I settled in to really watch a football game. It was also the first time I heard the voices Pat Summerall and John Madden, as they broadcast the game for CBS. The Bengals kicked the ball into the air and I prepared to begin walking down the road to my destiny as the world’s biggest San Francisco 49ers fan.
And things almost immediately went awry. San Francisco’s Amos Lawrence was hit hard by the Bengals’ Guy Frazier and fumbled the opening kickoff. Cincinnati recovered, and the “I told you to root for the Bengals” comments from those around me caused me to flush with embarrassment. When quarterback Kenny Anderson led the Bengals all the way to the 5-yard line, I began to suspect that I had chosen poorly. How could I go against everyone in the room? What was I trying to prove? Was it too late to renounce my undying love for the 49ers that had existed for at least twenty minutes?
But what was this? An interception by the Niners? Alright! I watched as a young unknown (to me) quarterback named Joe Montana took his place behind the offensive line and led the Niners all the way down the field. When he plunged across the goal line on a quarterback sneak to give his team — our team — a 7-0 lead, I jumped to my feet. It was complete and utter vindication for my choice!
What a roller coaster I was on. Was it always like this, I wondered? No matter, as the 49ers continued to build on their lead, I obnoxiously cheered louder and louder, soaking in all the frowns on the faces of everyone else in the room. When the first half ended with a 20-0 lead after another Bengals kickoff miscue and 49ers score, one thing had become clear: I was the only smart person in the room.
But something just didn’t feel right. I listened at halftime as the adults analyzed what had happened in the first half. (I don’t remember anyone paying attention to the halftime performance by “Up With People.”) Here I was, on my way to a life of happiness as a young football fan — the 49ers would win five championships in the ensuing years — but as I heard the disappointment in the voices around me, I was ashamed.
“We’re a Cincinnati sports family,” my uncle had told me before the game. I guess I knew that — everyone I knew loved the Reds, Bengals, or both — but it wasn’t something that had really registered with me until that moment. What does that mean? I can’t pick which team I want to support?
What I discovered is that, yes, I would be allowed to choose my own teams. But if I did so, I’d be taking sides against the family.
I decided then and there to reverse course. Young Chad simply couldn’t take the pressure. Despite the 20-0 deficit, I was now a die-hard Bengals fan. What happened next is a pretty good microcosm of much of the rest of my life as a Cincinnati sports fan.
The Bengals immediately rewarded me for hopping on the bandwagon at a low moment. On the first possession of the second half, Cincinnati went to work. On first down, a 13-yard rush by Charles Alexander. Two plays later, Kenny Anderson fired a 19-yard completion to Steve Krieder. After nine plays and 83 yards, Anderson took the ball across the goal line, cutting the deficit to 20-7. The comeback was on Go Bengals!
There was no more scoring the rest of the third quarter, but there was plenty of excitement among the Bengals contingent in the room. Cincinnati dominated the quarter on both sides of the ball. The Bengals defense stuffed the Niners time and again, limiting them to eight plays and just four total yards of offense in the entire quarter.
Then, on their first possession of the fourth quarter, the Bengals scored again — a touchdown pass from Anderson to tight end Dan Ross — making the score 20-14. Everyone in the room was convinced that the Bengals were going to win and, once again, I was vindicated in my wise choice of a football club. I’m a lucky charm, I thought.
But then, in the grand tradition of Cincinnati sports team from time immemorial, the Bengals got me incredibly excited only to break my heart in the end. Montana and the Niners embarked on a long drive that chewed time off the clock and added three points to their lead. When Anderson threw an interception on the first play of the ensuing Bengals drive, it was over. San Francisco had won their first Super Bowl ever, with many more to come. The Bengals are still waiting.
After living and dying with them for precisely one half of football, I was now a Bengals fan. The next year, I began collecting football cards. I watched as the Bengals went 7-2 in a strike-shortened season, losing in the first round of the playoffs. (That would become a common theme in subsequent seasons).
Ultimately, I drifted away from professional football fandom, and thus was spared much of the heartache and headaches of life as hardcore Bengals fan throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Joe Burrow is making me think I should pay more attention to the Bengals these days. If I do return the fold, at least I’ll know what I’m getting myself into this time around…unlike last time, all the way back in 1982.
This Week at The Magazine
My Cincinnati Magazine column this week is a wrap up of the 2020 Reds season, and a look at why hope shouldn’t be a strategy for the front office this winter.
Blast From The Past
This week’s blast from the past comes from 1997. It’s a look at the blue, green, and red seats at everyone’s favorite former stadium. Did you ever attend a game there where someone wasn’t sitting all the way in the top row of the red seats, no matter how sparsely attended the game was?
If you have a Cincinnati sports-related picture you’d like to share here, send it my way (firstname.lastname@example.org). Only rule: it has to be a picture from before 2000.
What I’m Reading
C. Trent Rosecrans: “What are the Reds’ options at shortstop for 2021?” ($)
Grant Freking: “Battered FC Cincinnati Limps Down the Home Stretch”
Justin Williams: “John Brannen spices up Crosstown Shootout with game announcement Twitter video” ($)
Robert Weintraub: “Burrow’s Baltimore Beatdown Was a Nightmare”
Wick Terrell: “"What about the Cincinnati Reds prospects we never saw in 2020?”
Doug Gray: “Should the Reds look into pitcher Hyeon-Jong Yang?”
This week, I also read a book that had been gathering dust on my shelf for a while: Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an American Obsession. It’s a generally entertaining — though dry in parts — look at the history of the baseball card industry. I was a pretty serious card collector in my youth, so it sparked a good bit of nostalgia in my home. If you are a collector or former collector, it’s worth a read.
What Chad’s Watching
That looks like a lot of movies to watch in one week, but there are actually only three full-length films there. “Frenzy” is late-career Alfred Hitchcock, a 1972 thriller about a London serial killer and a case of mistaken identity. Typical Hitchcock plot, right? Well, it’s just as satisfying as you’d expect from the suspense master. Definitely recommend.
“The Long Voyage Home” is directed by John Ford and features John Wayne, and yet it isn’t a western. Far from it, in fact; adapted from four Eugene O’Neill one-act plays, it follows the crew of a WW2-era merchant ship trying to survive a transatlantic crossing. I like Ford and I like Wayne, but this is not one of their best efforts.
“Trouble in Paradise” is a sophisticated 1932 comedy directed by Ernst Lubitsch, and starring some people you’ve probably never heard of. But it’s really good, a precursor to the glamorous, fast-paced comedies like the Myrna Loy/William Powell “Thin Man” series and those films featuring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn that popped up later in the decade. Good stuff.
The others on the list above are two short cartoons, and “Neighbors,” another superb Buster Keaton silent film. Keaton was a genius, and it’s too bad that he isn’t generally recognized as such.
The World’s Most Dangerous Podcast
On this week’s podcast, we discussed the legacy — and the legend — of Joe Morgan, the Reds Hall of Famer who passed away last week. At one point, discussion centered around whether Morgan was the best player ever to wear a Cincinnati Reds uniform. (Spoiler alert: he was.)
We talk about the Cincinnati Reds — for better or for worse — every single week on RNR. Join us for free by subscribing everywhere you find dangerous podcasts. Or any other podcast, really. And you can support the podcast here.
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