Monday, August 14, 2006

The REAL national pastime

CINCINNATI, Aug. 13 -- Are you ready for some football?

If the raucous, mostly intoxicated crowd at Paul Brown Stadium tonight is any indication, the answer is a resounding "Yes!"

Tonight's Bengals preseason opener against the Washington Redskins is sold out. The 64,961 fans in attendance didn't seem put off by the fact that quarterback Carson Palmer, still recovering from his season-ending injury, won't play.

Nope, they're all decked out in orange and black, yelling and smiling like kids at Christmas. The parking lot is full of revellers an hour before the game. Many are drinking, of course. Some play corn pole, an updated version of horseshoes, in which the object of the game is to throw a bag into a board -- specifically the small hole in the center. Most of the boards here are Bengal-themed.

Bengals fans don't like opposing teams. One guy spots a couple of Redskins partisans making their way into the stadium.

"Look," he says. "There's some Redskins fans. Let's kill them!"

They especially don't like the Steelers. Pittsburgh, of course, was the team responsible for Palmer's injury. Even the homeless guy sitting in front of the stadium is in on it. Instead of "Out of Work," his sign reads, "(Expletive) the Steelers."

"I guarantee you he'll get some money," Jaci Spicer says as we walk into the stadium.

Former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis is in town. His new job is an analyst for NBC Sports. The fans let him have it. Boos reign down while Bettis prepares to broadcast the halftime report with Bob Costas and Cris Collinsworth. Bettis takes it in stride, bowing and waving an imaginary Terrible Towel.

Cincy fans are a mean bunch. They don't even care much for their backup quarterback, Anthony Wright.

Wright struggles early, but completes some timely passes, including a flea flicker to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, to set up the Bengals' first score.

But this isn't good enough for the drunk a row back.

"He'd be in the end zone if Wright had an arm," he says.


Wright hits Chris Henry a few minutes later for the touchdown.

"Hey, Henry can catch the ball with handcuffs on," the drunk says, referring to Henry's off-season run-ins with the law.

The drunk aside, Wright delivers a blue collar-type performance. He completes 9 of 16, scoring a touchdown and earning a respectable 96.1 percent passer rating during the half he plays.

His replacement, Doug Johnson, has a better arm than Wright. He hits Kelley Washington for 34 yards and a TD late in the third quarter. Washington dances a jig in the end zone that would make Ickey Woods proud.

The Redskins look flat, earning only a field goal in the 19-3 loss. It could be worse. Running back Clinton Portis partially dislocated his shoulder making a tackle following a turnover. He will not play the rest of the preseason and is questionable for the Redskins' opener.

Pro football in person has a charm to it the other sports lack. Most of it may be from the inebriated crowd. What a sight it is.

When 64,000 sell out a preseason game, the Bengals' first such feat at Paul Brown, you know something's up. Maybe my friend Dean Harned said it best.

"Have fun watching the real national pastime."

We are ready for some football, indeed.


Anonymous Jaci said...

Who Dey! :)
How awesome to see a sold-out Paul Brown Stadium for the first pre-season game. Carson will play against Green Bay on 8/28. I think I will be at that game!! Almost as much energy during pre-season as the regular season. Gotta love Cincinnati!

10:04 AM  

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