No division leader deserves blackout threat

CINCINNATI -- I know I'm still an outsider when it comes to the Cincinnati way of doing things. It was only four months ago that I arrived on the northern banks of the Ohio River shores and began calling this fair city my new home.

Yes, I'm still adjusting.

For now, at least, I find Skyline Chili grossly overrated. I'm more a fan of the stuff from Gold Star. I've even found that I parallel park differently from a lot of my Southwest Ohio brethren who wheel straight into their desired spot, and not line up next to the car in front and then back in the way the teenage version of myself was taught back in my native north Georgia.

I get it. I'm just not quite used to the Cincinnati way of doing things. There's plenty of time for some change to come, though.

But one Cincinnati tradition that I just don't understand and don't think I ever will has to do with ticket sales and the yearly threat of the local television blackout. How is it that there's even the hint of a possible blackout in the final two weeks of the season in a city that has a team as hot as the division-leading Cincinnati Bengals? Yeah, they lost last week, but the Bengals are 6-0 at home and are winners of three of their last four.

I just don't get it.

And mind you, although I'm singling out Cincinnati here -- it's only because I'm on the Bengals beat -- this isn't a problem strictly inherent to the Queen City. It certainly happens in other places, with other franchises, too. Regardless where it happens, the practice of not showing up for a football playoff push is just wrong. To me.

No division leader, when it's in the final weeks of a playoff chase, deserves to be under the threat of being blacked out.

The reason I'm writing this is because of this news story that was filed earlier Friday afternoon. After being granted a one-day extension from the NFL, the Bengals (9-5) ended up selling out Sunday's contest against the Minnesota Vikings (4-9-1). There really wasn't too much drama about whether that would happen. They were just 3,500 tickets shy of the sellout before Thursday afternoon's extension was announced.

But still. It's the principal of the matter. Why shouldn't fans want to attend late-season games that have gobs of playoff potential packed into them?

Well, actually, there are myriad reasons. Few I actually buy.

There are some who contend Paul Brown Stadium has trouble filling its green seats regularly because of the man who owns the team, Mike Brown. I have been told, more times than I'd care to admit, that some of his decisions over the years have perturbed so many fans to the point that while they still support the team, they only want to do so from afar.

There also are those who have felt so hurt, so let down, so disappointed by past Bengals' runs that have come up dry that they, too, want to stay away. Either they think of themselves as the jinx, or they just don't want to be part of another possibly predictable losing experience.

Then there are those who cite the combination of poor December weather, an opponent with a bad record, high-priced tickets and the ease with which one can watch any football game they so desire from the warm comforts of home. If you want hot cocoa while watching the game, you have it while sitting in front of your fireplace. You don't have to stand in line for 15 minutes waiting for a drink that cools within five. I totally get that.

But, there's a whole experience that you miss when you're at home that you don't get at the stadium. At the stadium, with other fans of your team, there's an emotional uplift that can't as easily be replicated while watching the game on television. Sociologists term it "collective effervescence." It's the feelings, both good and bad, that people go through when experiencing an event together.

Just imagine if the Bengals and Ravens win this weekend and are playing for the division title next Sunday. If the Bengals were to win that de facto AFC North championship and enter the playoffs on the spot as the No. 2 AFC seed, wouldn't you, as a Bengals fan, want to be part of that experience? Actually, chances are much greater that 65,535 of you will be there for that one.

Again, don't take this the wrong way, Cincinnati. Much of what was stated above could be said about countless other cities. Hey, I should know. As a native Atlantan, I'm all too familiar with the derision my city gets for not having enough butts in Turner Field's seats come October, or inside the Georgia Dome in December and January.

In the meantime, I'll work on my love of Skyline. You just work on enjoying this playoff chase.