CINCINNATI -- I must admit, this post was inspired by several of my more optimistic Twitter followers (Wait, optimism on Twitter? Is there such a thing?) who felt inspired by the Cleveland Cavaliers' Game 7 win in the NBA Finals on Sunday night.
Moments after the final whistle sounded and a sea of Cavs players poured onto the court to celebrate with a weeping LeBron James, I posted this tweet.
A pro franchise in Ohio has won a championship. How about that?? #NBAfinals— Coley Harvey (@ColeyHarvey) June 20, 2016
It received several responses, many which had to do with the Bengals. Here's a sampling:
"bengals next who dey"
"#WeNext #Bengals #Ohio"
"2017 super bowl champs are right down I-71."
Interstate 71 runs south out of Cleveland and into Cincinnati.
For the record, I'm very aware the Cincinnati Reds won a World Series in 1990, and that the "Big Red Machine" rattled off back-to-back baseball championships in 1975 and 1976. And yes, tweeters, thanks for the reminder that the Columbus Crew won the MLS title in 2008.
All of that being said, however, we're talking about the state of Ohio and major professional sports. Compared to New York, California, Florida or even my native Georgia in the 1990s when the Braves kept flirting with World Series titles, Buckeye Staters haven't had it very easy in recent years. An entire generation of diehard pro sports fans have grown up in Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky and never seen a championship parade. Before Wednesday's pending celebration for the Cavs, two generations of Northeast Ohioans hadn't seen one either. Across Ohio, long before "Believeland" became a national phenomenon, there was simply "believe;" the unifying and once seemingly endless hope that eventually this state's pro franchises might one day no longer be so mercilessly tortured.
Of course, college sports have provided a nice refuge for people here. Since 1964, Ohio State football has won four national titles.
Though the torture in Cincinnati might be different from what Clevelanders experienced, the hurt still is just as palpable.
Like Cleveland in the 1950s and 60s, Cincinnati in the 1970s and 80s was a city that had been used to having quality sports franchises. In addition to the Reds' success in 1975 and 1976, the Bengals went to the Super Bowl after the 1981 and 1988 regular seasons. But following a Reds championship in 1990 and a Bengals playoff appearance that same year, the teams went into a spiral from which neither has fully bounced back.
The Reds haven't been back to a World Series since that year, and the Bengals haven't won a playoff game since. The team in stripes keeps putting together Super Bowl-contending rosters, notching playoff berths in each of the past five years. Still, it hasn't been able to get past the first round, something it last did in January 1991. After this past January's bizarre late collapse in the wild-card game against the Steelers, many Cincinnatians started believing even more in the existence of a Bo Jackson Curse.
One week after their wild-card win in January 1991, the Bengals traveled to Los Angeles for a divisional-round game against the Raiders. Early in the third quarter, with the Raiders leading 7-3, Jackson suffered what became a career-ending hip injury when Bengals linebacker Kevin Walker chased the Raiders running back down at the end of a 34-yard run. The Bengals ultimately lost that playoff game, and haven't won one since.
All it took for Northeast Ohio to reverse its decades long sports curse was for a native son to come back home and hold his team together.
By him being able to do that, some Bengals fans have bolstered their hope that one day soon their city's misery will end, too.