Cincinnati Bengals fans have grown accustomed to finding other rooting interests on Super Bowl Sunday, what with it being 24 years and counting since their team’s last appearance in the ultimate game.
But picking sides this year is proving to be problematic given the two participants.
The Baltimore Ravens are division rivals who have won back-to-back AFC North titles while beating the Bengals in four of the last five meetings.
The San Francisco 49ers, on the other hand, not only have the best career winning percentage of any NFL team against Cincinnati (.750), but two of those wins came in the Bengals’ only two Super Bowl appearances. And the most recent of which was a come-from-behind dagger to the heart as Joe Montana hit John Taylor for the game-winning touchdown with 34 seconds remaining.
While painful, that 20-16 loss in Super Bowl XXIII was 24 years ago. And the 26-21 defeat in Super Bowl XVI (where I was in attendance as a crestfallen spectator my freshman year in high school) was 31 years ago.
Most Bengals fans have either let go of the pain or at least buried it beneath a couple of decades worth of hot wings and beer.
But many of the wounds inflicted by the Ravens are still fresh for a lot of Bengals fans. And that, coupled with a loathsome disdain for all things Ray Lewis, is why most of Who Dey Nation is pulling for the 49ers on Sunday.
In a scientific (not really) poll conducted on Twitter and Facebook that asked which team Bengals would be pulling for and why, 76 percent said they are rooting for the 49ers.
Shawn Moore (aka WhoDeyBaby), a Columbus resident who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2003 as the Bengals’ fans representative, was more reflective.
“Yes the (49ers) crushed my dreams as a child, and looking back I still hate Joe Montana and John Taylor,” Moore said. “Although some will say root for the rival because it makes our division look better, I cannot. I put so much time in despising the Ravens I can’t let that slip and root for them just once. Add on top of that the made-for-TV dramatics of Ray Lewis, a man whose football acumen and skills I cannot question but whose morals I can.”
Lewis was a popular theme with most respondents, many of whom still don’t believe the court findings that cleared him of involvement with the slaying of two men the night of Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000. Lewis was charged with murder but was offered a plea deal and eventually pled guilty to obstruction of justice.
“Although their (49ers) coach seems to be a grade ‘A’ (jerk), no one on their team helped cover up a murder,” Rob Ervin wrote.
“I’m NOT a fan of that over-the-top, all-about-me, look over here! Put the cameras on me the whole game, ‘praying’ every 2 seconds, guy,” Wendi Elder replied.
But at least one person cited Lewis as a reason to root for the Ravens.
“I respect what Ray Lewis has done between the lines,” wrote Jayson Ameer Rasheed. “Yes, he had the incident that resulted in the unfortunate deaths of two young men. But he was acquitted by the legal system, and the work he has done in the community since has been great. So watching Ray Lewis ride off into the sunset with a title would be nice.”
A few others cited another name as a reason to pull for Baltimore.
“I’m rooting for the Ravens, because Coach John Harbaugh is a Miami alumnus,” replied Chris Maraschiello, an MU grad himself.
There are a couple of other issues at play in this game.
For example, the only thing Bengals fans enjoy more than cheering for their team is rooting against the hated Pittsburgh Steelers. So rooting for the 49ers would serve as a little jab to the legion of towel twirlers because a victory would enable San Francisco to tie Pittsburgh for the most Super Bowl wins in history (six).
On the other hand, a Ravens win would mark just the sixth time in the Bengals’ 45-year history that they have recorded a regular-season victory against the eventual Super Bowl champion.
Cincinnati is 5-24 all-time against eventual champions, beating Kansas City in 1969, New England in 2001 and Pittsburgh in 1974, 1979 and 2005.
Even with all of those factors in play, Bengals fans still might have a tough time picking sides. But that’s OK. You can always heat up your favorite grub, ice down your favorite beverage, take your favorite seat in the house and root, root, root for the commercials to be good.