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Bengals Loss Still Hard to Move on From

This pain runs deep.

The unbridled torment and anguish that exploded like a pipe bomb in our collective psyche a week ago is a wound that needs time to heal and may not ever fully do so. Your average Bengals fan knows a thing or two about heartache—we're still here, aren't we?—but the cruel and senseless ripping open of the chest cavity and the pouring of hot lava unto the smoldering pit of hate between our breast plate and backbone was an especially rugged way to go out, even for us.

Like so many of you, I wanted to lay face down in the rain for the next five days and wilt into a bitter, silent prune. I rubbed my face a lot and sighed forlornly in my sleep. The Stingo returned to its darkened cupboard for another day, another life, another universe. Is this a thing that my withering eyeballs will someday behold or is it a pointless waste of energy that winds up not being much fun in end?

The struggle to cope was real, the inability to “get over it” lasted beyond the 24-hour mark. A surly city were we, to wake up fresh off of a devastating letdown to our most-hated rival in a crucial moment in history only to find that the temperature had plummeted and that it had snowed overnight. The outrage toward the Steelers and their supporters had frothed to a near-homicidal boil where nothing with black and gold was safe from harm until out of arm's reach.

Briefly, we became poor role models as adults to our children.

Then, convincing myself that I still enjoyed watching the remaining Wild Card games on Sunday and not taking my mind off of replaying Jeremy Hill's fumble over and over, I found my way out of this misery: I won't be part of their joke.

I see no evidence on hand to think that the Bengals are not a well-crafted punchline in the world of football. There were millions of spectators indifferent toward both teams that got a kick out of Cincinnati sticking to the script and blowing their miraculous comeback to smithereens in a matter of minutes. Seeing that tower crumble so spectacularly reinforced order over chaos, in which humans typically find solace. Casual observers were hardly surprised. Only the truly loyal experienced the two heightened extremes of emotion in such a brief time. It made us irrational and tearful, and oh, how the world chuckled at our misery over a football game. “Look at those losers,” they told each other, sneering at us with mockery in their hearts, “still so pathetic.”

Now, those Steeler fans, who are everywhere, even here, could lord over us further with the opportunity to add another scalp to their already-abundant supply of Bengal killings (Update: They didn't. The Steelers LOST to Denver on Sunday, 23-16).

This one is a doozy, too, and its significance will not be lost on those who relish in this kind of torment. Their intentions are solely for amusement and the more passionate our screams of detest become, the funnier it is to these scumbags.

It is too obvious a lie to say that we don't care. To become so passionate about a game carried out by people we will never know in person and who are aren't even from anywhere local in the first place is inherently kind of a silly thing to do, but the need in us to do it is strong, like it or not. The lines of morality, however, must be drawn out and, at times, reestablished.

There is probably something healthy about an emotional investment in various outcomes one does not control—a freedom of direct responsibility. Choosing the team that represents where a person is from is an ancient pack-animal instinct that many, many of us carry through all of our lives, no matter how extensive our travel from home. For those born in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, these two basic human characteristics combine to practically insist they become and remain Bengals fans. Sure, there are percentages of the masses that sour to the point of no return, typically in the sellout teenaged years of a misguided adolescence that is sadly carried into the adult years, but the vast majority of us here are Who Dey, no matter the how deep the sting.

That is not to say that Bengaldom is an impressive fan base. The local fans are largely pessimistic and doubtful, quick to anger and generally ashamed. It is easier to make a Bengals fan defensive than proud. The intellect among fans can often be difficult to discern and bottles get thrown at divisional quarterbacks being wheeled off on stretchers.

This is why being mad isn't worth it. The angrier you become, the funnier the joke is. I have never been one to buy into grand conspiracies, but there is no denying that it's good for football business when the Steelers win. When Jeremy Hill fumbled, somewhere, an important football executive smiled.

So if they're marketed to win, somebody has to fall in their wake to make this happen. The Bengals are the ideal example for the NFL to trumpet its league parity, pointing to their 12-4 regular season only to be vanquished by a much more popular team in January.

Despite all of this, Cincinnati still had the game in hand with mere grains of sand left in the hourglass. A seismic wave of elation swept across the region when Vontaze Burfict intercepted Landry Jones and looked to have accomplished the nearly unfathomable, but then Jeremy Hill fumbled. It always comes back to that: the fumble. Ernest Byner did it in Cleveland when the Browns were poised to go to the Super Bowl. It happens. It shouldn't happen, and it can't happen, but it still does.

Now that it's over, there is nothing to be done but a shake of the head and the offer of an occasional sigh about what should have been.

-Bryan Burke, associate editor

Photo: Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis (via Wikipedia/emeybee)