Cincinnati Sports Fandom, Not for the Faint of Heart

What is it about Cincinnati sports?

I was born here, or more specifically, I was born in Hamilton. Ever since I comprehended sports I have called myself a fan of Cincinnati sports. I was a year old when the Reds completed their wire-to-wire run in 1990. I can’t even, really, claim that because, ya know, I was a baby.

I have known nothing but pain as a fan of the Queen City’s sports teams. You joke, you say melodramatic, but man, when sports is this close to your soul, you don’t just shrug this off.

Friday night’s ridiculous 12-11 loss by the Cincinnati Reds to the San Francisco Giants is a microcosm of what is Cincinnati sports fandom. Some city’s fans may say they have it worse, and sure, maybe Cleveland fans have an argument. However, as a city, they have a professional championship in the last 28 years.

Friday night was supposed to be a celebration of a talent the Reds have been expecting for four years. Nick Senzel debuted. With him came the thought of a jolt to the team, maybe an awakening. For a few innings, it felt that way. Then reality set in.

In 2012, the Cincinnati Reds were good. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. In a strange twist of fate, the National League divisional round playoffs would be played in a manner where the lower seed would get the first two games at home with the higher seed getting the last three. The Reds won the first two in San Francisco, setting up a series clincher at Great American Ballpark in game three. Then reality set in.

It doesn’t even have to be the Reds, look at the University of Cincinnati men’s basketball team, in 2018. A two-seed in the tournament, they looked poised for a run. In the second round, they built a 20-point lead on Nevada, leading fans to begin figuring out Final Four paths. Then reality set in.

Probably the worst of all, in 2005, the Cincinnati Bengals had a Super Bowl contending team. You can count on one hand the number of teams you could describe that way, who have played in Cincinnati. Nevertheless, 2005 looked like the year. Carson Palmer was an all-pro quarterback, the defense was stellar, there were no holes in the team. Then Kimo Von Oelhoffen and reality set in.

Cincinnati sports fans can’t have nice things.

Friday was another reminder. You finally get to see the Reds bring their top prospect to the big leagues. A signal that the next phase, if not the final one, of the rebuild is in full effect. You build a crazy 8-0 lead early in the game. You finish the night now six games under .500. Reality set in.

When the Reds, Bengals, or Bearcats win a championship, it will truly be something to behold. I am not sure of how my mental state will be. Until then, I will grapple with the reality of being a Cincinnati sports fan.

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Happy Veterans Day Weekend, Cincinnati

It’s Friday and my mind is focused on a three day weekend, but I did want to impart some thoughts on the world of Cincinnati sports for this weekend.

The Bearcats football team has a massive matchup this Saturday night. USF comes into Cincinnati an underdog, but I do not believe they’re as bad as the line (UC favored by two touchdowns), but this is definitely a winnable game for UC. It all comes down to focus. Luke Fickell had the boys ready for Navy’s triple option offense, a running attack that put up the loftiest rushing total by an opponent in Bearcats history, last year. This year, though, the Bearcats held them to just over two yards a carry. Now Fickell has to keep his team reigned in as they approach a monster matchup with the best team in the conference, the “defending national champion” Central Florida Knights. South Florida is not good in the cold, and it will be coooooold tomorrow night. Still, the Bearcats cannot take them for granted, as the Bulls were undefeated and ranked in the Top-25, as soon as three weeks ago.

The Xavier Musketeers play their second game of the season on Saturday, against Evansville. Another solid mid-major opponent for the Muskies to grow against. The question will be, will Naji Marshall return to the floor in this one? Didn’t have him in the opener and they got by, it will be difficult against a solid squad from the Missouri Valley Conference. The Men of Steele found a way to win, forcing turnovers late, we will see if that trend continues. Xavier hasn’t had a good defense in the past few years, but if they consistently force turnovers, there’s your defense.

The Cincinnati professional football team may be smashed this Sunday. They may also (tiny chance) win. The New Orleans professional football team is really good. They have a future hall of famer at quarterback and, possibly, a future hall of famer at coach. They have oodles of talent at running back and wide receiver. They are also coming off a huge win to knock the Los Angeles professional football team off their undefeated pedestal and have to travel to a non-conference opponent and play in dismal weather. Not the brightest, most motivational backstory for the fleur de lis-wearing pigskin professionals, but they are a much better team (given injuries) than that of the Orange and Black. Honestly, if Marvin Lewis’ men come out on top, I will be pleasantly surprised, but if they don’t it won’t even phase me. The all-important game for the Bengals is next week, in Baltimore, against the Ravens. So long as they don’t come out of this week’s game with even more injuries than they are already plagued with, I think they’ll be fine. Also, a personal reason I wouldn’t mind the Bengals losing, is I will be at a wedding watching on my phone. Shout out to Zack on his big day (holler at me if you actually read this, bro).

Two Reds rumors circulating have me feeling a certain way. The first is that some teams are interested in Eugenio Suarez. Well, so are we in Cincinnati, frankly, and I do not want to see him traded. The other rumor is very encouraging, and that is the Cleveland Indians are open to trading away their ace, Corey Kluber. Now, it will require a king’s ransom, but go for it, Reds! He is one of the best pitchers in the game. He will cost a few top prospects, but he is also the kind of pitcher who will bring the wins. He’s under control for a few years, so it won’t be a rental, which gives the Reds the perfect pitcher to build their rotation around. Plus, I am sure Derek Johnson will enjoy having a vet like Kluber to be the “stopper” of the rotation. I am a Cincinnati sports optimist, to a fault, but I am excited by what’s going on around Great American Ballpark.

Here’s to a three-day weekend, for some of us and Happy Veteran’s Day!

Monday Musings

It’s Monday morning (at time of writing) and my mind is in a bit of an entanglement.

Firstly, AJ Green is hurt. The report says “some games” which is about as vague as the chances I give the Bengals of beating the Saints, without him. Apparently, he hurt it in the last game before the bye, whenever he got up grabbing at his toe. Some reports say that, after the game, AJ mentioned stubbing it and he’ll be fine. Then he was seen at PBS in a walking boot. Now they’re saying multiple games will be missed. It doesn’t take much to connect the dots and see that Tyler Boyd will be Andy Dalton’s number one target for the Saints game, the Ravens game, and maybe beyond that. In a league where the slimmest of margins separate wildcard teams from teams who finish 7-9, losing AJ really blurs that line for Cincinnati.

The Reds are being linked to a number of different free agents, and it’s got me excited. Sure, I looked at season tickets and realized peons like me aren’t meant to afford that regality (plus, different ticket apps make it cheaper and easier to go to the games I want, anyway) and the Opening Day tickets available on websites start at $150, right now, as the “market” preys on overenthusiastic instant-gratification junkies. That being said, I’m all in on Redsfest coming at the end of November and will probably type up a few words on it, too. I’d love to meet Dallas Keuchel, or Patrick Corbin, or even Nathan Eovaldi, but we’ll see. The powers that be for the oldest professional base-ball franchise have said they’ll break the bank. But whether it’s a bigger crack in the piggy bank or a full blown shattered oinker, remains to be seen.

I plan on writing more about this next thought, so I’ll be brief, but college basketball is back, baby, and this fool just got cable. Hope my wife is ready to hear lots squeaking sneakers and swishing nets!

UC football is back ranked in the Top-25 with a pair of games against good Florida football teams (USF and UCF). That being said, they get the lesser of two Florida’s at home, this Saturday, in a game I think they have a much better shot at winning than I did in August. Then comes the monster that is UCF. 21-straight wins (maybe 22 by next week) will face off against the Luke Fickell reclamation project. Coach Fick has built the Cats into bonafide football players in just a year and a half, and may be the next name to be plucked from Clifton to a big time job. Nobody, including me, saw the success he’s had this year as possible, and yet here we are. We could be talking about a 10-win Bearcats football side, come December, and that is magnificent.

I’m still on about Bohemian Rhapsody. What a film. Been listening to Queen all weekend.

Also, playing Red Dead 2 any chance I get. It’s so simple and yet so fantastic. Much like many a good Western flick. One of the latest “missions,” or maybe stories is a better term for them, that I completed was one where your character gets drunk, but has to keep his other drunk friend out of trouble, and then run from Johnny-Law. Rockstar just knows how to make an entertaining video game.

Right, well, back to Monday, I suppose.

The Craziest Game of the Luke Fickell Era

I’m trying to think of how to start this blog post. The Bearcats just matched their win total from last year and the year before. The Bearcats just broke the school record for most penalty yards against them in one game. The Bearcats just beat the Bobcats of Ohio University 34-30…yeah I’ll start there.

In their second rain-soaked game of the year, the University of Cincinnati football team beat an in-state team, but this was no ordinary win. They went into halftime down 24-7, and trailed 21-0 early in the second quarter. They outscored Ohio 24-6 in the second half and remain undefeated, 4-0, to begin the 2018 college football season.

Adding to the drama that already was the deficit, UC committed something like 245 penalties for close to 12,000 yards. In all seriousness, the first touchdown drive for Ohio was set up by one of the strangest calls.

The Bearcats has just forced the Bobcats offense into its second-straight three-and-out to begin the game and were set to return the punt. The snap was mishandled by OU’s punter, who dropped it, picked it back up, and tried to get his punt off, but was hit by a UC defender, causing the punt to go short…or so it seemed. The referees initially called that the UC defender who hit the punter did not commit a penalty because he tipped the ball before hitting the punter. Okay, fine. Bearcats get the ball.

But wait, no. The referees decided to review their call with instant replay. After conferring, the video showed that the Bearcats defender did not, in fact, touch the ball. This means there should have been a penalty. Doing something I have never seen a ref do, they announced that because the replay showed the player did not hit the ball, there should have been a roughing the punter penalty called. So, with the benefit of replay, the referees decided to call the penalty, after the fact, which meant that OU now gets the ball back, with a fresh set of downs, near midfield.

……what? Since when could a ref call a penalty after the play was over and done because they reviewed the instant replay? If this is a new thing, it is terrible and instant replay has gone too far. Reviewing crucial penalty calls will not only take the air out of the stadium, but it will lose the officials the control of the game. After that, players were on edge for UC, leading to unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and a sideline warning for the Bearcats. It was mayhem.

It also gave the Bobcats momentum as they proceeded to score 14 points in the first quarter, and an early touchdown in the second, before UC even entered the red zone (20 yards away from the end zone). That crazy call was just the beginning of the madness caused by this officiating crew as UC earned some more flags, with alarming frequency. The student section at Nippert Stadium enjoyed the “ref show” so much, they created an affectionate chant, one I won’t repeat here.

UC managed to finally get on the scoreboard midway through the second quarter, but had a field goal attempt blocked, entering halftime on fumes. As the bands for Ohio and UC performed, there was still a slight air of optimism in the crowd, so few left, despite the bleak weather. It was made known to them, early in the third quarter, that they stayed for a show. Desmond Ridder connected with Rashad Medaris, down the right side of the field, for a 77-hard touchdown that shocked the crowd back to life.

Bit by bit, they chopped away at Ohio’s lead until finally they took the lead on the fourth quarter 28-27. The stands were elated. We had hoped, but I mean, come one, we’re Cincinnati sports fans. When you’re a fan of a Cincinnati sports team, you’re used to having hope, but then having that hope squashed leaving you with stories of what might have been. UC, on this day, decided they’d deliver on those hopes. Even when Ohio was able to go down and kick a field goal to briefly regain the lead at 30-28, it was almost as if they represented a spider circling the drain.

In this graph, I’d just like to take a moment and give a shout out to Luke Fickell, Ridder, and the tight end, Josiah Degaura. They found a weakness in the Ohio defense, a unit that stifled them for much of the first half, and exploited it to perfection. There was one play that Ohio had no answer for, and that was the tight end running a flat route. Just in case you don’t follow the jargon, the tight end, in this case Degaura, lines up next to the offensive line. It can be on the left or right side, but he’s usually right next to them. Once the ball is snapped, he might sprint out on his route, or he might sit there for a second to pose as a blocker. Regardless of when, he runs almost straight sideways away from the offensive line and toward the sidelines. They must have ran that play nine or 10 times and the only time it didn’t get them good yardage was the first time when Ridder made a bad throw. The rest of the game, they were able to pull that play out of their pocket and get the yards they needed in any situation. It’s what won them the game, largely.

So I’ve droned on awhile about this win, but that’s because it is one of the most satisfying wins I’ve ever witnessed. UC entered this season having won just 4 games in back-to-back seasons. We Bearcats fans were just hoping for six wins and a bowl game this year. Right now, because of Luke Fickell, his coaching staff, and the talented players he recruited to UC, they have a real chance to do a lot more than originally thought possible. That is why UC fans are the happiest in the nation right now. Juncta Juvant!

UC Womps Alabama A&M

The first home UC football game of the season went as it should have. They had Alabama A&M scheduled, which is a school that is Division 1-AA, so the final score was about on target. The really fun part was the success of the Bearcats bench.

Head coach Luke Fickell was able to dip into his recruits who normally sit and watch pretty early, last Saturday. Desmond Ridder, Thomas Geddis, and the first string had the Bearcats up 28-zip after 15 minutes of play, so Fickell swapped out the starters, and put in the backups, reaching as far down into the bag as the fourth string (Jake Sopko got some snaps in the fourth) and the results were encouraging.

Two freshmen running backs, Charles McClelland and Tavion Thomas, impressed me. McClelland got a number of carries in the second and third quarters and showed a quick first step and an ability to adeptly cut and juke defenders with ease. Thomas, on the other hand, is a mountain. He’s listed at 6’ 2”, 226 lbs, but he looks like he’s closer to 240 lbs of solid muscle. A&M defenders cowered as he shot up the middle, between the tackles, and down the field. The visual of the game, for me, came when Sopko was in and Thomas was standing next to him. He towered over UC’s fourth-string QB. Looking forward to both McClelland and Thomas developing at UC.

The game, itself, got boring quickly, but in a good way. The good news was, A&M brought their band, and UC had them do a shortened halftime show for the fans at Nippert Stadium. If you’ve not witnessed the prowess of a band from an HBCU, you’re missing out. It’s kind of like the movie Drumline but that’s just a taste. A&M’s drum line was on point, sure, but their sousaphones were blasting and their choreography was awesome, too. The purple and gold band of Alabama A&M showed their quality, last Saturday, and I was thoroughly entertained.

One thing I am looking forward to, the rest of the season, is getting walking tacos. Nippert has this new concession stand, over by the loading docks of Fifth Third Arena, that is a cart that will make walking tacos out of Doritos, Fritos, or Tostitos (your choice). They have ground beef, or pulled pork, and lots of other toppings to go with it. Eight bucks gets you a good looking game day snack that beats a hot dog nine times out of 10.

I’ll be getting my writing back up and running on this site, been a few months since I kept up with it (got busy, but more on that later). Check out more of my work on lockedonReds.com and lockedonBengals.com. Also, follow me on Twitter @jefffcarr.

I have season tickets with my father-in-law and plan on being at just about every game, so I’ll try and recap what went on, from a point of view of section 116.

How to Survive a Bad Football Game

I live in Cincinnati. I love my town, I love the awesome things there are to do, places to go, people to see. I love the sports teams. My Reds are nearer and dearer to my heart than any sports team, period, but the football teams have a bit carved out in my heart, too.

My Bengals and my Bearcats are loved, that must be posed before I continue.

But I am honest with my fandom, and I know that I root for some lousy football teams.

Now there have been good times, don’t get me wrong. Playoff games, top ten national rankings, high-stakes bowl games, those have happened. What has happened, however, in far more abundance is losing. And more losing. And some more…and even losing in games which a win would mean soooo much goodness and happiness….but no, still losing.

In order to remain sane and have nice things, you have to learn a few things. You’ve really got to pay attention and revel in the little things. Things so small, most blow-hards screaming their lungs out at yet another piss-poor pass attempt would have absolutely no knowledge of. A prime example Would be the game between UC and Marshall, a few weeks back.

Most folks were bolting at halftime when the score was 24-0 in favor of the visiting Thundering Herd. A crowd of 35k was reduced to 25k, then 20k, then 15k by the beginning of the 4th quarter. Here’s how you hang tight when the score isn’t:

1. You got to have a friend who is on your level. Someone who doesn’t get too hot, but also someone who is in to the game. Be sure you will yell. If you care somewhat about your team and they begin to play awful, it will cause a reaction inside you that beckons a loud noise emit from your mouth. If your buddy does not share that, or even may laugh at you for doing so, you will only get angrier and want to leave real quick. So you have to have someone with you that will join you in your angst, but do nothing to add to it.

2. You’ve got to have an awareness of things going on in the periphery of the field. That reporter that is dressed to the nines and just tripped over her cameraman’s cord, that’ll keep you grounded with a good laugh. The mascot conversing with the strength coach? Perfect opportunity for “What do you think they’re saying?” – “Probably talking about that reporter that just bought it.” Little side things make the difference.

3. Be aware of game day trends. What I mean here is this: is it a whiteout/blackout themed game? Saturday against Marshall was advertised as a “Red-out” game for UC. The band, the cheerleaders, the dance team, the student section, even the football team themselves were going to wear red….until the football team charged out of the locker room in black. Fun little thought to blame a poorly performed game on “They don’t even have the right uniforms on, how they going to call the right play?”

4. Have good seats. Now this has nothing to do with location and everything to do with material. Nippert Stadium is inundated with bleacher seats. They’re everywhere. So your toosh gets a little unhappy after about an hour. Enter bearcatseats.com. They let you rent chair-back attachments that you can slide on your little piece of bleacher. Now me and my friend did not pay to rent, we stumbled upon the generosity of a fellow fan. As one of the many making their way for the gates come halftime, the older couple directly to our left told us we could use their seat-enhancers for the remainder of the game. Without hesitation, we slid em down our way. The difference between bleacher and cushy-seat-thing is the difference between concrete and couch cushions. Not to mention the nice little attachment that supports your back. Something Nippert’s bleachers don’t do. Add in the people in front of me leaving, so I could put my feet up, and the game could continue as it pleased.

5. Last but definitely not least you need a snack and a drink. Now this can be a lot of different things, and it largely depends on the environment. When you’re standing shoulder to shoulder in the student section, may just want to keep it to a hot dog. When Johnny Jumps-a-lot is right next to you, it’s hard to justify holding a beer that may or may not get spilled on the people in front of you. Take a walk on the concourse if you got to have a tasty beverage. If you’re at home, though, loaD up on the nachos and get a drink with readily available refills. In that particular UC/Marshall game, I didn’t have a snack, but I had a pint of some German beer in my right hand while relaxing on my seat cushion and had my feet kicked up on the bleacher in front of me. One thing is good about going to the stadium of a bad team: lots of room to spread out.

It’s ultimately taken the better part of my sports fan-life to figure this out: sports are for enjoying, don’t let them frustrate you.

Of course, if you’re at home, you’ve likely changed the channel.

Football

We did it. Just pat yourself on the back right now. Congrats buddy, we’re here. It is football season once again.

Tonight, a big school with national title hopes weirdly opens on the road at a conference foe’s stadium that will showcase a team destined to squeak into a bowl. Yeah, Ohio State plays Indiana. I’m not too interested in that game, though, and here’s why…

The UC Bearcats open up their season at home against Austin Peay. The lowly Governors have won something like one game in 4 years. They didn’t win any last year. Now they come to the Queen City to face a revamped, reinvigorated Bearcats team led by the next big thing in coaching, Luke Fickell.

Luke has already done some things right. Firstly, by definitively announcing who the starting quarterback is. I know, that seems pretty easy, but ol coach Tuberville couldn’t even do that last year. Hayden Moore, Gunner Kiel, and Ross Trail were handed starts like Tuberville was Oprah giving out gifts to her audience. All three started multiple games, and all three were surprised pretty much every week. Remember senior day, when Kiel, the senior quarterback, didn’t play a down? Yeah…

That’s all changed, though. Straight out of camp, Fickell tabbed Moore as this year’s guy. Moore even expressed his gratitude in an interview, not just for being named the guy, but the way it was handled. He feels confident now, something he sorely lacked last season. He’s go experienced teammates on the offensive side of the ball, so we’ll see what happens.

Speaking of experience, that’s something the defense lacks. Take the linebackers, for example. The corp has a total of eight guys. Six of them are freshmen, one a sophomore, and the other, Jaylyn Minor, is the lone senior. The program needed rebooting after last year’s 4-8 record, and Luke has the young guys to do it.

Most folks are saying the key thing to watch in this game, that should ultimately be a blowout, is how well the running game looks. Last year it was pretty atrocious. Mike Boone is back and healthy now, though, so it will be intriguing to see if the O-Line has improved any at all. If it has, the Bearcats may go Bowling this winter.