By Deryck Richardson
Columbus only has one football team in town and that’s the Buckeyes. The Ohio State University sits right in the middle of the 14th largest city in the nation. Fall Saturdays in Columbus are full of tailgates and busy patrons walking up and down High Street and Lane Avenue. It’s a beautiful sight and a feeling that everyone should experience at least once (if not from Columbus). Buckeye apparel can be purchased anywhere in the city, from Ohio State specific stores, to every grocery store, even the gas stations sell Ohio State hats and keychains. It’s almost cultish, the fan base in Columbus.
Sundays are big in Columbus too, but the fan base is much more scattered. Cleveland is 2 hours north, Cincinnati is 2 hours south, and Detroit and Pittsburgh can each be reached in 3 hours from Columbus. You have fans from a plethora of different teams in Ohio. I for one am a Green Bay Fan. I grew up watching Randall Cunningham in Philadelphia, who was before his time when it came to being an athletic quarterback. As a young defensive lineman, I fell in love with Reggie White and his positive influence on the game. It’s rare that a lineman turns into a celebrity, but Reggie did that perfectly. Once he went to Green bay, I followed him there and it was impossible not to appreciate Brett Favre and get excited with his talent and style and play. After he left, Aaron Rodgers came and my love never left Green Bay.
My buddies were a melting pot of fanatics. Dallas, San Francisco, Miami, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Cincinnati, and of course, Cleveland. As I grew up into adulthood, you saw more and more Cleveland fans and the Browns seemed to be the most popular team to root for in Columbus. Year after year, and disappointment after disappointment, the Browns following continued to root on their team. Cincinnati seemed to be an afterthought, at least amongst the masses. There were certainly some good teams there with Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson (Ocho Cinco), T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and Cory Dillon. As an Ohio Guy the Bengals were fun to watch. I rooted for the underdog from my state, primarily because the games were televised each week, and I like for Ohio to win. I also rooted for the Browns for many of the same reasons listed above. Why would I want a team from Ohio to be the laughing stock of the league?
Now that the Bengals are officially headed to Super Bowl 56, I find myself being called a bandwagon fan, simply because I am publicly rooting for a team from my state. A team that I’ve always pulled for, even if I identified myself as a Green Bay fan. I’m watching fans of all different teams pull for Cincinnati also. Dallas fans, San Francisco fans, and even Cleveland fans. I have to believe that they all have the same reason as I do, they live in Ohio, let’s root for Ohio! Now some of them are using a silly excuse in my opinion. “Joe Burrow is a Buckeye!”
Even the casual football fan knows that Burrow started his collegiate football career at Ohio State. He sat behind JT Barret and then was passed, in the depth chart by Dwayne Haskin the following year. Burrow played in 10 games while he was at Ohio State attempting a total of 39 passes (mostly in garbage time). He certainly wore Scarlet and Gray and was a Buckeye at one point. However, he didn’t blossom until he transferred to LSU. OSU didn’t see his potential (or possibly thought there was greater potential in others), and let him go. LSU welcomed him with open arms, turned him into a Heisman Trophy Winner and National Champion. Is Burrow a Buckeye, technically, but he’s really an LSU Tiger. The argument that a fan is cheering for Burrow, because he is a Buckeye, doesn’t sit well for me. I’m cheering for Burrow because he is a star who was born in Ohio and plays for an Ohio team. I always want Ohio to win!
There are other Buckeyes on the roster, all of which have contributed to this successful run. Eli Apple, Vonn Bell, Sam Hubbard, and Isaiah Prince. Maybe they are the reason. I’m also a Markus Bailey fan, though he didn’t go to Ohio State, he played High School football with my son at Hilliard Davidson High School. He was a two way star in High School and a home town celebrity. I enjoyed watching him play in High School, I enjoyed talking to him as a young man, I followed his career at Purdue, and I praised his 3 time All Academic Big Ten Awards. He’s just a young man to root for.
Keep in mind, being from the Midwest, and a fan of Ohio State, the best Big Ten Team in the land by the way, I always look forward to bowl season. I am one of those that cheer for every Big Ten Team, including our Arch Rival, Michigan. I want the Big Ten to do well each bowl season so that the nation knows we are a worthy conference. I cheer for Toledo, and Miami of Ohio, and Ohio University, and Xavier, and Cincinnati, and Akron, and any other college from Ohio too. Because I want Ohio to win! I cheer for Big Ten Teams in the NCAA Basketball tournament too. For the same reasons.
I live in Hilliard, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, that has 3 high schools. Though my kids attended and played sports for Hilliard Davidson, I always cheer for Hilliard Bradley and Hilliard Darby, when they are playing anyone other than Davidson. Because I want Hilliard to win. I grew up in Westerville, another suburb of Columbus, that also has 3 high schools. Though I played football for Westerville South, I cheer for Westerville North and Westerville Central at the state tournament levels. Because I want Westerville to win. If the Browns were in the Super Bowl, instead of the Bengals, I’d cheer for the Browns, because at the end of the day, I want Ohio to win!
I was secretly cheering for a Green Bay vs Cincinnati Super Bowl. If this were the case, I’d be pulling for Green Bay, because I fall under the definition of a Green Bay fan, but if Cincinnati would have won, I would have been happy for them, and happy for Ohio. Call me a softy, or a bandwagon fan, or traitor, or whatever other name you can think of. The beauty of being an adult, means I can pull for whoever I choose to pull for, and right now I’m pulling for Cincinnati, as I want them to represent the wonderful state of Ohio. I’m pulling for Burrow as I believe he is a young star who can bring a spark to an Ohio team. I’m pulling for Mike Brown, who has been instrumental in making football in Ohio what it is today.
For the die hard Bengal fans, I know it doesn’t seem fair to have all of these “new fans” cheer for your team. I’m sure the decades of heartbreak and disappointment make this moment so much more sweet for you. I’m glad that “your” team has made it to the Super Bowl, and guess what? I’m cheering for them too! I also don’t want to be shamed for it. There are several reasons that I am cheering for the Bengals this year. Their playoff run has been nothing short of amazing and each game has been a pleasure to watch. For those Bengal fans who welcome the added love, thank you for allowing myself and so many others to experience this run with you. For those Bengal fans who are upset at the added attention, take it as a compliment. There is nothing wrong with a little added support coming your way.
I know it may seem hypocritical for so many new people, using the pronoun “us.” Hear me out though:
When I say I want “us” to win, I don’t mean it as “us,” the fan base that has followed Cincinnati from birth and knows all of the players since 1988. I don’t mean “us,” as in the fan base who travels down to Cincinnati for every game. I don’t mean “us” as in those who have shed tears over losses. I mean “us,” as in Ohio. I want “us” to win and win big on February 13th. I want “us” to let people know teams from Ohio can play at the highest of levels. I want “us” to put our state on the map! This wasn’t just a coin flip to decide who I was going to cheer for. This was calculated. This isn’t a temporary show of support, at least not from me, I’ve always wanted “us” to win.
So Bengal Nation, “Who Dey, who dey, who dey think gonna beat them Bengals?”
I think the Bengals have this one on lock. For all of “US!”