The Cincinnati Bengals, a team the Cleveland Browns smoked earlier this season, and beat twice in the 2021 campaign, are going to the Super Bowl.
For a transplanted Clevelander in southwest Ohio, these are trying, and mostly awkward times. I’m not mad the Bengals are Super-Bowl bound, and even found myself rooting for Joe Burrow to end Patrick Mahomes’ season.
But the whole lead-up to this game has felt like a never ending trip to the dentist where you have to get four teeth sealed.
There was Orange and Black day at school Friday, because, of course there was. This is Bengals territory. My boys, ages 9 and 8 made it better by wearing their Bernie Kosar and Nick Chubb jerseys. Even so, I know it was a tricky decision for the 3rd grader. Pro football games aren’t a matter of life and death for all, especially at that age. At that time of your life, you do what your friends do. He just wanted to be a part of the party.
And who wouldn’t? I remember full well during the Browns’ hey day in the late 1980s, riding the bus home and singing “Bernie-Bernie” to the tune of of “Louie-Louie.”
You see, I married into this. My wife comes from a Bengals family, and I’m happy for them. You invest so much time, so many emotions, and so much money on merchandise, tickets, etc. After being the butt of so many NFL jokes, they’re vindicated, just like us Browns fans are hoping to be one day.
I attend one game at Paul Brown Stadium per season when the Browns visit. I always wear my Browns gear and never have to worry. There’s a quiet, mutual admiration there. We know powers out of our control have ran our proud franchises into the ground for decades, and we’re not there to make it worse by jumping all over each other.
Cleveland Browns for life
But when Mrs. Dudukovich asked if I was going to buy an AFC championship hat for the den? No, no, no, no. I can support Bengals fans, I can like Joe Burrow, I like the Reds as my second MLB team, but Bengals fandom? It’s treason, especially since I want them to be annihilated by a team from the 216 two times a year.
It’s just so bittersweet. This was supposed to be the Browns. Baker Mayfield was supposed to get better. The offense was supposed to score 30 points per game. Cleveland was supposed to avenge its divisional round loss with a trip to the Super Bowl this year.
With Ben Roethlisberger retiring, and Joe Burrow emerging, it feels like Cleveland’s path to the Super Bowl will be blocked for the next decade (Didn’t even mention all the other top-level quarterbacks the Browns will have to get past to get there).
The Bengals will play either LA or San Fran in the Super Bowl. Both towns aren’t exactly hurting for titles, and I’ll continue to root for Cincinnati. Throughout the game, though, you can bet I’ll be thinking, “When? When are the Browns finally going to get here.”?