Bengal roar thrills fans, enlivens city

Paint my face orange. Slap tiger stripes on my cheeks. Drop-kick me through the goalposts at Cinergy Field. The Bengals are back in The Jungle.

They've won three games in a row. And to the victors goes a piece of the city's heart.

But, for how long, nobody knows. When it comes to pro football in this town, we're great fair-weather fans.

So, enjoy it while we can - and the Bengals are winning.

Just remember, not that long ago, the city was ready to rename this team the Bungles and condemn them for being perennial losers. Then, the Bengals turn around and win three straight and seduce the city.

Their timing is perfect. Never mind that they need to sell 40,000 seat licenses to make the new stadium a reality.

The Bengals' winning streak gives us something to talk about between the holidays, between getting stuffed on Thanksgiving and getting fleeced for Christmas gifts.

Suddenly, there's something to look forward to on Sunday afternoons, besides raking leaves. It's like your long-lost brother has finally come home and all is forgiven.

Talk of the town

Since Sunday's victory, the Bengals are the topic of conversations over backyard fences and office coffee machines. Can they beat Buffalo this Sunday? Will Mike Brown keep Bruce Coslet as head coach next year? Is everybody happy now that the Bengals are winning?

''When I came back to school on Monday, everybody was mad,'' said Mike ''Hoggie'' Roebel. The maintenance worker and assistant football coach at Purcell Marian High School went to the Bengals' game Sunday.

He took his battery-operated walking pigs - ''they wear Bengals helmets'' - to a tailgate party. He wore Bengals clothes from his hat to his sneakers. Standing throughout the game, he spent the afternoon ''hollarin', screamin' and yellin' the 'Who Dey?!' cheer.''

None of the teachers at the school saw the game. Even though it was sold out and on TV - the Bengals being treated like a real team for a change - work came first. The school had an open house.

''They were mad about missing the game,'' Hoggie says with a chuckle.

Imagine: mad about missing a Bengals game. A month ago, you'd have been considered mad to attend one.

''They told me I saw a good game. In the beginning of the year, they told me how crummy the Bengals were. Now, everybody's talking them up. This shows we need to keep the Bengals and the Reds here. Without these teams, this town ain't nothin.'''

Cincinnati wins

A winning team - a team that stands a chance and is not an NFL doormat - has a way of bringing people together. It brings my neighbor over to tell me the score. It gives me an excuse not to do the yard work I should have done in the spring.

It lets Larry Brinkmeyer paint his face orange and black. The Norwood house inspector and Bengals season ticket-holder for 15 years, ''through the good and the bad and the awful,'' takes pains ''to be careful with that paint. One game, I put the tiger stripes on too thick, got a suntan and wound up with four white stripes on my face. But it was worth it. We won.''

It brings Mike and Karen Jaffa to town once a year from their home near London, England. ''We are rabid Bengals fans,'' says Karen, a librarian and serious devotee of understatement. ''We love Bruce Coslet. He's your lucky charm.''

''We're such Bengal fans,'' notes Mike, a museum security guard. ''We envy anyone who lives in Cincinnati. You're in the heart of America and get to see the Bengals whenever you want. All we can do is tune in on Armed Forces Radio. We pray between the crackles that we hear the words, 'Bengals,' 'Cincinnati' and 'win.' It's a terrific feeling to hear all three.''

Having fun like this is why we voted for the stadium tax.

We didn't necessarily vote to build a stadium to house a Super Bowl champ. This isn't Dallas - where if you don't win it all, you're lower than dirt.

This is Cincinnati. We don't take our football as seriously.

All we ask is that the team have a chance. We'll do the rest.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.

Published Nov. 13, 1996.