By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer
LOS ANGELES - Al Michaels and ABC partner John Madden were promoting Monday Night Football to television critics. It kicks off with the National Football Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio, on Monday, two days before Michaels' baseball comeback.
So this Enquirering mind wanted to know again this year: Will the Bengals play on Monday Night Football again in my lifetime?
Last year Madden responded with an emphatic "No." Does he think the Bengals have improved the chance to be prime-time players by hiring head coach Marvin Lewis?
"No," Madden says instantly. "No I don't. I don't see Cincinnati making a big move up (the standings)."
New coaches and new players, including No. 1 draft pick Carson Palmer, won't make a big difference because ownership has remained the same, he says.
"When you change coaches and players and everything - and the team still doesn't go anywhere, you have to say: Well, who the (bleep) has been here during this entire process, and it's the owner," Madden says.
"You can't fire the owner. It's the highest position in the organization, and the only position you don't have to have any experience for. Every other position has to have experience. They've earned their way there. The owners buy their way there."
Now the good news: His ABC teammate doesn't agree. Michaels says the Bengals could be just a few yards short of success.
"They're closer than ever," Michaels says. "I think Marvin Lewis will make a difference. I have a lot of respect for him."
Michaels has the same questions that all Bengals fans have: Is rookie quarterback Palmer the real deal? Will running back Corey Dillon have enough left by the time the Bengals are ready to make a run?
Michaels cites the NFL's recent history of bad teams turning around in one magical season - the St. Louis Rams (1999), Baltimore Ravens (2000) and New England Patriots (2001).
"Who would have picked any of those teams? Not only to be good, but to be great?" he says.
"I would say that the Bengals are closer than people think because of the way teams have come out of nowhere. There's not even a transition year," he says.
One plus for the Bengals, Madden says, is their two Super Bowl appearances - even though a generation of football fans only knows the team as a bunch of losers.
Long before the Bengals became a Jay Leno punch line, the team was a NFL powerhouse.
"We forget that," says Madden, whose first Super Bowl telecast (for CBS) was the 1982 Bengals-49ers game in Pontiac, Mich.
"And one of the greatest Super Bowls I remember is when (Joe) Montana throws that touchdown" in the final seconds for the 49ers to defeat the Bengals in Miami in 1989, he says.
"So you can't say 'the Bengals will never (win),' because they have. Cincinnati has done it," Madden says. But that's ancient history to football fans.
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