Earlier in the year there were two teams that looked like runaway trains: The Cowboys and the Bengals. Loaded with dysfunction and conflict, bordering on open hostility, I had these two teams marked down as destined for implosion. Now it's beginning to look like they are both gonna make it through.
Just about every sports movies ever made has been about a group of misguided or despised wrong-side-of-the-tracks players who turn out be merely misunderstood once the right person shows up at the right time to provide salvation. The hero has a tough road; he gets a lot of resistance, but doesn't give up. Eventually the players become believers and events conspire to put them in a position to demonstrate their character. And whether they win or lose that final game, salvation is at hand in the end.
The Bengals seem to be playing this script out perfectly. At the beginning of the season, it would've made sense for about half the players to have mug shots photoshopped into the team picture. They were about to have to mass petition the League was to allow players to wear tracking devices on their ankles. As recently as a couple of weeks ago, they were sniping at each other in the press. Suddenly, they are playing killer defense, their marquee bad boy has toned things down a bit and they are whomping opponents left and right.
What happened? Did they bring in Al Pacino to talk about clawing for that inch? Did Marvin Lewis rip off his mask to reveal Denzel Washington underneath? Did Carson Palmer leap up on the trainer's table and declare it to be St. Crispin's day? Whatever happened, nobody has said anything about it. Nothing. Am I the only one who would be curious to know how this came about? In the immortal words of Kevin Bacon in Tremors, "What the hell is going on? I mean, what the HELL is going on?"
This may be the most disappointing development of the season. With the personalities on this team and the tendency toward criminal behavior, I was counting on them being good for at least 15,000 words before the year was out. There's still time, and maybe a humiliating loss or two will set them off again, but for now, it's just wasted comedic potential.
The Cowboys also seem under control, but we have a much better idea why: Bill Parcells won. But it wasn't the kind of victory that ended with a surrender document signed aboard the U.S.S. Missouri. The bomb was never dropped, nobody died at Iwo Jima, there wasn't even a pivotal battle at Midway. It was as though, after Pearl Harbor, when the U.S. was in the middle of the arming and shipbuilding, the Japanese just decided to sack to whole idea and become a democracy.