Alright, so the Browns lost to the Cincinnati Bengals. Again. Both times were disappointing in their own respective ways, and really, both teams are disappointing in their own respective ways (the Browns far more so than the Bengals).
Above most other aspects, it’s a mental hurdle to accept the reality of losing to the Bengals, who had the worst winning percentage of any team in the four major sports for a ten-year stretch (and really, a ten-year stretch that could roll over year-to-year for about five more years). There’s just something that makes a fan feel depressed about losing to them, even though they’re a respectable team this year.
My issue with the Bengals is actually not that they’re locally blacked out because fans won’t go to their games, though the cheapest ticket in the stadium, as per their website, runs $73 after taxes.
(To sidebar on this for a moment: Are you kidding, Bengals brass? Face value of the cheapest ticket for one of the worst franchises in professional sports is 65 dollars? I sat in the front row at Jacobs Field behind the dugout for that price. Tell me which one is a better bang for the buck: A football game from 400 feet away, suffering through endless TV timeouts just to watch alternating three-and-outs, or a baseball game where you’re sitting close enough that you can smell the grass and hear the players? You should be fined and then publicly humiliated, Bengals management. Or you could at least implement some kind of policy where prices come down for a Week 16 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals on Christmas Eve. I can’t imagine anyone will be able to find anything better to do with their time than go to that barn-burner. Perhaps the Bengals should hold a dozen-egg night and have management parade across the field so fans can pelt them. They might be able to draw 60,000 that way.)
No, my real issue with the Bengals is that it’s a weird rivalry for the Browns.
I’m a firm believer in rivalries being healthy. I know that a high school rivalry is one of the most pure forms of goodness in the world. As you’re growing up, all you know is that you should hate these kids from the other school. You don’t care that you’re living parallel lives in towns that are literally bordering each other, you just know that they’re stigma X to your stigma Y, and you hate that. It makes things more exciting, more personal, and more fun. Then you go to college and meet some of the people from that school and let bygones be bygones and they miraculously turn into your close friends. It’s the circle of life, and it’s beautiful.
Professional sports rivalries are a little bit different. They exist in a similar way, but in most cases, the players are pawns for the fans who hate each other. In the same way as high school, it’s basically a blind hatred for the other city: Browns fans hate Pittsburgh, but the two cities are dangerously similar in a lot of ways, whether or not anyone wants to admit it (shout out to my sixth grade field trip to Pittsburgh where we went to a natural history museum, a retired ship, and a science center…not to be confused with the Natural History Museum, the William G. Mather, and the Great Lakes Science center in Cleveland. See my point?).
I’ve been in Cincinnati on a Browns-Bengals game day, decked in Browns gear, and felt the judging eyes of opposing fans. However, it’s different with these two cities. It’s not just a good-natured ribbing like Browns fans would give, say, Bears fans. This is a genuine disdain for someone based on what team’s logo they’re wearing (can’t even really say colors, since both use orange). I have to assume that Browns fans would do the same, which makes us no better than them, but I don’t think it’s quite the right way to go about it.
I have no problem fraternizing with opposing fans, just so long as my team wins and I can remind said fans that, while they may be nice people, they’re still complete losers for rooting for a bunch of losers. Likewise, I’m okay (and incredibly familiar) with the opposite result.
But the Bengals are just…different. There’s zero semblance of “good nature” between these two cities. The players don’t hate each other the way the fans do, and that’s probably for the best. It just feels like, if you polled Clevelanders after providing truth serum, they would unanimously motion to give Cincinnati to Kentucky. Presumably, Cincinnati residents would probably vote to give Cleveland to Canada, so it’s just as well.
I guess the point is that rivalries are fun, but this one doesn’t really do it for me. Rivalry and distaste are different. The Browns and Bengals have a distasteful relationship toward each other.
Of course, I’d probably welcome it back as a fun rivalry if the Browns could actually win a football game against them.