String of arrests spurs demise of once-promising Bengals
CINCINNATI – Sitting in his spacious office at Paul Brown Stadium last week, Marvin Lewis seemed relaxed. He got a little nostalgic as he talked about playing Little League baseball and high school football for the late Jim Garry, a man who never cursed and preached the value of discipline and fundamentals.
Ah, the good old days.
For Bengals fans, those were exactly two years ago. That’s when Lewis guided Cincinnati to an AFC North title, and the possibilities seemed endless for a team that had a franchise quarterback and a strong-willed head coach with impeccable defensive credentials.
Carson Palmer and Lewis, a Fort Cherry High graduate, are still two of the faces of the franchise. But the promise they generated has been extinguished by underachieving play and an embarrassing string of player arrests that spawned countless jokes, including one that a remake of the football/prison movie “The Longest Yard” would be the story of the 2006 Bengals.
The Bengals go into today’s 1 p.m. game against the visiting Steelers at 2-4, and Cincinnati needs a win over its hated division rival to stay relevant in the AFC North and to provide a pick-me-up for their fans.
“I thought the Jets win (last Sunday) would be the shot of adrenaline for the fans to get going, and it hasn’t,” said Lance McAlister, a popular Cincinnati sports talk show host for 1530 AM, the flagship home of the Bengals. “Not as much frustration, but depression has set in for Bengals fans.”
It’s not hard to see why.
|From January 2006through January of this year, nine Bengals players got arrested. CoachMarvin Lewis recently downplayed the effect the arrests had on thefranchise, saying they “happened two years ago.” Still, the stigma hasnot been easy for the Bengals to shake. Here is a look at those whowere arrested.|
|Johnathan Joseph, CB||Possession of marijuana|
|Deltha O’Neal, CB||Driving while intoxicated|
|Reggie McNeal, WR||Resisting arrest|
|Matthias Askew, DT||Resisting arrest|
|Eric Steinbach, G||Boating under the influence|
|Chris Henry, WR||Multiple ones, including transaction with a minor(three counts) and felony possession of a concealed firearm.|
|Frostee Rucker, DE||Spousal battery|
|A.J. Nicholson, LB||Burglary grand theft|
|Odell Thurman, LB||Driving while intoxicated|
The Palmer-led offense can be dynamic, but the injury-plagued defense has been a major problem — the Bengals have given up 109 more points than the 4-2 Steelers — and the specter of having to outscore teams to win isn’t the only thing hanging over the Bengals.
The organization’s reputation has been so tarnished that the players realize the Bengals are one arrest from returning to the punchlines of the late-night talk show hosts who for years mocked them for their failure on the field.
“We have taken a bad rap, and deservedly so, for the number of guys that we’ve had doing negative things,” said Pro Bowl offensive tackle Willie Anderson, who won’t play today (knee).
Some of the Bengals, including Lewis, are sensitive about the national perception that has been created by the nine player arrests from January of 2006 through January of this year.
“I’m sure they had some arrests down in Pittsburgh,” defensive tackle John Thornton said. “I don’t think they report that stuff down there; they cover it up.”
“It goes around,” Lewis said of players getting into trouble, “and unfortunately it was hovering over us a little bit. But if you look at Denver, Jacksonville, Indy — there’s been other teams (that have had players get into trouble). It is unfortunate, but you overcome it.”
Bengals fans that once deified Lewis grumble more about something else these days, specifically that defense is supposed to be his area of expertise (The former Pitt and Steelers linebackers coach had been the defensive coordinator for the Ravens before going to Cincinnati in 2004).
McAlister said some fans have called his show clamoring for Lewis’ firing and the hiring of his former boss, Bill Cowher, whom Lewis also played against when Cowher went to Carlynton High School.
McAlister, who is on weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m., calls such discussions “almost wasted airtime” if only because Lewis’ contract runs through the 2009 season, and the penurious Bengals will never pay him not to work.
There are others who think talk of Lewis’ ouster is absurd.
When the Bengals went 11-5 in 2005, Lewis’ second season, it marked the first time since 1990 that Cincinnati posted a winning record.
Lewis has never had a losing season, which is saying something, considering the Bengals were 12-36 in the three seasons that preceded his arrival in Cincinnati and 52-108 in the 1990s.
“He brought us from nothing to where we are today,” said 42-year-old Billy Anderson, who is a Bengals season-ticket holder. “In Marvin, we trust.”
Suffice to say Anderson is not the one who created the Web site www.firemarvinlewis.com .
Not so long ago, Lewis could have run for mayor and won easily in the city that Jerry Springer once presided over.
If it bothers him that his star has dimmed or if he’s feeling any heat, Lewis isn’t letting on.
“The only pressure is the pressure that’s always with the job, and that’s internal pressure, fire to win,” Lewis said, “because when you spend as much time doing what you’re doing, you want to win, you want to get something back out of it in return.”