To say that Cincinnati is excited about the Bengals' continued playoff run is an understatement.
Fans within the city plus those living elsewhere are reveling in the first Bengals team to make the playoffs in 31 years. Sure, some are tempering their optimism by remembering the bad luck and bad plays that have plagued previous teams for decades.
But that exuberance that comes with a winning team? That's infectious and addictive.
Bengals punter Kevin Huber gets it.
In a new first-person piece for The Players' Tribune, Huber describes what it means to experience a next-level playoff win for the first time in his professional career. Huber's extensive description of his love for Cincinnati, growing up a Bengals fan and contributing to the team commanding new respect from many who had written the franchise off is deeply personal and moving.
Huber guts readers right from the beginning:
This is for everybody who never gave up.— The Players' Tribune (@PlayersTribune) January 20, 2022
To Cincinnati, from @khuber10. https://t.co/2jYyGGGs1M
When Germaine picked that ball off to end the game last week, I started looking into the crowd. The noise was incredible. The excitement was contagious. I’d never seen Paul Brown Stadium like that — I’d never heard it like that. It was just so pure. And as I looked around, I saw fans throwing their arms in the air, jumping up and down and screaming their heads off. But for every one of them, there was a fan with their hands on their head, staring into the distance with just a smile on their face.Huber goes on to describe Cincinnati as being in his blood, having grown up in Anderson and attending the University of Cincinnati. He details learning how to punt and getting the call to join the Bengals, the team he loved so much, even during years of loss.
And I knew exactly what they were feeling.
And 2015, that was the toughest of them all.He describes the current Bengals team as being "mature," something missing from Huber's previous squads.
That team was so, so good. Truly.
Andy and A.J, Pacman and Reggie, Geno and Carlos. Eight Pro Bowlers. We had all the talent in the world, we really did. But I don’t know. It just wasn’t meant to be. I remember as those last seconds were ticking off the clock against the Steelers, just looking around and thinking, Seriously? What did we do to deserve this?
I’ve been a part of some bad teams, where, once there’s nothing left to play for, guys tap out. They don’t give it their all in practice or on every snap. But last year, we were playing “meaningless” games and I’m watching guys like Tee and Jessie and Germaine go flat out, every play. It almost caught me off guard. I could see how serious these guys were about flipping the script around here. There was no finger pointing after a loss, no dejection.Huber ends his tale with a generous shot of hope, tying together the decades of loss with the newfound optimism and pointing out the fans who have been along for the long, long ride.
Every game the objective was to get better.
To me, that’s maturity.
And that win against the Raiders? That was just the first step. If you’re from here, if you bleed orange and black — you know what that win really meant. You felt it deep in your soul. Because you’ve been here for the heartbreak, same as I have. When Germaine ran back to the sideline after the pick last Saturday, I looked at Coach Simmons, who’s been with us since 2003, and he looked at me…. And there was only one thing to say: “Finally.”On Saturday, Cincinnati fans once again will marry apprehension with hope, reveling in the fact that maybe, just maybe, this could be it. And if it isn't it, there still may be many more chances in future seasons. Perhaps last weekend's win against the Las Vegas Raiders and Saturday's game against the Tennessee Titans will mean the start of a dynasty rather than the ongoing butt of a joke.
Maybe there really is more to come, Huber dares to dream.
"I saw it on the faces of thousands of people around Paul Brown. I hope everyone soaked in each second of it. That night was special. That night was for everybody who never gave up," Huber writes of last weekend's win. "That night was for Cincinnati."
The Cincinnati Bengals will play the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Divisional round in Nashville at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. The game will be broadcast on CBS and Paramount+.
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