Best Of 2020

Most years, the Bengals consistent losing is the source of endless consternation, but the 2019 season offered up something a little different — at a certain point, Who Dey Nation had to actually cheer for a loss in the hopes that the team would end the year with the league’s worst record and earn the top pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. But any Bengals fan with a heart had to do at least a little low-keep cheering for Jeff Lanham, owner of the Hog Rock Cafe in Milan, Indiana, who undertook the heroic (stupid? Heroically stupid?) mission of living on the roof of his bar and not coming down until the team won a game. One game. Lanham went up on the roof after the Bengals’ fifth straight loss of the season in early October, promising to remain there until their winless streak was broken. Even for the Bengals, of course, it was a losing season for the record books — Lanham spent Thanksgiving on the roof, but finally got to come down after the team beat the New York Jets in early December, mercifully ending their 11-game losing streak. Lanham’s 57-day stint wasn’t even the longest Bengals victory vigil. He just missed the record set when radio personality Dennis “Wildman” Walker similarly camped out on a billboard in 1991. Walker was on the billboard for 61 days after the team’s first loss that year until the Bengals finally won the ninth game of their season. Cincinnati Bengals, bengals.com.

Sports & Recreation
Illustration: Taylor Speed


Bat-licker Yasiel Puig didn’t have as big of an impact on the Cincinnati Reds as many fans had hoped, ultimately getting traded to the Cleveland Indians before the end of the 2019 season. But the slugger did leave Reds fans with a few memorable moments — including a pair that involved fighting with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Early in the season, when the benches cleared after a Pirates pitcher threw behind batter Derek Dietrich, Puig rushed out of the dugout and began throwing hands. An image posted by Fox Sports of a solo Puig lurching toward a wall of angry Pirate players (with other Reds players rushing in to assist) was so artful, many declared it museum-worthy, comparing it to a great Renaissance masterpiece. Puig was also beefing with the Pirates later in the season — on the day news surfaced that he’d been traded, during Puig’s final game as a Red, the Pirates again appeared to try to hit Dietrich during an at bat, which caused both teams to empty on to the field once again. Despite it being his last game as a Red, Puig was again in the middle of the action and standing up for his teammates. Fortunately, no one was hurt; unfortunately, no one got a good meme out of the second fight. Cincinnati Reds, reds.com.

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden welcomed a new baby bearcat in October. Born at the Nashville Zoo, the super cute binturong arrived in Cincinnati nameless and destined to be the University of Cincinnati’s next living bearcat mascot. The school’s beloved former bearcat Lucy retired from public life last August. So leading up to UC’s bicentennial homecoming celebration, the zoo asked the public to name the new baby. And the zoo narrowed the recommendations down to two: “Lucille” or “UCelia” (get it?), asking fans to pick their favorite. In the end, the 42,000 people who voted opted for the non-punny choice — Lucille — by 70 percent. We’re sure Lucille appreciates that. Binturongs are native to Asia and can grow to be between 20 and 30 pounds. They’re also rumored to smell like buttered popcorn. But why is this little civet the UC mascot? The origin of the program’s nickname dates back to 1914, when UC newspaper editor and cheerleader Norman Lyon deemed football captain Leonard Baehr a “Baehr cat” during a face-off against the University of Kentucky Wildcats. Shortly after the UC victory, a cartoon in the school paper depicted their team as a quadruped bear-cat hybrid chasing a scrawny kitten. The name stuck. The Bearcat’s first on-field mascot — a person in a bearcat costume — suited up in 1950. And Lucille will be the school’s fourth living bearcat mascot. University of Cincinnati, 2600 Clifton Ave., Clifton Heights, uc.edu.

2. Pure Barre (Oakley)

3. DEFINE: body & mind

With remarkably consistent play over the past few seasons, running back Michael Warren II earned himself a place in the hearts of UC fans and the Bearcats football record books. So it was disappointing when he announced at the beginning of 2020 that he would forgo his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft, becoming the first player in the history of UC’s football program to leave early for the opportunity. Still, fans — more hyped about UC football than anyone has been in quite some time — had plenty of reasons to be hopeful for the coming season, after two bowl-winning years with a combined 22-5 record. That excitement was replaced with anxiety when news surfaced in February that Michigan State was interested in poaching UC head coach Luke Fickell, just as they’d done in 2006 when they stole away Mark Dantonio (whose abrupt retirement from Michigan State put the job up for grabs again). After a few nervous days, fans let out a massive sigh of relief when it was clear the coach who has led the team through their major turnaround had decided to stay put. You lose some, you win some. UC Bearcats, gobearcats.com.

2. Miami Whitewater Forest

3. Devou Park

After going winless in its first eight games of the 2019 season, the Cincinnati Bengals sought to shake things up at the quarterback position for the first time in nine years. Veteran Andy Dalton was benched in favor of rookie Ryan Finley when the team played the Ravens in November. It was hard to blame the Bengals for wanting to see what they had in Finley, but the timing was a bit awkward (and typically Bengalian). The news of the benching came out on Oct. 20 — Dalton’s 32nd birthday. Suffice to say, Finley didn’t play well enough for him to keep the starting job — Dalton was back under center to help the team win its first game of the year, one of only two wins all season. Cincinnati Bengals, bengals.com.

Exercise can be lonely if you don’t have friends or family who share your desire to get into better shape. Why not surround yourself with some of the city’s finest folks in a gorgeous environment? Bonus: they’ll keep quiet, being six feet under and all. Spring Grove Cemetery is not only a massive sprawling expanse of immaculately manicured grounds, but it also has been a beautiful final destination for Cincinnati families for 175 years. Spanning 733 acres, the cemetery/arboretum is recognized as a U.S. National Historic Landmark and rightly so. If you’ve never visited, do yourself a favor and take a stroll through Spring Grove Cemetery, but leave your doggos at home. (They do allow furry pals inside one day a year for their annual Dog Day of Summer, with 2020’s planned for June 28.) Also, while you visit, be respectful of those in mourning: no loud music, keep your voices down and maintain a respectful distance from any processions that may be taking place. Remember why the cemetery was established (hint: not specifically for joggers) and be appreciative that our city is home to these beautiful grounds. If you don’t want to walk alone, Spring Grove offers frequent docent-led tours including Twilight Tours, early morning bird walks, native plant identification tours and the ever-popular An Afternoon with the Beer Barons event (beer + guided tours of historic brewery figure graves). Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum, 4521 Spring Grove Ave., Spring Grove Village, springgrove.org.

2. Mosaic Climbing

3. The University of Cincinnati Campus Recreation Center

2. John Brannen (University of Cincinnati Basketball)

3. Matt Thomas (Cincinnati Cyclones)