Cheers to the High Points of 2008: UC Football and Xavier Basketball

Though the year in sports produced its fair share of memories, no sporting memory will obscure the hard reality of economic gloom coursing through the world in a tense 2008.

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Though the year in sports produced its fair share of memories, no sporting memory will obscure the hard reality of economic gloom coursing through the world in a tense 2008. We’ll remember the Beijing Olympics and the New York Giants knocking the New England Patriots off their perfect pedestal in the Super Bowl, but only as long as we don’t remember going broke.

Sports fandom is supposed to help us forget our troubles for short periods of time. Ideally, it might produce reasons for cheer.

Fandom in Cincinnati offers little relief, however, especially regarding the pro teams. Instead of making us forget our own troubles, the Reds and Bengals force us to confront their troubles, which they’ve addressed to little effect.

The Reds and Bengals in 2008 are a study of contrasts adding up to no real difference. Making no serious attempt to change, the Bengals wrapped up a dismal 4-11-1 season last weekend. The Bengals now have had one winning season in the last 18 years.

The Reds went the other direction, entirely gutting their front office and the middle of their lineup, but the results closely matched. They finished much closer to last place than to fourth, extending their streak to eight losing seasons in a row.

There are better teams in Cincinnati, like Xavier men’s basketball and UC football, but no team illustrated the qualities of despair and cost-cutting quite like the Reds, who now are said to be sitting on $10 million for new players with nowhere to spend it. There remains little sense, if any, that the Reds are building a winner since owner Bob Castellini dumped General Manager Wayne Krivsky in April in order to install Walt Jocketty, who’s working without the money that helped him succeed in St. Louis.

Jocketty’s big moves so far have consisted in trading off Junior Griffey and Adam Dunn, whom the Reds weren’t going to sign anyway. Now the Reds are down to three players — Jay Bruce, Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips — who could play regularly for an average big league club.

What can Jocketty do? The Reds apparently aren’t taking chances, but should they? Well, they kind of have to. Every longterm contract is a risk. Bad contracts are part of the game.

The Reds aren’t in position to take big risks like the New York Yankees, who set the free agent market this winter by signing C.C. Sabathia for seven years at $161 million. But maybe the Reds could take a smaller risk. If they have $10 million for a right-handed bat with power in the outfield, how far can they be from Milton Bradley?

Last year, Bradley made $5.2 million, his highest salary in an eight-year career, leading the American League in OPS for the Texas Rangers. He’ll have to outlive a reputation for hot temper and a history of injuries, but he’s a punisher when he plays, he’s a switch hitter and he’s usually an adequate outfielder. The Chicago Cubs and Tampa Bay Rays are reported to be interested.

At least the Reds are making provisions for defense, led by young pitching. If Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto keep it up while Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo pitch at high levels, the Reds will have a chance every night even if they don’t hit. But they really need to hit, which is why Bradley is worth a try.

While the Reds focus on keeping the opposition from scoring, it remains odd that the Bengals haven’t, especially considering that Marvin Lewis once put together a defense in Baltimore rated among the best to ever play the game. Once again, the Bengals are easy to run against, exactly the trait they share with every other bad team in the NFL.

But it really didn’t matter this year. The Bengals have cleverly managed away their running game, which now is the least productive in the NFL. Then Carson Palmer got hurt, so the Bengals weren’t going to throw the ball well.

In its odd way, the fact that the Bengals have a few wins and a tie in the tail-end of their season shows they know something about winning, if only because no other explanation works.

Should the Bengals turn over their front office, bring in some new blood and try another way? It’s ridiculous to even pose that question, because it’s not going to happen.

It’s not going to matter who the coach is because they’re not going to hire a general manager, and even hiring a general manager guarantees nothing. So if you’re still sitting here waiting for the Bengals to get it right in 10 years, don’t be surprised. It’s been about twice that long already.

Thankfully, college basketball is making something of a comeback this year. Xavier went to the Elite Eight at the end of last season and returned to a high ranking at the end of 2008. UC is progressing, though one can’t imagine the Bearcats winning the Big East any time soon.

But the UC football team won the Big East just now. If we gave out trophies here for “Team of the Year,” UC football would win this year and last. Gloriously, the Bearcats get to kick off 2009 on New Year’s Day at the Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech.

UC football now is 21-5 under Brian Kelly, with seasons of 10- 3 and 11-2. No one has lured him away at this point, which is a good indication he’ll be back for 2009.

Thus 2009 already is marked as a different year. As the new year approaches, we can view UC football, the program that’s never been there, as the program mostly likely to succeed, along with Xavier basketball, the program that’s always been there. Meanwhile, Reds and Bengals fans have little to get excited about.

CONTACT BILL PETERSON: [email protected]

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