Would a loser have awaken at 9 a.m. on a Saturday and started drinking Sparks energy beer, eating bagels and watching college football pregame shows? Would a loser have walked across the UC campus before noon drinking beer out of a to-go coffee cup on his way to watch the Big East champions finish off their season? Would a loser have gotten free tickets set aside for him because he works at “City Beat Magazine”?
I think not. And with the city of Cincinnati´s recent acceptance of UC football as its most legitimate championship-caliber sports program and the university´s recognition of CityBeat as a publication worthy of press credentials, I´d say that we all done come up.
For the University of Cincinnati football program, the road to respectability was even longer than that of a privately owned alternative newspaper
receiving extended credit lines to keep in publication thriving by enlightening an ever-growing liberal demographic.
[For more on UC's long road to the top, see Bill Peterson's "Sweet Taste of Success" and our 2007 cover story, "Born & Raised," detailing the locally produced talent available to the growing UC program. See more photos from the Bearcats' recent home wins over Pitt and Syracuse here.]
The university’s well-timed allocation of resources to its sports department is already paying for itself in the form of local support, increased national exposure and the seven-figure paycheck that comes along with winning its athletic conference.
During my first year of college, fall 1998, the UC football team started off 0-9 and actually gave away thousands of tickets to a nationally televised game just to get people in the seats. I remember sitting in the mismatched couch room in Tangeman Hall, reading The News Record’s accounts of Rick Minter’s lowly Conference-USA Bearcats.
Losing like that resulted in UC rededicating itself to athletics when the opportunity to join the Big East came along. And reading poorly written game recaps in The News Record made me realize that anyone can do this thing called journalism, and I decided to stop hanging out in Colerain and fighting high schoolers in order to become a better student and start a rewarding career.
On Saturday both of these decisions officially paid off. UC won the Big East Championship and a trip to the Bowl Championship Series, and I successfully contributed a curse word to an edition of CityBeat for the fourth straight week. Success comes in many forms.
This sense of accomplishment was evident at the UC- Syracuse game, which resulted in a one-sided conference-ending win for the Bearcats. And from the traffic in the Clifton Heights streets to the people and children all over campus to the really long bathroom and concession lines inside Nippert Stadium, the sight of celebration and a feeling of legitimacy abounded.
For the last two weekends Cincinnati has looked and acted like a real college town. And it shouldn’t be that surprising: We’re an enthusiastic and supportive sports community; we’ve just been beaten down by years of watching horrible Reds and Bengals teams. If the XFL came back it would probably view Cincinnati as a prime market. “Dude, the Cincinnati Psychos are in first place! Let´s get there early and watch the opening scrum!”
Still, luring 30,000 Cincinnatians out of their racially and economically segregated neighborhoods and into the city’s urban center is a feat worth noting.
On Nov. 29, thousands of newly successful sports fans crammed campus parking lots, grilled food and drank beers before the game. Kids ran around play areas, and people threw bean bags across newly manicured lawns. A pregame introductory video showed football highlights and players saying “Because we are Bearcats,” which made all 34,603 of us momentarily feel like our student loan debt was worth it. We’re Bearcats, too!
Sure, I spent $18 on beer inside the stadium, and my super pretzel was cold and wet. But that didn´t stop me from getting a buzz on before 2 p.m. on a holiday weekend and watching my school beat the crap out of athletes from another school in order to make me feel good about myself.
The early afternoon celebration was the reward for months of following this team and its characters — from coach Brian Kelly’s crazy fourth downs and funny newspaper quotes to Mardy Gilyard’s exciting kickoff returns and child hugging to Connor Barwin’s defensive dominance and interest in what´s inside the Keg of Nails trophy.
It’s been a long time since Cincinnati sports fans were rewarded for our dedication, and the UC football program seems like it could be successful for a long time.
The best part of the championship is that we get to enjoy it for an entire month. Regardless of what happens when the ’Cats play Hawaii this weekend — although redemption for that ugly loss in 2002 would be nice — the UC football team will be included in nationwide talk of the best of the postseason bowl games.
And isn´t this what we all really want? To be envied by our peers and respected by our neighbors? To have people on TV and sports fans in other states say, “Cincinnati? Yeah, they’re pretty good.”
This respect was already evident Saturday morning at the UDF store on Clifton Avenue, where a lovely and nonjudgmental lady sold me two cans of Sparks energy beer, two tallboys of Coors Lite and a small apple juice.
“Need any brown paper bags for these today?” she asked.
“No, ma’am,” I said. “I’m not drinking them in the park today. There’s legally sanctioned public drinking going on for the football game. We’re allowed to do it.”
She laughed, handed me my plastic bag of alcohol and told me to have a great day. And I did, because I’m a winner.