In a trim, well-mowed suburban home on the West Side, the Christmas tree is still up. This challenges even the hardest of hard-core Catholics, who tend to nurse their poinsettias along until February 2, the traditional Feast of Candlemas, which trundles along a good 40 days after Christmas. This is what Cincinnati sports have done to my sister’s living room.

My sister, an accountant by initial trade, is a supremely organized and sensible sort. Normally her Christmas decorations are neatly folded back into their boxes by Epiphany. But here she is, barreling towards Valentine’s Day and the fake evergreen still on display. After much discussion, she removed the ornaments; my nephews replaced them with the negative COVID tests they must submit to play sports. But otherwise, the tree stands as a testament to how very, very terrified we all are to somehow screw this up.

“I hope the Bengals realize how stressful this all is for the rest of us,” she said last week when I consulted her for a ruling on whether or not I should, as I did last week but not in the other playoff games, provide her family with a Bengals-themed dessert.

I speak from experience. The loss of the 1989 Super Bowl was due to my own sad negligence. My birthday took place a few days before the game. I blew out the candles, announced the dedication of my wish to a Bengals victory, and was immediately subjected to a verbal pummelling by every single family member present: “Well now it won’t come true!” I shrugged and plunged my fork into an icing rose. My confidence in the no-huddle offense was supreme. And we all know the outcome.

Now, however, the entire city is terrified. We don’t want to blow this. We know what’s at stake here. This comes once in a half-century. If this team loses, none of us want it to be our fault. The Reds aren’t going to save us the way they did in 1990. We’re looking at dispatch after dispatch from the lack of progress in talks between players and owners, and not only are the Reds far from playoff contention, we’re far from any contention at all. We have long since come to expect the absolute worst, and so this whole town has been beaten into superstitious submission.

What interests me about this is that football doesn’t tend to attract the fatally superstitious. That is baseball’s territory. Perhaps the speed with which football has superseded baseball as a fantasy sport has led to a nationwide revision of rules regarding often we wash our game-watching underwear.

So now we wait. This is still very much in our hands. We must not merely order pizza for dinner; the pizza must come from LaRosa’s. The same people shall re-convene at the same time in the same place with the same snacks (I sincerely hope you were surrounded only by those you can stand to share a room with for the Wild Card game; otherwise, you have suffered a very long playoff run.)

As I watched even the local graffiti take on a Super Bowl tinge, it became clear that we feel an outside sense of responsibility. In a society seeming to spin faster and faster beyond our own control, we have, at the very least, our insistence on hand-grating the cheese for the Skyline Dip instead of sprinkling the store-bought because that’s what seems to work.

It’s tough to feel like simply letting others in line ahead of us at the grocery or casting our sole vote makes a difference when the world starts to burn… so here we are, grimly buying the same beer we cannot stand for the fourth week in a row. But we submit to the tyranny, because You Can’t Be Too Careful.

Ownership is far more stressful than renting. But, of course, the payoff is greater in the end.

14 Responses

  1. LDS

    Hopefully, the Reds will play later this year and Cincinnati can get back to normal – accepting mediocre sports performances. Maybe the Bengals will pull off a victory and the city can celebrate. If they fall short, well there’s always next year and preseason is only six months away – kind of like the start of this year’s MLB season. At least, the Bengals and their fans have hope. Reds fans can’t say the same.

    • Mark Moore

      A sad +100 for that 6-month date for MLB. But you’re probably closer to right than wrong.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I keep reminding myself that the Bengals had 4 wins last year– but have the Reds made the same necessary moves to effect change? I don’t think so.

  2. Bred

    I am so over the moon that I am not the only one carrying the weight of the Bengals fate. I’ve been wearing a Bengals shirt every day and night. That’s probably common in Cincy, but I’m in Texas, and I’ve been getting plenty of Who Deys. My dentist even texted me after the KC game.
    Game day I’ll be wearing the same clothes, sitting in the same chair, well more like pacing as I got 6543 steps during the KC game, making Kenji Lopez’s oven fried chicken wings for the 4th time, and I am going to finish off the 6 pack of diet Dr. Pepper I bought before the Raiders game. I know I caused the first 2 Super Bowl losses, sorry. I pledge I am doing all that I can do to get the W!
    I was going to fly up to Cincy for the game. I had the flights selected and was about to hit purchase, but thought better of it because as you said you can’t be too careful! Who Dey!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Bred, you are truly sacrificing for the good of all. You are not at all alone– and it will be over soon, my friend.

  3. Mark Moore

    The rampant superstition of the sports fan is so much fun to watch. Yet, nearly all of us succumb to it at some level. I’m just on the bandwagon here, so I don’t have any dyed-in-the-wool rituals I MUST perform. But I’m happy for all my friends up there in the Queen City rooting for the Tiggers that do have them and are obsessive about executing them. The project manager in me wants to see them all written out so nobody screws them up …

    Our tree is up, but that’s because we like it that way. The actual Christmas décor is slowly coming down. DD#1 will keep hers all up until she puts out her St. Patrick’s Day spread. That’s just how she rolls. And, while the outside “Charlie Brown tree” is down and gone, the rest of the lighting remains and comes on promptly at dusk per the sensor. Not sure when all that will go back in the boxes … or if all of it indeed will.

    Here’s to Sunday, MBE!!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Mine didn’t hit the boxes until entirely too recently. I may have set a record. But since, like you, I just started paying attention, my emotional involvement is on behalf of others. It’s very, very different this time around. But what a joy to see the kiddies having a ball with the run-up.

  4. Scott C

    There was a great episode of Last Man Standing, before they jumped the shark by replacing a short dark haired daughter with a tall blonde daughter. (Come on that made no sense). In the episode Ed Alzate, the boss, has to have everything the same as last year when the Broncos won. He says something like “Does it work? Maybe not. But who knows?” Or like the old beer commercial, “It’s not superstition if it works.” Which is why I am saying here and now what I have said since the first KC game, “It’s the Bengals, the will find a way to blow it.”

    • Mark Moore


      My mind went EXACTLY there with this post. They did another similar theme in Mike’s house as well in a different episode. But the fanatical adherence to routine was so funny.

      And, yes, the off time that lead to the replacement (not to mention needing to add a new Eve via the exchange student) wore on me pretty quickly.

      So perhaps I shouldn’t start watching until at least midway through the 4th quarter and only spot-check before that?

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Oh, I’ve utterly given up on them about a million different times. Maybe that’s the secret!

  5. Votto4life

    Win or lose (and I believe they will win) the Bengal’s future appears pretty bright.

    Joe Burrow will win multiple Super Bowls.

    I am not as optimistic about our beloved Reds. First, and foremost, MLB is light years behind the NFL when it comes to competitive balance.

    Second, the Red’s owner is either cheap or broke, or both, take your pick, either way it is inhibiting the Reds ability to win.

    Third, the Red’s front office and field Manager seem inept at their job, but continue to have their contracts renewed.

    True, the farm system have been producing some talented players and apparently more is on the way. But deep down all of us realize by the time they start paying dividends they will be too expensive to remain in Reds uniforms.

    The only hope Reds fans have is Bob Castellini sell the team to mark Cuban or someone with his bank account who is willing to spend money to return the team in glory. At the same time we all realize that could very well lead to losing our beloved Redlegs to another city.

    Yeah, the Future looks bright for Joe Brrrrr and the Men In Orange and Black.

    For Joey Votto and the men in Red, it looks like more of the same until no one longer cares.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Good points. You have to wonder what conversations are like at the very high levels of the Reds organization. Are they rooting for a win to take the pressure off the entire city, or rooting for a loss so we don’t start looking half a mile upriver going, “…well?” It could go several ways, and of course the MLB itself is in the mix.

  6. Rut

    Have had the frozen Skyline last 3 games down here in NC. Cheese coneys were fun the first time, tolerated the 2nd, and was like Joey Chestnut on dog 70 for the 3rd game against the Chiefs.

    That stated, will do my best to enjoy them again on Sunday. But woof, makes me really miss the real thing!

    My neighbors are sure tired of me yelling “Who Dey” like I have Tourettes, hoping I can howl that at the moon all Sunday night!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I CRIED when I found frozen Skyline in FL, and also made the canned stuff when I lived in AL/SC. But now that I’m back… can’t deal with the frozen. You get spoiled.

      Here’s hoping for a fun night for all of you in the Cincinnati diaspora!