There is no joy in Bengalville. In fact, there hasn’t been much to cheer about since Boomer Esiason was at quarterback and fans were doing the “Ickey Shuffle” more than a decade ago.
Disappointment and disenchantment were clearly evident Wednesday as coach Dick LeBeau and linebacker Takeo Spikes talked about the team’s 0-6 start, the soon-to-be 12 straight years of losing and the on-going struggles that come with it.
Just after their 34-7 home loss to Pittsburgh, former Titan Lorenzo Neal, who upon joining the Bengals last year chirped about the team turning the corner attitude-wise, called them a “laughingstock.”
Indeed, as the losses have mounted the Bengals have had to endure more than their share of being punch lines and punching bags.
“Human nature being what it is, we all want to hear good things said about ourselves, and none of us enjoy it when not so good things are said about us. That’s only human nature,” LeBeau said.
Asked for what the answers to the organization’s problems were, he replied: “Well, I don’t know the answer to that. Obviously, if I did, I’d have us around the corner. I do think that in many cases, coming into this season in particular, that we had shown significant improvement in all areas. We just have to get back on the right track this year and get back to building to where we want to get.”
All the losing has been wearing on the players as well. Spikes, a former first-round pick and one of the league’s top linebackers, said things are tough in Cincinnati. He even gets pity from his friends on other teams around the league.
“I have a lot of close friends around the league and a lot of them just tell me, ‘I just feel sorry for you, man,’” Spikes said. “They say, ‘Ah, we feel sorry for you.’ And they say a lot more stuff than that, but I am not going to get into that.’’
One of Spikes’ close friends is Titans middle linebacker Randall Godfrey, who says the Bengals need more players like Spikes to help see them correct their problems.
“It takes some leaders over there,” Godfrey said. “Takeo is a great leader. He’s trying to hold it together, but he’s always down. I talk to him every now and then on the phone.
“It takes leadership. It takes guys who are still going to do the same things every week. Even if you’re losing, you’re still going to be the first one in there lifting weights and trying to get better. It takes guys like that leading by example, and I think they don’t have enough right now.”
Spikes agreed that turning around a terrible situation lies in the hands of the Bengals players.
“It is not just one thing, it is a combination of a lot of things,” Spikes said. “But for the most part the players have to go out there and react and play the game.
“We have to take it upon ourselves as a whole and say enough is enough and until we say that, then that is when I feel like we are going to win.”
The Bengals, who are now in their sixth consecutive season with a losing streak of at least six games, want to figure something out soon, so they are not simply playing out the string again this season. The fact that AFC North co-leaders Pittsburgh and Baltimore are both just 3-3 shines a glimmer of hope for Spikes.
“There is time. When we run out of the hunt for the AFC North, when we run out of that, then it is like we are playing for pride again, and Lord knows I don’t want to be playing for pride again,” Spikes said.
One Titans player who can relate directly to what Spikes and the Bengals are going through is backup quarterback Neil O’Donnell, who lived through a 3-13 season as Cincinnati’s quarterback in 1998.
O’Donnell said he wasn’t in Bengal stripes long enough to really pinpoint all the organization’s problems, but he was around long enough to know that something was definitely amiss.
“One time, we beat the Steelers, and that was a huge win at home. We were 1-3 and we were believing in each other and what we were trying to do. The next thing you know, there was a landslide,” O’Donnell recalled. “We were 1-3 and I think if we’d won that next game, it could have changed a lot of scenarios, but we didn’t, and all of a sudden the next game comes, and then this one got hurt and then, boom!”
So what is wrong in Cincinnati?
“I wish I knew the answer. Enough people take shots at them, so I’m not about to do that,” O’Donnell said. “It’s just a different situation there. Let me put it that way.”
As for Spikes, he said he knows the Bengals don’t strike much fear into the hearts of opponents, but all he and his teammates can do is try again to straighten things out.
“We don’t expect nobody to respect us, that is just the way it is,” Spikes said. “It is what it is – that comes from the 0-6 record. That comes from the past 12 years of our record combined together. We know that no teams respect us, and that is totally fine with us, but we are going to go out and try and get it this week.”