I went to my first-ever NFL playoff game yesterday. (Uh, to be clear, I was merely a spectator… although I could’ve been an All-Pro defensive back except for one minor thing: a complete and utter lack of skill.)
Las Vegas Raiders (still feels weird typing that) versus the Cincinnati Bengals. The team I’ve loved since I was six, against the team from my adopted hometown, the place I’ve lived for more than 30 years.
The “more than 30 years” is significant because the last time the Cincinnati Bengals had won a playoff game was 1991. So while I was rooting for my long-suffering Raiders — they haven’t won a playoff game in 20 years — part of me wanted the “Bungles” to end their drought.
My Raiders have had to deal with a ton of off-field issues this year. Their former coach, Jon Gruden, resigned mid-season after reports emerged of him using homophobic, racist and misogynistic language in emails from several years back, while he worked as an ESPN analyst. In early November, their 2020 first-round-draft-pick wide receiver Henry Ruggs III killed a 23-year-old woman and her dog while driving drunk and going 156 mph, and was released from the team. A week later, another 2020 first rounder, cornerback Damon Arnette, was released after posting a social media video where he was waving a gun and threatening to kill someone.
Yet somehow, some way, the Oakland… er, Los Angeles, er, Oakland, er, Las Vegas Raiders managed to eke out victories in their final four regular season games and make the playoffs. Sure, now that they were in the playoffs, I wanted them to win, but to use a term popular in their latest hometown, they were “playing with house money.”
Watching the game was a blast… and not just because my friend Whit got free tickets in the Miller Lite Who Dey party deck, although free tickets, free food and free beer never hurt.
The game was fairly close throughout, and with 30 seconds to go, the Raiders had first and goal at the Bengals 9-yard-line, needing a touchdown to tie the game and send it to OT. But on 4th down, the Bengals intercepted a pass at the goal line to seal the victory.
Watching your favorite team lose is never easy, but this was probably the easiest loss to take ever. Because watching 70,000+ Bengal fans cheering and high-fiving as their team exorcised decades’ worth of demons was pretty cool. And if you listened closely, you could hear the entire city breathe a sigh of relief.
Or maybe that was just the free beer talking.