Bengals beg fans to show for decisive game
By Associated Press
Monday, December 26, 2011
CINCINNATI — One victory away from an unexpected playoff spot, the Cincinnati Bengals are already immersed in their biggest challenge of the week.
No, it's not getting ready for Baltimore. It's trying to get somebody to come and watch.
The Bengals (9-6) drew another less-than-capacity crowd for their 23-16 win over Arizona on Saturday that secured only their third winning record in the last 21 years. With a victory on Sunday over Baltimore, they would clinch the final AFC wild-card berth for a chance to win their first playoff game since the 1990 season.
Big moment. Will there be another small crowd?
Only 41,273 fans showed up on a sunny, 38-degree afternoon to watch the breakthrough victory Saturday. Paul Brown Stadium was more than one-third empty, and that's been the norm all season. Players buoyed by the chance to make the playoffs wasted no time lobbying for an audience.
"I just want to thank the fans who were out there today," defensive tackle Domata Peko said. "We really felt you guys out there, and that helped us out big time. I really want to encourage all of the Cincinnati fans to come out and cheer us on as we try to make the playoffs."
The franchise's two decades of futility have brought about the strange situation: a team begging for fans as it closes in on the playoffs.
There's a lot of bad history behind it.
The Bengals went 4-12 last season, when coach Marvin Lewis essentially played out his contract while looking for an indication the front office was fully committed to winning. After two days of talks, he agreed to return even though owner Mike Brown said publicly that there would be no significant changes.
Franchise quarterback Carson Palmer then insisted he would sit out rather than play another season in Cincinnati. The Bengals eventually satisfied his request for a trade, sending him to Oakland during the season.
Although the Bengals got a first-round pick and a conditional second-rounder, for fans it confirmed the notion that the franchise is hopeless.
Also, Paul Brown Stadium has been an ongoing point of contention as the region struggles to recover from the recession. Hamilton County voters approved a sales tax hike in 1996, and the Bengals signed a 30-year lease that gives them a lot of control over the facility and much of its revenues. The stadium came in way over budget — bad for taxpayers — and cost roughly $450 million when it opened in 2000.
Fans bristle that the family continues to get enormous benefits from the taxpayer-financed stadium while the team remains one of the league's least successful. On Friday, the family increased its control of the team by purchasing shares from one of the original franchise partners for more than $100 million. Forbes magazine reported that the Brown family paid in cash for the shares, estimated at 30 percent of the team. Forbes estimates that the team is worth $875 million.
The longstanding resentments showed in the team's ticket sales this season. The Bengals have sold out only one of their seven home games, when the Steelers brought thousands of fans. They've drawn the smallest crowds in the 65,500-seat stadium's history, including an all-time low of 41,142 for a win over Buffalo.
A measure of how bad it's been: The University of Cincinnati outdrew the Bengals for one of its games at Paul Brown Stadium. Fans have showed their disapproval by refusing to buy Bengals tickets.
Will it continue for one more week?
When the game ended Saturday, the Bengals flashed an offer on the scoreboard to try to drum up business for the final game. Season ticket holders will be allowed to buy one ticket and get another free for Baltimore, a sign the game was nowhere near a sellout.
Then, the lobbying began.
"The crowd really affected the game with the noise, and I'm sure they'll be anxious to get here next Sunday as we play for something special," Lewis said.
Even quarterback Andy Dalton, who is steadfastly reserved in his comments, decided to stump for public support.
"It's going to be a big week, and we're going to need everyone to come out and support us," Dalton said. "Everyone in Cincinnati needs to come out for this big game."
Bengals players have avoided talking about the small crowds during the season, not wanting to alienate their small fan base. The win Saturday made them lose their inhibitions.
"I'm just happy for the team and the city of Cincinnati," cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones said. "The fans did a great job getting behind us, and we need all of you this week. We need the fans this week. Who Dey! Please come support us.
"I'm Adam Jones, and I approved this message."
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