Planet Claire has pink air. All the trees are red. — B52s “Planet Claire”
My eyes will be on the Cincinnati Bengals this year, win or lose, and there’s already one victory in the books.
It just so happens that a trip from home in Hawaii to Ohio to visit my son Elijah lined up exactly with Week 1 of the NFL season. He works at the Dakota Center as a coordinator of volunteers near the University of Dayton, which is about 54 miles away from Cincinnati.
Not exactly sure, but I’d say the last real NFL game I attended (excluding more than a handful of Pro Bowls as a sports reporter at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser as well as the Dallas Cowboys vs. Los Angeles Rams preseason game at Aloha Stadium in 2019) was in 1983. Eh, that would have been the New England Patriots vs. the Saint Louis Cardinals. Only 23 at the time, I wore a big winter jacket in order to smuggle in as many beers as possible. At the gate, the guards confiscated them ALL, but, haha, they still let me inside.
Elijah attended one Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium, one NHL game in San Jose, and some Major League Baseball games in Boston, Philadelphia and Oakland, but had NEVER been to an NFL regular season game.
Sunday’s Minnesota Vikings visit to Cincinnati’s jungle was a great opportunity for the both of us, and it turned out to be a FANTASTIC game, with many, many exciting plays and a thrilling finish.
And while I’ve kept an eye on the NFL and watched games and kept tabs on certain teams throughout the years, I have not been a super hardcore fan (like I was from about age 9 well into adulthood) for quite a while. This coolness toward the No-Fun-League has to do with ALL that passing and ALL those commercials and ALL the replays and ALL the hype and ALL the fantasy people who just want to see how THEIR players do and thereby throw away, on purpose, a large part of the WHOLE picture.
None of that above stuff can replace the HIGH I got watching guys like Deacon Jones and Alan Page and Jim Otto and Dick Butkus and O.J. Simpson and Franco Harris and Jack Lambert and Ronnie Lott get dirty in REAL dirt.
OK, so yeah, the entertainment of the NFL today is WATERED down in a certain way, if you get my drift. But I don’t want to sound like a cranky old man during this whole article, so enough already on that. Ahhh, wait, one more thing: Show me a Ronnie Lott or a Jack Lambert and I’ll show you real balls-to-the-walls football playahs …
Now, where were we? OK, so I tell Elijah that we’re going to the game and he immediately mentions that he thinks it’s going to be a good one and that the Vikings have a really good offense. I start googling things like “Joe Burrow” just to see what’s expected of the Cincinnati quarterback this year.
It figures, but the first hit on that search revealed to me that a giraffe at LSU named Joe Burreaux — named after the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft and former Tigers star — died this week.
Kind of an ominous sign, in a way, but a little more googling got me back on the proper page — that Burrow had a pretty good rookie campaign before an injury took him out last year.
Hmmmm, yes, this could be a good game, I’m thinking.
So then I email PJ Combs, the media contact person with the Bengals, to see if a 40-year sports journalist and 50-plus-year NFL observer can get credentials. Well, all he could say was no, I figured, and that’s what he did. The NFL works with accredited publications only and the less well-known but highly successful (to me, anyway) Bedrock Sports Hawaii doesn’t fit that bill. Boo hoo. He was a good communicator, emailing me back with the bad news. Hey, but I will send him this story anyway, if for nothing else than to build a relationship with a team possibly destined for some winning ways.
Next, Elijah goes on a ticket-trading site and comes up with some really good seats, not too high up, not too expensive and on about the 15-yard line. We worry about traffic and parking, but, by using Google Maps, he gets us to a spot just a little ways away from the mad rush near the stadium. We miss traffic and we easily pull into street parking and find ourselves with less than a mile walk to Paul Brown Stadium.
Ahh, Paul Brown. The former Cleveland Browns legendary coach who was the Bengals’ first coach in their expansion year of 1968, about the time I was starting to watch football. I remember asking my brother Dave what a Bengal was, and in 1970, I was completely amazed that they, a third-year team, won a weak AFC Central Division with an 8-6 record. Dave told me that this type of stuff was unheard of for expansion teams.
Oh, and just a few years before that, I had seen the Vikings on TV, too young to really know what was happening but kind of intrigued by the horn shape on the side of their helmets.
So, just after Sunday’s kickoff, we get to our seats and notice that the stadium has great sight lines. The one thing I didn’t want to happen was to be so far away that we couldn’t see what was really going on.
And then we settle in with a mix of Bengals fans and many visiting Vikings rooters. As a matter of fact, the gentleman next to me said he, too, remembers thinking in those early days of his watching football that the Vikings helmets were super cool. He also mentioned that Minnesota center Mick Tingelhoff from those long-ago teams, a Hall of Famer, died (at age 81) on Saturday.
Before getting in to the stadium, Elijah and I decided to root for the home team and try to blend right in to the “Who Dey Going To Beat Them Bengals?” mentality.
A Bengals fan on our approach to the jungle, aka Paul Brown Stadium.
(Image credit: BedrockSportsHawaii.com).
And, indeed, we were high-fiving the guys in front of us for most of the game. That Vikings fan next to me was a real sport. He applauded plays for both teams, and that was nice to see in this day and age.
One of my first impressions of seeing these players live in 2021 was that Dalvin Cook, the Vikings running back, might be the ultimate difference in this game. A thoroughbred, for sure. But Joe Mixon on the Cincinnati side proved to be just as much or more of a handful to Minnesota as Cook was to Cincinnati.
The final tally for the running backs: Cook with 61 rushing and 43 receiving yards; Mixon with 127 rushing and 23 receiving yards. Both runners carried their teams through the rough and tumble of getting upfield in this particular war.
And there was incredible play by the wide receivers, too. Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins threw for 362 yards, including 92 yards and two TDs to Adam Thielen. Burrow finished with 261 yards, including 101 and a TD to rookie Ja’Marr Chase.
As expected, neither QB displayed much running. It was either drop back and fire or suffer the consequences. The Vikings had five sacks and the Bengals three.
It took a while for Burrow to heat up. He found second-year receiver Tee Higgins in the end zone for a 2-yard TD for a 7-7 tie late in the first quarter.
Then, he unleashed a 50-yard strike to a streaking Chase to make it 14-7 with only 35 seconds to go before halftime.
About two minutes before that, Jason, a diehard Bengals fan in front of me, said, “Let the quarterback throw. Pretty simple idea.”
And throw he did. A beauty.
The troubling part for the Bengals in this game was that — after they took a 21-7 lead early in the third on Mixon’s 2-yard TD run — they let the Vikings back in it.
A drive deep into Minnesota territory late in the third ended on a risky and failed FOURTH-AND-1 play. Had they kicked a field goal or made the first down, things may have been quite different heading to the home stretch.
And back came the Vikings, who converted a FOURTH-AND-4 situaiton into a 24-yard Cousins to Thielen TD pass to make it 21-14.
After a Bengals field goal, Cook pushed the Vikings closer at 24-21 with a 1-yard TD run after a long Cousins to Justin Jefferson pass was stopped just short.
But Cousins proved worthy, at least on this day, of his huge contract by putting Minnesota in field goal position with three first downs, including ANOTHER FOURTH-DOWN-AND-4 conversion and spiking the ball with just 3 ticks left on the clock. A great display of field generalship.
Who dey gonna beat dem Bengals? Well, maybe the Vikings (and that thought certainly began to creep in). And then Greg Joseph’s 53-yard field goal ended regulation at 24-24.
On its second possession of overtime, Minnesota pushed all the way to the Cincinnati 38, where things looked bleak for the home side. But WHO DEY?
It was at this point that the dad said to his son, “They need a real big play here.”
And instead of one huge play, Cincinnati got two. First, Dalvin Cook fumbled the ball and it was recovered by the Bengals’ Germaine Pratt. Despite Minnesota’s official dispute, the play was upheld after review.
Dalvin Cook about to fumble.
Then came THE PLAY OF THE DAY. Facing a FOURTH-AND-1 situation at his own 48, Burrow faked everybody out by throwing a surprise pass to C.J. Uzomah down the left sideline that picked up 32 yards. And after a 15-yard Mixon run and a Burrow spiked ball, rookie kicker Evan McPherson drilled a 33-yard field goal to win it as time expired in the OT.
What a treat it was for me to spend this enjoyable day with my son. On Monday while taking a trip to Indianapolis and on to Chicago, we celebrated by eating Bengals cookies (with frosting of orange with black stripes) that somebody gave him a few days before the game.
WHO DEY GONNA BEAT DEM BENGALS?!!!!!!!
Nobody. Not this particular day anyway.
P.S. — One interesting thing was that one of the highlight video packages on YouTube shows all of the spectacular plays described above EXCEPT the winning field goal.
That YouTube video, with many comments from fans complaining that the winning field goal is missing, is below. Even though there is only black with white words (no display), you can still click on “Watch on YouTube” to see it in a new tab. Remember to come back and finish reading this story after you view it.
BedrockSportsHawaii.com HAS THE VIDEO OF THE WINNING FIELD GOAL below, although if PJ Combs had the authority to let us in with credentials, I PROMISE the camera work would be of BETTER QUALITY. I plan to add my video into the comments of the YouTube highlight video so fans looking for it can finally see the winning kick.
The two other Bedrock Sports videos below are of a Burrow completed pass stopped near the goal line followed by Mixon’s TD run AND THEN a Mixon run followed by Burrow’s TD pass to Higgins.