Dan Marks showed up at the Holy Grail in The Banks and found his table of choice around 3:15 p.m. Monday. Marks was properly attired in his Bengals jersey and headgear nearly three hours before the start of 700 WLW-FM’s “Bengals Line” show. He is one of several regulars to this and other Bengals-related shows throughout each week. It’s earlier than he normally shows up, but Marks knows the crowd is going to be bigger on this night.
“When they start winning, people jump on the bandwagon,” said Marks.
Sunday’s dramatic 27-24 overtime win against Seattle, a victory in which the Bengals rallied from a 17-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter, was their fifth in a row to start the season. The last time the Bengals started a season 5-0 was in 1988 when they won their first six games. That was also the last season the Bengals played in the Super Bowl.
The Bengals have fans excited about what could be. Coming on the heels of a baseball season in which the Reds lost 98 games and finished 36 games out of first place, sports fans in Cincinnati are ready to celebrate some good times.
Does that make them fair-weather? Are Cincinnati fans the kind who will only back their teams when the wins outweigh the losses? Or is the majority more like Marks, a retired Duke Energy supervisor from Amelia whose loyalty to both of the city’s major pro teams may have taken different forms since he first bought Bengals season tickets in 1973 but has never been lost?
“I go back and forth on this,” said Lance McAlister, who is co-host of “Bengals Line” among his many duties with WLW and sister station ESPN 1530. “You know the old cliché 'love ‘em and leave ‘em'? This city will love them but they’ll never leave them. They know how to celebrate and ride the wave of emotion for the positive, yet they know full well the experience of the crash.”
Wayne Box Miller, another longtime radio personality who is well-tuned to the pulse of Cincinnati sports fans, said today’s fans are more knowledgeable in just how important they are to teams.
“I think the fan base has really come to understand their value, as evidenced by the new Reds regime when (Bob) Castellini took over,” said Miller. “They embraced him, they listened to what he had to say. Even with the Bengals, Katie (Blackburn) got more involved and Marvin (Lewis) has a little more say-so and I think the fans started feeling that we can embrace our teams now.”
Cincinnati’s locale also plays into fan loyalty. Beyond the Bengals and Reds, fan passions are flamed by college programs at the University of Cincinnati, Xavier, Ohio State, Kentucky and Miami among others. Loyalties to high schools are also fervent.
“When they ask you here, ‘Where’d you go to school?’ they don’t mean college,” said Miller. “Their loyalty and their fanatical behavior is more attributed to their high school teams than their pro teams. They love their pro teams, but their fanatical disposition is usually tied to Elder or St. X or Withrow or whatever.”
As Marks sat at his table about 20 feet from the “Bengals Line” broadcast stage where McAlister and co-host Dave Lapham set up shop, the crowd at Holy Grail grows. It’s still more than 45 minutes before the show is to begin at 6 p.m. but a sizable line has already formed for people seeking autographs from the night’s first guest: quarterback Andy Dalton.
Dalton has drawn the ire of fans for his and the team’s postseason failings the last four years, but his play so far this season is turning heads across the country. There is nothing but love for Dalton on this night.
“I’ve always thought that if you took away the cost of tickets and the fan experience, these fans aren’t bandwagon at the core,” said McAlister. “I think they’re frustrated by the down times and I think they’ve lost an appreciation for the good times. I think they’ve been so consumed by so much that has gone wrong that they’ve lost the ability to enjoy the day-to-day.”
The Bengals are making for some enjoyable days so far for every fan. Marks, for one, is going to be there regardless.
“I love Cincinnati. I was born in Cincinnati. I live in Clermont County but I’m a Cincinnati guy,” said Marks. “I can’t root for any other team. People that root for Pittsburgh or Cleveland, I don’t understand that.”