Though we in Cincinnati may see the upcoming game as an international road trip, for Tim Knowles it’s a chance to see his favorite team play a game at "home."
Knowles, 38, is a British Bengals superfan. While he works at a compliance business for construction safety, he shows his true stripes as a co-host on the podcast "Tim and Tom NFL" with fellow Brit (and New York Giants fan) Tom New.
But how did a guy living in Kislingbury, a small village just outside Northampton, England, end up becoming an NFL fan, let alone one rooting for the Bengals?
“I spent my youth watching the limited coverage on terrestrial TV in the 80s,” Knowles said. “At 9 years old, just about worked out the rules and, from that moment, always loved it.”
Though games weren’t broadcast, American football became popular in Britain in the 1980s, said Knowles, and he dove right in. He even covered a school notebook with NFL stickers and played “Madden” video games.
Knowles met his now-wife, Loveland native Laura Spitzmueller, in 2006 on an online dating site. The couple talked by phone and video, and Laura twice flew to the United Kingdom. Over the following year, they fell in love.
For Knowles, love was about to strike twice.
“I went out to Cincinnati in September 2007,” he said. “After spending a day or so in Mariemont, where Laura lived at the time, and knowing the Bengals were playing that weekend, you could immediately see what it meant to be in an NFL franchise city.
"It was everywhere. Simple trips to the supermarket were dominated by orange and black -- merchandise everywhere.”
Tim said that’s when he caught the Who Dey fever.
“I realized I could have a home here,” he said. “I could become a legitimate fan of a legitimate hometown team.”
Not only could he honor his then-girlfriend (but now-wife)’s hometown team, he could also be a unique fan in Britain.
“I didn’t need the Patriots because they had England in their name. I didn’t have to jump on the Dolphins bandwagon because it was near Disney," he said. "I could rid myself of the cliché at home and had no reason to think the 49ers were great because of Jerry (Rice) or Joe (Montana).
“And that’s what I decided within a heartbeat. This was finally ‘my team.’ I’m quite a supporter when I have a passion, so I went knee deep on Day One. I think I returned from my first trip with at least one jersey, one Bengals hoodie and a cap. And the merchandise has been flowing ever since.”
From that point on, Knowles became a fanatic.
“My family is pretty much covered in Bengals gear now,” he said, “and every single trip back – I’ve been to Cincinnati around 13 times now – I bring home more hometown wares. We’ve got a Bengals ornament for the Christmas tree, as well as my four jerseys, countless hoodies, T-shirts, training camp stuff and all the mini stuff for the kids.”
Knowles catches Bengals games live on the British Sky network, though for late games he turns off his social media and watches recorded games the next day.
He dishes out his Bengals and NFL fandom on his podcast with his friend, Tom.
“We started it just over a year ago over a bottle of wine and a pizza at Tom’s house. We had a phone to record our voices and that was it. Nothing more. We sat and talked about the basics," Knowles said. "He’s a big Giants fan, we always watch the Super Bowl together and we both like talking rubbish so it’s a perfect fit.”
Knowles has also been to four NFL games, including a 2010 Monday Night Football Bengals game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. His wife’s cousin surprised him with a transatlantic plane ticket and a ticket to the game.
“I almost cried,” he said.
He has a favorite player in defensive end Carlos Dunlap.
“I’m 6’4, so I have zero clue as to how that man has such agility, pace and strength at his size. It’s frightening," he said.
And unlike many native Cincinnati fans, Knowles has a healthy view of the ups and downs that can come with being a Bengals fan.
He conceded that the team can give fans plenty of "tension and anguish," but he said that growing up as a supporter of a low-ranked professional soccer team, he grew up just appreciating sports and the players rather than obsessing over wins and losses.
Of course, being married to a Greater Cincinnati native, he has to put up with some cynicism.
“(Laura) still doesn’t believe they’re any good,” Knowles said. “Typical, I suspect, of a Cincy girl who grew up surrounded by people begging for them to win and ending up being labeled as Bungles. The perennial underachievers label seems to be ingrained in the locals.”
Still, he knows the 2015 Bengals team is something special, and that’s got him pumped.
“(Andy) Dalton has a very different look this season and he’s been so consistent,” Knowles said. “If the Bengals don’t get to within an inch of the Super Bowl – it’s devastating. Don’t get me talking about it. Let’s just get there first and focus on Sunday, shall we?”
Of course, Knowles said he knows the real reason the Bengals have had such good fortunes these past several years.
“I blame the rise purely on my timing of being a supporter, obviously,” he said.
Find the Tim and Tom NFL podcast at http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/tim-and-tom-talk-nfl and on Twitter at @timandtomnfl.
Are you thinking of heading to London in 2016 to watch the Bengals play at Wembley Stadium? Knowles has some advice for "Yanks" hoping to catch a Bengals game across the pond.
“Save $25 a week,” he advised. “That’s your flight sorted. Keep directly in contact with the @Whodey_UK Twitter feed and the blog for details on tickets and the @NFLUK feed for formal arrangements.
"We are trying to source a 'section' of the stadium for the (Bengals) fans and I assure every fan that we will make this truly exceptional on our end," he said. "But don’t try to do anything until January as the season tickets situation will be firmed up then.”
Here's some other advice straight from Knowles:
- Forget trying to find direct flights from Cincy to London. Since the game is in October, there will be plenty of connecting flights. But make sure you’re doing the connecting flight in the states rather than in Europe. There may be nothing worse than having jet lag, going through customs, and then connecting to another flight.
- Take an extra day if you can. Jet lag might just ruin your clarity of the trip if you don’t get a day to adjust and sort the sleep out.
- London is expensive to stay in. Get familiar with well-known hotels and plan ahead on the accommodations. A large amount of hotels in central London that look very period and pretty on the outside are awful on the inside. Don’t fall for the pictures. You want a decent bed.
- Make it the trip of a lifetime. Get off the beaten path. Take the week, go and see the real parts of London and make sure you get your advice from people who know the real city. I have worked in the city for 15 years on and off. Don’t fall for the Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus stuff. The place is amazing.
- There is no “tailgate” so to speak of, so it’s much more commercial when you get here. And beer will be more expensive than at Paul Brown Stadium. We will be looking at venues for fan meets on the three days leading up to the event and I might even source some local events near to me.
- London public transportation is world-class, so make the most of it – but don’t shout too loud on it. We are quite a miserable bunch and not everyone wants to hear about how you pronounce Leicester!
- Not everyone eats fish and chips. We don’t have bowler hats. We are not prudes.
- At all costs, make sure you embrace the real culture. Eat an English breakfast. Drink tea. Make sure you find a genuine place to eat a Sunday roast.
- Remember, it’s our language and we respect you in your nation, so the same courtesy applies. “WOOO!” and “HOOO!” are confined to the areas around sporting arenas. They are not for the bus. Or the pub.
- Some words that you may have seen printed on the back of bar staffs’ uniforms at the Pub at Rookwood are real swear words here. Please don’t shout at people, “Are you a w***er mate?” You’ll just get into a fight.
- Don’t try to say "bollocks." It’s about as cringe-worthy as us trying to say “route.”
- Drink responsibly. Nah, actually, don’t. Just remember what I said about shouting in the pub.