CINCINNATI -- I didn't have any choice. I needed gas, so I pulled off the main drag in Lawrenceburg and stopped to fill up.
It was 3:30 Monday morning. I was coming back from the trip to Oakland tired, sweaty and smelly with a shirt stained from a melting Dove bar that got the better of me.
I pulled up to a pump. Across from me was a guy gassing up his pickup. I nodded, and he nodded back. He was wearing a Bengals cap.
"You the TV guy?" he asked.
"Yep," I answered. "Quite a game today for the Bengals, wasn't it?"
I swear the first thing out of his mouth was, "Ya know, Dalton just sucks. Did you see him miss A.J. with that long pass?"
"But he had a great game," I said, "And they dropped a few of his passes."
"Aw, he just sucks," was the response.
(Let me note that I really have a hard time with the word "sucks." I even have a hard time writing it. If you want to tell me so-and-so is inaccurate, or tentative, or slow-footed or unpredictable, I'm OK with that. At least you've specified your complaint. But "sucks" is this all-encompassing word of disparagement, offered up by people who don't know what they're talking about. As Frank Sinatra used to sing, "Call me irresponsible, call me unreliable, throw in undependable too." At least he was aware of his shortcomings. Today, somebody would just say, "Sinatra sucks.")
CARTOON: Who Dey, all day?
Getting back to my friend at the gas station, I was walking in to pay my bill, and he said, "When are they going to let that A.J. dude play quarterback?"
I realized that he just didn't like Andy Dalton, following a long line of quarterback doubters and haters in Cincinnati.
Ken Anderson is remembered with reverence today, but I recall him lying injured on the cold Astroturf one afternoon in 1980 at Riverfront Stadium and the fans started cheering. They were glad he was hurt and the backup quarterback was coming in.
They wanted to see Jack Thompson, the top draft pick, "The Throwin' Samoan." He got to play and became known as the "Over-Throwin' Samoan."
After a lifeless opening game in 1981 that the Bengals won, fans shouted for Turk Schonert. Forrest Gregg stuck with Anderson, and he took the Bengals to the Super Bowl.
Plenty of fans couldn't stand the young swash-buckling Boomer Esiason either, especially when his passes were high and wide, putting his wide receivers in mortal danger. When the NFL players went on strike and he sat down in front of a Greyhound bus, people wanted to run him out of town.
He got the Bengals to another Super Bowl, yet many fans still thought Erik Wilhelm could be just as good. Management put their money on David Klingler.
How did all that work out?
Now comes Andy Dalton, who consistently has led the Bengals to the playoffs, but no further. I understand why fans are impatient, but Dalton wasn't responsible for 14 straight non-winning seasons.
Dalton doesn't have a lot of flash, he rarely provides an insightful quote, but I truly believe he's improved each season that he's been with the Bengals. And now he's surrounded by his best talent.
But according to my filling station friend, the Bengals should drop Dalton and put in A.J. McCarron, who has yet to take a snap in an NFL regular season game.
McCarron has two claims to fame: He quarterbacked Alabama to a pair of national titles. And he has a beautiful wife. Just ask Brent Musberger. Both are good items to have on your resume, but neither makes you an NFL quarterback.
However, right now, A.J. is the next one in line, and that makes him the most attractive quarterback in Cincinnati.
Of course, Dalton can shut everyone up with a long playoff run and perhaps a Super Bowl appearance. That's what Anderson and Esiason did and that changed everyone's perception of their abilities.
Until then, no matter what he does. Cincinnati football fans will say that Andy Dalton sucks. And Sinatra would croon "it's undeniably true."