Hobson's Choice: Nation waits

9/11/2005 - I was reading the college football weekend preview by B.J. Schecter. In his breakdown of the Notre Dame-Michigan game, he made this statement: "New Irish coach Charlie Weis opened some eyes with an impressive 42-21 win over Pitt, but he'll learn the difference between Pitt and Michigan is like the difference between the Bengals and Patriots."

I've heard some good press reports about the Bengals this year from media sources outside of Cincinnati. So Schecter's comment came as a shock. And then I saw Vic Carucci on NFL.com has picked the Bengals to be fourth in the AFC North behind the rebuilding Browns. Does most of the nation still believe the Bengals are not much better than the Bungles of old?
NATIONAL: The national media as a whole is a lot like Bengaldom as a whole. Until the Bengals go to 2-0 and Paul Brown Stadium scoreboard guru Scott Simpson fires up The Monkees' "I'm a Believer," at the end of the Vikings' game next week, most of the populace is going to be firmly planted on the fence. They actually have more support among the guys that cover the NFL every day.

As training camp started, the Bengals were the chic team of the national guys as the new, hot team in this season's playoffs. ESPN's Chris Mortensen has been saying it since last year's Super Bowl, and the parade of national guys to Georgetown this summer is evidence that they feel something special is happening in Bengaldom.

Don Banks of SI.com and Michael Silver, who wrote a Chad Johnson feature in SI's NFL preview issue (when was the last time that happened?) blew into camp, as did Fox's Terry Bradshaw. So did NFL Network, Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News, and Tom Pedulla of USA Today. ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli and John Clayton were actually at camp on the same day, the equivalent of a solar eclipse in the NFL media world.

But those guys, like everyone else, can turn quickly. The Pollack holdout seemed to cool some national guys, and SI's Peter King didn't think much of their performance in the preseason and had the needle out early. But, with Marvin Lewis a popular figure among those guys that covered what he did in the 2000 and 2001 postseasons with Baltimore, the Bengals' national prestige is higher than it's been since they went into the 1991 opener on the road against Denver and John Elway.

Exhibit A: Pedulla's visit turned into not one, but two splashy Bengals' features in this weekend's USA Today's NFL bonus section previewing the season, and if that ever happened at all, that paper is certainly yellowed and curled and folded up next to "Nixon Resigns."

I'm surprised at Vic, a guy who has covered the league for a long time. I'm sure his position as a consultant for clevelandbrowns.com earlier this year didn't influence him, but he also probably feels he has a better idea about the Browns than the other AFC North clubs and that's understandable.

In the end, the national media is just like everyone else. A slow start, and they have their same-old-story-Bengals tomes ready. A quick September, and there'll be some we-told-you-so cover stories. But clearly, this year more than any other they are ready to believe.

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