Cincinnati Bengals fans across the state and here in Delaware County were left holding their collective breath in the third quarter of Sunday’s game against Washington, when after an incomplete pass, the television broadcast showed the top overall pick and Ohio native — quarterback Joe Burrow — lying on his back clutching his left knee.
For a brief second, I told myself he would get up and walk it off, but the lifelong Bengals fan in me knew it was bad because that’s how it always ends for fans of the orange and black — bad, if not very bad.
Tests Monday confirmed what diehard fans already knew — the injury is even worse than initially believed. Burrow tore his ACL, MCL, and has other structural damage in his knee. Even though it appears that thanks to medical advancements it’s not a career-ending injury, it’s unclear whether the rising star and future of my beloved Bengals will be ready for the start of the 2021 season.
Until then, I will do what I have done for over three decades, I will continue to cheer on my team in hopes I will live to see them win at least one more playoff game, something the Bengals haven’t accomplished since a 41-14 victory in 1990 over the Houston Oilers. It’s been so long that the Oilers are no longer, having packed up and moved to Tennessee in 1997.
The scary scene that unfolded on the field Sunday reminded me of a dark time in my sports fandom when one of Cincinnati’s best seasons during my lifetime came to a screeching halt in a 2005 playoff contest when on his first pass of the game, Bengals QB Carson Palmer had his knee destroyed by Pittsburgh’s Kimo von Oelhoffen (dubbed “Kimo the Assassin” by the Cincinnati faithful). Palmer went on to play 12 more seasons in the NFL following the knee injury, so I’m hopeful Burrow will do the same.
I do caution that I’m hopeful. Having had people remind me over the years that the team will always be known as the “Bungles” to a majority of NFL fans, I’ve learned not to take anything for granted.
Growing up a Bengals fan wasn’t easy. Despite living less than two hours from the Queen City, I was one of the few kids in school willing to sport Bengals gear. While I was often teased due to the team’s ineptitue — the franchise lost more games in the 1990s than any other NFL team — I wore the orange and black with my head held high. People called me crazy, but there for a brief period (2011-2015), I thought my team’s fortune had changed for good with five-straight playoff appearances. However, it resulted in zero playoff wins and in 2019, the team won two games and the right to draft Burrow.
On draft day this year, my son — yes, he’s turning into a mini-me — and I watched as the Bengals drafted the 2019 Heisman Trophy winner from southern Ohio, a young man I have all the faith in the world in. Despite Sunday’s injury, I still believe he’s the missing link needed to get the Bengals that elusive playoff victory and, perhaps, their first trip to the Super Bowl since the 1988 season.
Until proven otherwise, I remain hopeful Burrow will return to the field in 2021 without missing a beat because, as a Bengals fan, hope is the reason I’ve stayed a fan for 30-plus years.
In a side note, on draft day, my son made a tiger out of an empty paper towel roll and construction paper. As you might guess, he named the tiger after his new favorite player — Joe Burrow. Maybe I should tweet Burrow a picture of it in hopes of cheering him up during his road to recovery.
Joshua Keeran is editor of The Delaware Gazette. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 740-413-0900.