'The Villains:' How true disrespect created a monster in Cincinnati
Eli Apple, Mike Hilton, Vonn Bell, and the Bengals are embracing their villain status. “We’re the bad guys in this movie," says one DB. Here's how a band of outcasts built something special.
CINCINNATI, Ohio — One panoramic scan of the locker room blows his mind. Everywhere he looks, Vonn Bell sees a player who was abandoned by another team in the NFL. He cannot help but laugh in disgust. A few days before his Cincinnati Bengals fly west to face the Kansas City Chiefs at Burrowhead Stadium in an epic AFC Championship Game rematch, the secondary’s hard edge sits on a stool with a black durag over his head and speaks in a baritone rumble.
Bell was one of the first outcasts to sign, way back in March 2020. Since then? So many more players written off by the team that originally drafted them landed right here.
A Super Bowl title is now two wins away. Nobody forgets what led them here.
“You have to go out there and prove it: ‘This is why you should’ve kept me,’” Bell says. “It adds fuel to the fire.”
First, Bell turns to his left. There’s Mike Hilton with a permanent smile across his face, the same smile that’s currently pissing off those Chiefs quite a bit. He’s the one who shouted into an NFL Films camera that the Bengals couldn’t wait to head to “Burrowhead” as his team KO’d the Buffalo Bills in the divisional round. And this slot corner torpedoing his 5-foot-9, 185-pound frame into everyone from Derrick Henry to Josh Allen will never forget what ex-Georgia coach Mark Richt told him out of high school. That he was “too small.” Even after Hilton asserted himself as one of the best pound-for-pound players in the NFL, Hilton told us the Pittsburgh Steelers never offered him a second contract. “Crazy,” scoffs Bell.
Then, there’s the cornerback to his right. The lovable, the gracious, the gentile… Eli Apple. We kid. Apple is the most hated player in the NFL, and it’s not particularly close. The former 10th overall pick was written off as a bust long ago, dumped by the New York Giants, New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers. “Raiders, too!” reminds Bell, a reference to this contract that fell through. And he continues.
“Tre Flowers, Seattle.”
“LC, Cowboys.” (La’el Collins.)
“You’ve got Hayden Hurst. Trey Hendrickson. A lot of guys!”
Bell cannot help but snicker at the idiocy of teams refusing to re-sign good players. Ted Karras won two rings with the New England Patriots. “And you’re going to let him walk?” asks Bell, incredulously. Defensive tackle B.J. Hill was traded by the Giants. Injured cornerback Chidobe Awuzie not re-signed by Dallas. To figure out why the Bengals are back in this AFC title game — why they’re guaranteed to contend annually — you’ve got to dig deeper. Yes, Joe Burrow is as close as this generation has to Tom Brady. Yes, defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo is devising brilliant gameplans. There’s something else turning the best of the very best quarterbacks into mush.
The reason why Cincinnati exudes such swaggering confidence is all of this very real disrespect.
Because when that alarm blares at 6 a.m., and it’s time to smash into other grown men for a living, there are those who moan and groan and dread such an existence. Only a paycheck prevents these players from hitting snooze, considering a new line of work, and it’s hard to blame ‘em.
Then, there’s the Bengals.
Intrinsic motivation courses through their veins, and that’s a must this time of year. Coaches can try their best with a rousing speech or an obscure statistic or a quote from an opposing player. The Chiefs are doing this right now with Hilton’s “Burrowhead” zinger. Even here, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor informed players last weekend that the Buffalo Bills owned the league’s best all-time home record in the playoffs and guys hated the fact that tickets to a potential Bills-Chiefs title game in Atlanta were being sold in advance.
Yet player to player — to their core — the feeling of being disrespected runs deeper. It’s their oxygen.
Even Burrow, a No. 1 overall pick, once lost a quarterback competition to Dwyane Haskins at Ohio State.
“Words you can’t even explain. It’s the action, the raw emotion you see,” says Bell, who first spent four seasons in New Orleans. “They’ve sacrificed a lot and they’re betting on themselves. Everything’s paying off. All the work. All the preparations. All the sacrifices. They’re reaping the benefits now. We just have to finish. That’s the only thing left.”
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The disrespect is felt most in this pocket of the locker room with the defensive back who must flummox Patrick Mahomes once again. They stuffed a Brodie Croyle mask over the quarterback’s head in the second half of last year’s AFC title game. Within a pass-happy sport where 300-yard passing games are now the floor, the Bengals’ secondary is an anomaly. You’ll hear from them, too. After Josh Allen ran in for a 1-yard touchdown, safety Jessie Bates stepped in. “You talk your shit back to him,” Bates says. “Like, ‘Hey, no. Get back to the sideline. You just scored a 1-yard touchdown.” After forcing an incompletion — and seeing Stefon Diggs on one knee — Apple held fingers to his eyes to insinuate that the wide receiver was a cry baby.
Apple is the ringleader. Chances are, you read his tweet spree after eliminating Buffalo. One particular, uh, quip earned him Bryan Cox Status for life in Buffalo, NY. Defensive end Shaq Lawson even threatened violence. To Apple’s credit, he acknowledges the damage done.
“They really, really don’t like me,” he says. “I’m banned in certain places up there.”
Where chili-consuming locals see swagger, wing-devouring Western New Yorkers abhor arrogance. Every visit Go Long takes to Cincinnati reminds me of a week-long visit to the Pacific Northwest ahead of the 2014 NFC Championship, back when the “Legion of Boom” was at its soul-snatching peak. That Seattle Seahawks secondary was more apt to leave receivers with a constellation of bruises, but the brazen attitude? The indisputable results in the midst of a passing revolution? Strikingly similar. Tre Flowers was drafted by the Seahawks in 2018, when the Boom was fading into an echo, and nobody articulates this disrespected effect better than him.
For a while, he’s been telling the other defensive backs that they’re the “villains.”
As Cincinnati’s list of enemies grows in Baltimore, Buffalo, Kansas City, teammates are starting to agree.
“We embrace it,” Flowers says. “We’re the villains for sure. Around the whole league.”
One locker over, rookie corner Allan George is laughing hysterically. George shouts exactly what he told Apple before the Bills game: “Somebody has to play the villain. Why not us?”
It fits. It’s time. The Villains has a cryptic ring to it because the description is spot on. Like the orphaned antiheroes in comic books, so many of these Bengals rose as pariahs. Two years ago, Bell was essentially Heath Ledger calmly walking away from a burning hospital. He got this whole party started with one vicious hit. Last Sunday, Apple pretended to spank an imaginary body on the sideline in Orchard Park. Flowers painted the supervillain Bane on one cleat with The Joker on the other earlier this season and, this Sunday, says he’ll bust out Harvey Dent’s “2 Face.”
For so long, these players were forced to follow somebody else’s script.
Now, they’re writing their own.
“We’re the bad guys in this movie,” says Flowers. “You might like the ending, you might not.”
He pauses, grins.
“The bad guys might win.”
The rhetoric. The celebrations. The confused blank stare on the faces of opposing quarterbacks that synchronizes so eloquently with all destruction. Everything began with one Big Bang collision the night of Dec. 21, 2020. Feels like forever ago but, with the rookie Burrow on injured reserve with a torn ACL, the Bengals were 2-10-1.
In came the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers to Paul Brown Stadium on Monday Night Football.
More specifically, in came JuJu Smith-Schuster to gyrate atop the Bengals’ midfield logo. That was JuJu’s TikTok schtick. The week prior, he danced atop the Bills’ logo and the Bills admitted it was motivation in their win. Nonetheless, duty called under these MNF lights. With a football in each hand during pregame, JuJu hopped and skipped and treated the tiger-striped “B” like his own personal dancefloor at a wedding. He finished the ditty by emphatically spiking a football on that “B” before then posting the video on this crack-like app we all hope ceases to exist before our toddlers become teenagers. With catchy music and laughing emojis, JuJu included the words “They told to stop dancing on the logo and not to be yourself.”
Bell didn’t see Smith-Schuster dance atop their Bengals logo with his own eyes but did know this was the eccentric wide receiver’s go-to move… and it infuriated him. We’re going to play between the lines, he remembers thinking.
With 47 seconds left in the first quarter, Bell got his shot.
No. 19 caught a short pass over the middle, turned his head and was drilled into another dimension. The ball popped into the air and Cincinnati pulled the 27-17 upset with its quarterback (Ryan Finley) throwing for all of 89 yards. Without question, more damage was done to Smith-Schuster’s pride than any bone, any muscle. Not only did his pregame dancing ritual die then and there — we were all forced to take these Cincinnati Bengals seriously.
Thinking back, it wasn’t too complicated. Bell believed Smith-Schuster was being disrespectful, and wanted him to feel the pain.
The Old Bengals, that night, became these New Bengals.
“It was a tone-setter,” Bell says. “And we brought in guys who really fit the mold of what we’re trying to become. The standard. Go out there and get good players and drafted well. And everybody just meshed so well. Guys are out here playing for one another. That’s the biggest thing. There are no ‘me’ guys. It’s about ‘we.’”
The next two offseasons, both Taylor and Duke Tobin, the team’s director of personnel, turned Cincinnati into a sanctuary for pros wired exactly like Bell. Sure, they had the benefit of a quarterback on that glorious rookie contract. But both individuals do not get nearly enough credit for doing everything right around Burrow. They ridded the locker room of veterans from the Marvin Lewis years. By moving on from established vets like Giovani Bernard, A.J. Green and Geno Atkins, Cincy created a vacuum for a completely new culture.
New leaders were handpicked at every level. D.J. Reader, one of the sport’s best nose tackles, is a true anchor. “I’m going to put myself on that scratch line every play with my brothers,” he detailed. Trey Hendrickson wasn’t exactly a free-agent castaway, inking a mega four-year, $60 million deal in Cincy. But it’s true he didn’t receive an extension from the team that developed him out of Florida Atlantic — the Saints instead threw millions of dollars at other players — and all the 6-foot-4, 270-pound defensive end did was prove the 13.5 sacks he had in that contract season were no fluke with 14 last season. Awuzie, who was not re-signed by Jerry Jones, is on the short list of true shutdown corners.
Trading center Billy Price to the New York Giants for Hill was a borderline felony.
Arguably no player embodies the spirit of the Bengals like Hilton, the human firework of a nickel back who still hears Richt telling him he’s too small to play at the University of Georgia.
“Everybody has something that gets them going,” Hilton says, “and that’s me. That’s why I go out there every Sunday and be who I am.”
The slight crushed him then. Hilton dreamt of playing in his home state, where Georgia Bulldog Football was more of a religion than religion itself. As the little brother always hanging out with older kids, Hilton was picked on — relentlessly — and it instilled what he calls a “fight mentality.” It didn’t matter that he was one of the best defensive backs in the SEC at Ole Miss. On to the NFL, nobody cared. He wasn’t invited to the Combine, wasn’t drafted and didn’t even make the final cuts in Jacksonville. Hilton lasted all of one week with the New England Patriots and spent three months completely out of football.
Hilton was ready for life post-football. He put in an application to work at Foot Locker.
The Steelers signed him to their practice squad. And after four seasons of game-changing plays in Pittsburgh — after a lifetime of anguish — Hilton was slighted once more. The one team that should’ve appreciated his talent, his fight once and for all did not even extend a second contract offer. This was a team run by one of the best defensive coaches in the sport, too.
He wouldn’t change a thing.
“I won’t forget what got me here,” Hilton says, “and how it got me here.”
What does everyone keep missing? Hilton smiles and presents his body head-to-toe. “This!” he says. No, he’s not sure where he’d be today if he was 5 foot 11 but Hilton wouldn’t trade his path for anything. It hardened him. He’s not alone, either. The Bengals locker room is full of stories exactly like his, and we’re seeing the result. This team clubs the explosive Bills upside the head in snowy Orchard Park, NY. An offense that averaged 28.4 points per game — and never had less than 17 all season — is held to 10 points. A quarterback capable of mesmerizing feats looks remarkably average. A head coach punts the season away.
Hilton was the best player on the field, both chopping down tight ends, backs and receivers in open space and dinging Allen as a free runner. Schematically, he is Anarumo’s ultimate chess piece. Like Bell’s hit on JuJu, there’s always something extra juicing Hilton in the moment. He views a blitz as a chance to unleash frustration.
Says Hilton: “I live for moments like that.”
He scans the locker room.
“When you put a lot of dogs in the same room together that love playing together and have one goal, you have a team like this,” Hilton says. “That’s one thing I’ll say. We’re a confident, resilient group. We just take pride in playing for each other.”
Off to “Burrowhead” they go.
Last year, this was a team devoid of fear. Hilton said the heavily favored Chiefs put their pants on the same way, asserting “we can play with those guys and we can beat those guys.” Now, he’s mocking the name of the Chiefs’ stadium, even if tight end Travis Kelce decries this as “bulletin-board material” on his podcast and Chris Jones leaves the mic in a huff with one “See y’all at Burrowhead Stadium.” In an inspiring reversal for all of mankind, Hilton did not claim to be taken out of context during the week. Equally inspiring, Zac Taylor didn’t call Hilton into the office for a tisk tisk. Other head coaches would no doubt go full Middle School Principal — not this one.
A player TikTok’ing his heart out on the KC logo is one thing. It’s hard to see how this inspires teammates. This is different. Such confidence is an energy Taylor wisely does not want to dull.
Then, there’s Eli. Oh, Eli.
Chances are, the Bengals boss wasn’t thrilled with Apple’s stream of consciousness on Monday night but the players? They loved it. “He’s back!” Hilton told himself. The game’s most reviled antagonist hasn’t tried mocking anyone much since he was thoroughly roasted himself online after giving up the game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. Now, the player who famously called Tyreek Hill a “baby” and offered Mecole Hardman tickets to the big game — “they f--ked up,” Apple told us — is, indeed, back. Asked what possibly prompted this the torrent of mockery, Apple first declares it was “Victory Monday!” with a big smile. He then cites how the Bills “reacted to losing,” adding it was “something I didn’t appreciate.” Apple would not elaborate on specifics, only claiming the Bills got a little “cocky” after the first touchdown.
“So throughout the game, we reminded them, ‘You all can’t mess with us at all.’ That was a whole discussion they didn’t really like.”
Aside from the hilarity of Eli Apple calling other players “cocky” … holy. He did not hold back.
Apple retweeted countless memes and videos mocking Allen and Diggs, in addition to calling the unhappy receiver “Terrell Owens Jr” and saying the two needed “couples therapy.” And it was his “Cancun on 3” tweet with Damar Hamlin’s signature hands curled in a heart emoji that ultimately pushed everyone associated with the Bills over the edge. Even when Diggs and Lawson retaliated, Apple responded. He wished Diggs safe travels to Cabo and told Lawson it was “a shame you couldn’t keep that same energy on the field,” adding “maybe the outcome would’ve been different,” with an “enjoy Mexico wit the homies” for good measure. His thumbs were likely sore Tuesday AM.
“Now,” Hilton says, “there’s no stopping him. That’s Eli. That’s who he is.”
The Bills sadly play at Cincinnati next season.
Wild how quickly so much good will between two teams and two fan bases can turn so ugly, so fast. That’s the Eli Effect. Even the most raunchy of comedians wouldn’t touch something as traumatic as a player nearly dying on the field. Did we also mention that Apple pretended to hold a gun and go full Rambo on fans in the snowy end zone?
Any inkling of backlash sends most athletes sprinting to the hills. They take their cancellation in stride and hide for good, especially after something tweeted in such bad taste. Apple isn’t most athletes, though. He feeds off of the hate. When he yaps, and you yap back, and he yaps again, Apple tends to makes more plays, as if he must feed the troll within to survive. There’s no retreat. As Hilton jokes, Apple is “diving face-first into the action.” When he plays like this — and helps shut down one of the NFL’s best offenses — everyone loves it.
Honestly, if you want to blame anybody, Tre Flowers points the finger at himself. He barely ever opens up his own Twitter account.
Instead, he eggs on Apple. Constantly.
“I love it. Everybody hates him,” Flowers says. “I hear about everything he’s doing and I make it worse. I encourage him to do the shit for me. I would put the laughing faces in the tweets and all that. I would make it so much worse. It’s probably for the best that I’m not on there.
“Honestly, I take full responsibility for Eli. He’s not going to stop.”
As Eli Apple embraces his role as the heel, the villain, the source of vitriol typically reserved for actual criminals, his Bengal teammates willingly lock arms.
Adds Hilton: “We are the villains. Everybody is against us”
With 112.3 million watching, Eli Apple allowed the game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl.
There isn’t a lower low in the sport.
With 1:25 remaining, Rams star Cooper Kupp drew Apple 1 on 1 and the cornerback widely panned as burnt toast was exactly that. Toast. Hill laughed. Hardman flashed a video of his Super Bowl ring and the onslaught was on with NFL players across the country taking immense joy in trashing Apple. If you dish it, you better be able to take it. Like clockwork, everyone dusted off the go-to memes. What people likely do not know is that Apple took it in. All of it.
He scrolled. And scrolled. And refused to look away.
“I wanted to look at everything,” Apple says, “and use it as more motivation for this year.”
Including, yes, that shot of a life-sized slice of burnt toast at the podium.
“The press conference one. With the mic. That was the one.”
As Apple nods, it’s hard to tell if he finds that iconic shot funny or it pisses him off. Maybe that’s the point.
However you slice it, Apple has been determined to take back his reputation. He’s never been a star. But this season, he’s been more spirit animal than outright liability. He has 62 tackles and eight pass breakups in 17 total starts. Losing Awuzie hasn’t been a poison pill for this defense, thanks to Apple, Hilton and Cam Taylor-Britt. The rookie who tomahawked the ball out of Gabe Davis’ hands on a third and 2 late in the third quarter is every bit as mentally tough as everyone on this defense. So, now, Apple’s confidence is right back to where it was when we talked last season. Back to when the Bengals were fresh off their Super Bowl pep rally.
After getting beat on that play, in that moment? Apple insists there is no amount of pressure, of backlash, of hate that could ever get to him.
His career didn’t careen off the rails out of that Super Bowl flop.
He wants another Super Bowl moment.
“I know I control everything I can out there on the field,” Apple says. “So as long as I do that, I’m fine. I also have my other guys here. It’s not just me. It’s the whole team. We have the most complete team — easily.”
He’s one win away from a shot at exacting revenge. Players practically never get this opportunity. To the extreme, we’ve seen a play like this affect lives for decades. In “The Blood and Guts,” over tears and beers, former NFL tight end Jackie Smith bared his soul on the 5.5 seconds that altered his life. Smith retired after his Super Bowl drop against the Steelers. He was 38 years old and at the tail-end of a Hall of Fame career that, unjustly, gets foggier over time.
There certainly is no gold jacket awaiting Apple but, unlike Smith, he’s got time on his side.
He can picture it now. If Apple gets back to the Super Bowl, if there’s 1:25 to go at the 1-yard line again, the most disrespected player in the sport wants the ball thrown his direction.
“No doubt,” he says, without a split-second of hesitation.
New cornerbacks coach, Charles Burks, has definitely helped. In the hallway just outside the Bengals locker room, the assistant makes a valid point. Growing up, we all talked trash in this violent game. The advent of social media simply amplified something that has been innate to football itself for years. Language spewed in private for so long is now public. That’s all. Naturally, those unfamiliar with this world will gasp in horror.
“People do it. People have been doing it. And people are going to keep doing it,” Burks says. “As long as there’s professional sports, there’s going to be trash talking.”
If a line is crossed and a player becomes a distraction to the team at large, Burks may speak up in a 1-on-1 setting.
But overall? Nobody in charge here wants Apple or Hilton or Bell or anyone to be anything but themselves because they recognize this is a testosterone-fueled profession. Asking Hilton to pipe down would be an unnatural request. Telling Apple to shut up would neuter his game. And if Bell gets pissed off by an opposing player’s pregame antics? Let him stew. It just may change the course of a franchise forever.
Burks believes in the power of “expression,” not “control.”
“This is a gladiator sport,” says Burks, who was the Dolphins’ cornerbacks coach in 2021, “and I want my guys to be extremely competitive. And that looks different for every particular person — and I don’t want to alter that person because they’re here for a reason. I want that person to express themselves to the fullest.”
The Giants once suspended Apple for a “pattern of behavior that is conduct detrimental to the team.” Landon Collins called him a cancer. Bridges have been burned to smithereens, team to team to team. The everyone else, the talent wasn’t worth the headache.
Burks and Apple have shared many conversations with the coach trying to understand Apple, the human being, before doing any teaching whatsoever. The more he learned about Apple, the more he loved coaching him. Burks tried to listen to Apple more than anything through OTAs and training camp before actively correcting any issues on the field. And something we may not know about the corner? Burks calls him “very calculated.”
He thinks through things far more than anyone would guess.
What makes this sport so beautiful to Burks is that everybody gets to see players battle adversity in real time. The highs. The lows. We all react and respond in the moment. It’s as true now vs. the Chiefs as it was vs. Stefon Diggs last week. The Bengals are at their best when the volume of their swagger is cranked high. It’s no coincidence the rap music is cranked to full blast many days in this locker room.
Says Burks: “Eli won’t back down from anybody. If you give me a player who won’t back down? I’ll find a way to work with him.”
When all of these personalities are mashed together, it’s bound to get chippy. All of these edgy defensive backs see each other more than their own families through the course of season. Hard conversations are had — daily. Accountability runs high.
Anyone who isn’t tough-minded, Burks assures, would not last in his cornerback room.
“It would be a very uncomfortable place for you because, again, those guys earned the right to sit in that seat,” he says. “They went through things to sit in this seat to be in this opportunity. So if you’re a guy who isn’t cut from that cloth, everybody will know that real fast.”
He’ll needle guys when he can. During the defensive meetings, the day before Cincinnati’s win at Buffalo, Burks was sitting behind Hilton. He got his attention and skeptically asked: “Hey, do you have that dog in you?” It visibly ticked Hilton off for a moment.
Something as minuscule as that jab can work wonders.
“It doesn’t take much,” Burks adds. “There’s not a lot of convincing when I go into a meeting room.”
This is the attitude that permeates through every positional meeting room, every drill, every film session.
Bates believes it actually makes it easier on everybody when Apple is talking trash because they collectively love this back-against-wall feeling. Stress flies out the window. They’re basically in the schoolyard with a brother, staring down another posse. “If he’s in a beef,” Bates says, “then we’re all in a beef.”
Football always boils down to the play on the field. Eventually all jokes, all mockery ends when the ball is kicked off.
God help the Chiefs if they lose.
“If you don’t beat us,” Bates promises, “you’re going to hear more of Eli.”
At the other end of the locker room, the team’s 311-pound plug of a defensive tackle, the excellent B.J. Hill, is not a fan of this “Villain” tag. He offers a different idea for a nickname: “The Good Guys.” No, Hill isn’t quite as savage as those DBs but even Hill fits the mold. Told that one ex-Giants scout pointed to this trade as one of ex-GM Dave Gettleman’s worst mistakes ever, Hill cannot help but lift his eyebrows in delight and admit it did light a match within.
“People said we weren’t going to be this, weren’t going to be that,” says Hill. “Each and every day — in practice, in meetings — we all have a chip on our shoulder.”
They’re all together now. All cut from the same genus of competitor. Vonn Bell points out that the front office brought in a distinct personality type. Even as players got paid handsomely, they all had something to prove. Belief is a true two-way street. When that belief is reciprocated — when a player like Apple is coached by Burks — special things can happen. Players give back. Players enjoy spending hours of their free time at the facility learning more about this defense. This then carries into Sunday where Reader promises players want to “run through a wall.”
Three years in, Bell and Bates practically share the same brain. The vets usually know exactly what their coordinator is thinking through the course of a game… so they’re able to add subtle wrinkles to their disguise.
The presnap disguises have become so organic that it’s difficult for even the smartest quarterbacks to know who’s blitzing, who’s dropping. Burks is surprised himself at the ownership players have taken of this scheme. It’s gotten to the point where players expect the game-sealing, fourth-quarter, cigar-inducing turnover. “You can feel it,” Tre Flowers says. “You can feel when it’s going to happen.” He sure did last Sunday.
And it’s contagious. Cincinnati hasn’t lost since October.
How does this movie end? Flowers squints, leans back and contemplates the perfect script as veteran safety Michael Thomas walks over to his locker.
“Mike, how does this movie end?” he asks Thomas. “Since we are the villains? We get all the money and we set it on fire?”
Flowers is referencing a classic scene from The Dark Knight when The Joker lights a heap of cash on fire.
“It’s not about the money!” yells Thomas, quoting Ledger’s character.
“It’s not about the money!” echoes Flowers.
Ah, yes. This works. Everything must burn… with a subtle twist to this plot.
“As long as they remember us, I’m all good!” Flowers says, before adding: “Eli’s going to talk about it!”
The two continue to quote supervillains. This time? The masked Bane.
“I was born in it!” Thomas says.
“In darkness!” finishes Flowers.
They both clap their hands. They laugh. It’s impossible to tell everybody here is about to play in one of the biggest games of their lives. That’s how it works for a crew so disrespected for so long.
There’s nothing to lose — ever.
Especially when these villains are heading to familiar territory: Burrowhead.
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Previous Bengals features at Go Long, icymi…
Long overdue to hop in the comments! (I promise to reply to everyone over at the McDermott column after I finish up our Championship Sunday content.)
Bethany puts it so well here in that who could've conceived a world in which the Bengals did elicit such strong opinions. I love it. And as we wrote here, they're leaning into it.
Thanks for reading, Dave, and everyone here.
Timely reminder and thoughtful evaluation of why I and others love the Bengals.
The tag of ‘underdog’ is truly gone- I too loved the Bell bulldozing of JuJu and dreamed it may have been the beginning of something special.
But here we are, again. Through the fog of ugly social media comments your loyalties and passion can get confused. Thanks for showing me the light. A great article that I hope shows how belief not arrogance will see these Bengals written into NFL history.