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Are Joe Burrow and the Bengals the NFL’s subsequent villains?


5 years from now, when the Cincinnati Bengals have received three Tremendous Bowls and your entire NFL world exterior Cincinnati loathes all the things in orange and black, we are able to pinpoint the second when all the things modified, when the Bengals went from lovable scamps to world-beating terrors:

Proper there. Throughout pregame warmups in Buffalo, an underdog towards the mighty Payments, amid tens of 1000’s of table-jumping followers, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow was so chill that he was flicking blind passes and pirouetting on his heel, holding the pose simply lengthy sufficient for the cameras to see. This video is like one thing out of “Glass Onion,” all of the clues proper there in entrance of us if we would paid nearer consideration.

As an alternative, all of us fell throughout ourselves praising the second, each one in all us contributing to the hype that’s Joe Brrr/Joe Shiesty/Joe No matter-the-hell-we’re-calling-him-this-week. That is the Bengals’ bad-guy origin story enjoying out proper in entrance of us, proper this second. Giving Burrow the epic slo-mo social remedy is like helpfully pointing Thanos within the path of the Infinity Stones, or suggesting to Max Verstappen that he isn’t on Lewis Hamilton’s degree. why? Why give the already-powerful any extra motivation and gasoline than they have already got?

The Bengals aren’t the NFL’s subsequent supervillains but, however they’re properly on their approach.

To be clear: I’m by no means against the Bengals remodeling into villains. Take away the other. I really like the concept. We want extra villains in sports activities, extra groups and gamers to root towards. Satisfaction is fandom’s driving power, and if delight is not on the road, a recreation is nothing however an elaborate gown rehearsal, and the gamers themselves merely enterprise associates.

Certain, all the pictures of rivals embracing and “so healthful!” Tweets of gamers enjoying catch with youngsters are wonderful. However what actually drives sports activities fandom? Pure, uncut loathing, the need to beat the smirk proper off the face of the opposite man. And no person smiles nowadays fairly like Joe Burrow.

Look carefully, and the villainous items are falling in place. Regardless that he was born in 1996, Burrow has spent the previous 4 years doing a note-perfect imitation of an ’80s film nerd-hunting jock villain. Extra just lately, Cincinnati spent the times main as much as the Buffalo recreation enjoying the “disrespect” card as a result of the NFL determined to begin promoting tickets to a hypothetical recreation earlier than the groups had been finalized. Anybody who “disrespected” a crew that hasn’t misplaced since Halloween is just not somebody to be taken critically, however hey, get that motivation nonetheless you’ll be able to, Cincy.

Because the Bengals toilet-swirled the Payments on Sunday, their victory lap seems like the beginning of one thing a lot, a lot greater. Begin with Burrow’s chilly dismissal of the NFL’s neutral-site goals: “Higher ship these refunds,” he stated on the sector Sunday night time, a mic dropped laborious sufficient to crack the earth’s crust.

Lower to go coach Zac Taylor, the smart dripping off his words as he expressed “sympathy” for the NFL’s planners: “It’s robust, as a result of they should formulate the plans for coin tosses, they gotta formulate the plans for impartial website video games, and we simply hold screwing it up for everyone,” he stated after the sport. “I hate that for individuals to should endure all these logistic points. We simply hold screwing it up. Sorry.”

Subsequent, we have now security Jessie Bates, saying he needs Kansas Metropolis’s Patrick Mahomes to be “one hundred pc wholesome so there is no such thing as a excuses.” Wanting the very best out of the doubtless NFL MVP on the opposite facet of the ball is a daring technique, nevertheless it suits with the angle of this complete crew.

After which there’s cornerback Eli Apple, undercutting the heartfelt phrases of Buffalo’s Stefon Diggs with a devastating three-word jab-slash-offseason trip suggestion:

For all this latest yapping, Cincinnati has some severe hurdles to beat to turn out to be a really hated crew. For starters, there’s town. Does anybody actually hate Cincinnati? Certain, everybody makes the identical drained jokes concerning the chili, however have you ever ever had it? It is really fairly good. If you are going to be a supervillain, you have to be evil from the bottom up, and Cincy is not that.

Plus, Bengals crew possession and the teaching workers do not precisely encourage fury the way in which that, oh, Jerry Jones or Invoice Belichick do. If a corporation goes to go full heel, it has to go all-in—you have to regardless of all the things from the badly dancing proprietor that TV cameras hold exhibiting all the way in which to the ushers and popcorn slingers. Cincinnati’s not there but, and perhaps these good old style Midwestern values ​​will not let that occur.

Nonetheless, the Bengals are properly on their strategy to satisfying the primary, and most necessary, trait for a villain crew: successful. For those who’re a mouthy crew that by no means manages to truly win massive video games, who cares? Get again to us if you’re enjoying in February, slick. And should you’re an smug, they-hate-us-’cause-they-ain’t-us fan base whose crew by no means manages to truly win, properly, you are simply the Dallas Cowboys.

We’ve not had a real villain crew within the NFL for the reason that Patriots blew up, and that is not fairly the identical scenario right here. Followers hated the Patriots as a result of they received, sure, but additionally as a result of they loathed the dismissive Invoice Belichick, gritted their enamel as Tom Brady climbed out of the grave time and again, and sawhed because the Patriots both cheated or positive appeared like they did on a number of events. The Raiders and Steelers of the ’70s, the Cowboys of the ’90s—these had been groups you may hate on a visceral degree, groups who would elevate your grandfather’s blood strain each time their brand appeared on display screen.

Possibly Cincinnati will not get to that time. Possibly Burrow will grow to be a cuddly, lovable, sponsor-friendly jock. Possibly the Bengals will lose to Kansas Metropolis on Sunday and fade again into the mass of playoff-quality groups that stuff the AFC. Possibly Burrow’s confidence will grow to be empty boasting. Possibly free company and egos will shred this crew earlier than it might probably dominate.

But when not … if, come 2028, you are sick of Burrow and the Bengals rag-dolling your crew and 30 others yr after yr, and laughing at you as they do it … do not say we did not warn you.

Why is that this man smiling? What does he know that we do not? (Timothy T. Ludwig/Getty Photos)


Contact Jay Busbee at or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.

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