We live in a society with an increasingly shortened attention span, a notably short memory and the belief that if you aren't the best you really aren't worth a darn.
Never is this more evident than in sports, and the legacy of Marvin Lewis as head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals is a great example of that.
Although he has declined to discuss his situation publicly, multiple reports in recent weeks have indicated that this Sunday's game in Baltimore will be the final one of his 15-year tenure in the Queen City. The reports resulted in many snarky comments regarding it being "about time" or "finally," both on social media and even among a couple friends of mine who are longtime Cincinnati residents.
To which I say both "how quickly we forget" and "be careful what you wish for".
Lewis has been in Cincinnati so long that a lot of people don't even remember what it was like before he got the job in 2003. Well, I'll remind you: The Bengals were the laughingstock of the NFL.
Prior to hiring Lewis, the team had 12 straight non-winning seasons. TWELVE. They were essentially the Browns of today in the 1990s, with no success and very little, if any, hope. No player wanted to play there if they had a choice. In fact, it was so bad that their best defensive player at the time, Takeo Spikes, begged the organization not to match the offer he got from the Buffalo Bills after the Bengals had slapped him with the transition tag in 2003. I know this because we were teammates in Buffalo, and he told me as much. Imagine being that desperate to get to Buffalo? I loved my time with the Bills, but it's also not exactly a preferred destination among NFL players.
Then Lewis arrived in Cincinnati, and the Bengals immediately became respectable with back-to-back 8-8 seasons before winning the always-tough AFC North in 2005. In all, Lewis took the Bengals to the playoffs seven times in his 15 years at the helm, and 2017 will serve as only the fifth losing season of his tenure.
I know he never won a playoff game. Everybody knows he never won a playoff game because that is the convenient crutch upon which people in the media lean when they don't have anything else to say or any original thoughts.
My question is, would it really be that much different if Carson Palmer didn't tear his ACL in the 2005 game against the Steelers and the Bengals won that one? Or if Andy Dalton didn't implode at home against the Chargers in 2013? Or, most notably, if Dalton was healthy enough to play against the Steelers in 2015 and guys like Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones didn't commit stupid penalties late to combine with a Jeremy Hill fumble to blow a game they had won?
The answer is not really. People would just say Lewis' "only won one playoff game" or "hasn't gotten them to even a conference championship" or whatever standard they would choose to use at that point. Which, in fact, is the broader point. Just as quarterbacks like Dalton or Kirk Cousins or Matthew Stafford will never really be given that much credit in our championship-or-bust culture until they "win something," Lewis' time in Cincy would have always been criticized until he actually got the team to a Super Bowl.
This isn't to say Lewis should keep his job. He probably shouldn't. Now seems like a good time for the organization to move on in a new direction. What it does say is that NFL fans in general, and Bengals fans in particular, should appreciate the stability and consistency that he brought to a city to get them out of the NFL's abyss.
Can you even imagine what Bills and Browns fans would give for seven playoff berths since 2003?
Lewis' time in Cincinnati should be applauded rather than ridiculed, because the last thing Bengals fans would want is to go back to being the pre-Lewis black hole of the NFL.