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Five years later, with the Cincinnati Bengals winning three Super Bowls and the entire NFL world detesting all things orange and black outside of Cincinnati, we can pinpoint the moment when everything changed, when the Bengals went from beloved cheats to world-renowned terrors.

Right there. In pregame warmups in Buffalo, an underdog against the strong Bills, amid tens of thousands of table-jumping fanatics, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow was so cool that he made blind passes and pirouettes on his heels, holding the position long enough for the cameras to see. This video is like something out of the Glass Onion, all the clues are right in front of us if we were to pay more attention.

Instead, we were all praising the moment, each of us contributing Joe Brrr/Joe Shisti/Joe Whatever-the-hell-we’re-calling-him-this-week. This is the Bengals bad boy origin story happening right in front of us, right now. Giving Burrow an epic slo-mo social treat is like helping Thanos point in the direction of the Infinity Stones, or suggesting to Max Verstappen that he’s not on Lewis Hamilton’s level. Why? Why give the already powerful more motivation and fuel than they already have?

The Bengals aren’t the NFL’s next supervillains yet, but they’re well on their way.

For understanding. I don’t mind the Bengals turning into villains in any way. Exactly the opposite. I love the idea. We need more villains in sports, more teams and players to root against. Pride is what drives fans, and if pride isn’t on the line, the game is nothing more than an elaborate dress rehearsal, and the players themselves are just business partners.

Of course, all the images of the contestants hugging and “so healthy”. Tweets of players playing with kids are fine. But do you know what really drives sports fandom? Pure, unadulterated disgust, the desire to overcome the grin on the other boy’s face. And nobody grins like Joe Burrow these days.

Look carefully and the villainous pieces fall into place. Even though he was born in 1996, Burrow has spent the past four years doing a perfect imitation of the ’80s movie ’80s villain. Cincinnati recently spent the days leading up to the Buffalo game playing an “irreverent” game because the NFL decided to start selling tickets to a hypothetical game before teams were finalized. Anyone “disrespecting” a team that hasn’t lost since Halloween isn’t serious, but hey, get that motivation while you can, Cincy.

As the Bengals toilet rolled the Bills on Sunday, their winning streak feels like the start of something much, much bigger. Start with Burrow’s cold dismissal of the NFL’s neutral site dreams. “You better send that money,” he said on the field Sunday night as the microphone fell so hard it cracked the earth’s crust.

Cut to head coach Zach Taylor that smiles at his words “It’s difficult because they have to formulate plans for coin flips, they have to formulate plans for neutral site games, and we just keep doing it for everybody,” he said. after the game. “I hate that people have to endure these logistical problems. We just keep doing it. Sorry.”

Next, we have safety Jesse Bates saying he wants Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes to be “100 percent healthy so there are no excuses.” On the other side of the ball, wanting the best from the potential NFL MVP is a bold strategy, but it fits the attitude of this entire team.

And then there’s cornerback Eli Apple, cutting off Buffalo’s Stefon Diggs’ candid words with a devastating three-word layoff.

With all of this recent shenanigans, Cincinnati has some serious hurdles to overcome to become a truly hated team. For starters, there’s the city. Someone really hates Cincinnati. Sure, everyone makes the same tired jokes about chili, but have you ever had it? It’s actually pretty good. If you’re going to be a supervillain, you have to be evil from the start, and Cincy isn’t.

Also, the Bengals team ownership and coaching staff don’t inspire fury the way Jerry Jones or Bill Belichick do. If the organization is going to go all the way, it should do it all. you have to despise everything from the bad-dancing owner that the TV cameras keep showing to the announcers and the popcorn slingers. Cincinnati isn’t quite there yet, and maybe those good old-fashioned Midwestern values ​​won’t let that happen.

However, the Bengals are well on their way to satisfying the first and most important attribute of a bad team: winning. If you’re a mouthy team that can never really win the big games, who cares? Get back to us when you play in February. And if you’re arrogant, they hate us because they’re not fans of us, whose team never really gets to win, well, you’re just the Dallas Cowboys.

We haven’t had a true villain team in the NFL since the Patriots imploded, and it’s not the same here. Fans hated the Patriots because they won, yes, but also because they hated the scornful Bill Belichick, gnashing their teeth as Tom Brady came out of the grave again and again to squirm when the Patriots either cheated, or looked like they did a few times. occasions The Raiders and Steelers of the 70s, the Cowboys of the 90s. these were teams you could hate on a visceral level, teams that raised your grandfather’s blood pressure every time their logo appeared on the screen.

Maybe Cincinnati won’t get to that point. Maybe Barrow will turn out to be a soft, lovable, patronizing jerk. Maybe the Bengals can beat Kansas City on Sunday and get back into the mix of playoff-quality teams that fill the AFC. Perhaps Burrow’s confidence will turn out to be empty boasting. Maybe free agency and egos will tear this team apart before it becomes dominant.

But if not… if, come 2028, you’re sick of Burrow and the Bengals harassing your team and 30 other people year after year, and laughing at you while they do it… don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Why is this person smiling? What does he know that we don’t? (Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

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Contact Jay Busbee at [email protected] or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.



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