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One of the best things about last year’s NFL playoffs was the cute and cuddly Cincinnati Bengals. They went from living in the league’s bargain bin and wearing ugly jerseys emblazoned with cartoon tiger stripes, or maybe chili spots, we could never figure out which, to the skilled and entertaining darlings of the NFL’s biggest party.

Their baby-faced trainer was giving off the usual kind of vibes that he missed at the bar. Their most clutch player was the wrecker. their quarterback looked like Macaulay Culkin. And his college friend, wide receiver, Greedy worked his way to becoming the Bengals’ best playmaker as well as the NFL’s best offensive rookie.

That team, so scary, dear. His rise, so incredible. Who could resist this underdog story? Rooting for Cincinnati in the Super Bowl at LVI felt like cheering for the kid next door when he played the No. 2 tree in Jack and the Beanstalk. Especially when pitted against Stan Kroenke championship for rent Los Angeles list that represents all that is cynical and broken in professional sports, we can all follow the healthy Midwesterners as a terrific alternative.

But that was last year. The Bengals used to be a nice story. Now they just feel like themselves. Gosh, they are soooo annoying.

The Bengals’ big-game sentiment has been forged by the College Football Playoff

This keeps happening to our favorite underdogs. First, it was kale, that leafy hipster of the vegetable department. We once loved how it was both healthy and cool, but then the superfood started popping up everywhere from smoothies to Beyoncé’s T-shirt and lost its glamorous appeal.

Next up, the pickle ball, that fun little exercise for grandparents. Too bad the sport fell in with the wrong crowd. It’s hard to get tennis players off their own courts in the neighborhood these days.

Now it’s the Bengals. They keep winning games. That’s not the annoying part. They will have an entertaining AFC Championship rematch with Kansas City on Sunday. Nobody hates their 10-game winning streak. Just everything else about them.

Don’t they know that exposure to secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer? But Kick Rocks, the surgeon general, says every Bengals player is probably puffing on a cigar trying to replicate the look of a champion after their victories. When they burn, they reek of unearned arrogance. Even though he’s been part of this celebration since college, quarterback Joe Burrow is nothing like Red Auerbach or Michael Jordan. More like Kevin McCallister discovering his dad’s cigar after being home alone.

When them? resident lead, Eli Applee, finishes tasting his bonfire, then goes in search of more smoke. After Cincy beat the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Divisional Round last Sunday, Apple spent much of the next day doing victory laps on Twitter, retweeting his own highlights and trolling Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs when they started their early vacations. In one shot, Apple mocked Diggs.Cancun 3:It might have been funny if he hadn’t added a heart emoji, a gesture usually associated with Bills player Damar Hamlin, who went into cardiac arrest and nearly died in the previous game against the Bengals.

In subsequent tweets, Apple insisted it was not ignoring Hamlin. It still seems odd that out of all the random emojis Apple could have used—a beach and a palm tree, a yacht, a cabbage leaf—it chose the worst.

And while Apple and its hungry teammates can’t stop providing bulletin board material; cornerback Mike Hilton renamed Kansas City’s stadium the Burrowhead, they also wallpaper their locker room with the stuff.

The NFL has a familiar Final Four, and it could be here to stay

Coach Zach Taylor, who still can’t grow facial hair, is pulling out all the motivation he can. everybody-hates-us narrative. Whether it’s the potential for coin flips or neutral site games; How dare this billion dollar industry make unpredictable plans? — a once-forgotten franchise based in a mid-sized American city perfect for flyovers now feels disrespected by the NFL. The Bengals complain about the unfairness, then choreograph sniping celebrations aimed at the league. Or smugly apologizing for scuttling the NFL’s bid for the conference championship game in Atlanta if the Bills win.

“We just keep doing it,” Taylor quipped in his postgame troll on Sunday. “Sorry.”

If only our favorite underdogs and upstarts could stay lovable forever. While championship dynasties dominate news cycles and genetically gifted athletes emerging from the womb ready to tear down backboards grab our attention, it’s the little guys in sports who really capture our affection. But the magic inevitably ends. A part of us wishes they were frozen in time at the very moment of their amazing entrance onto the big stage, lest they grow up and join the mainstream they once subverted.

Those giant killers of the St. Peter’s men’s basketball team had to stay in their boarding school until they defeated all the leaders of March Madness and dispersed for bigger jobs and transfer portal for obvious reasons that have no place in fairy tales. The “Miracle on Ice” Olympic team should have stayed young and heroic, inspired Disney movies instead of turning into voting adults, wearing “Keep America Great” hats while rooting for Donald Trump.

Every whim eventually fades, and real people leave fairy tales. Some growth spurts happen faster than others. The Bengals spent less than a year in their underdog Androos before getting too big for their punch.

Amid the cigar smoke and flame wars on social media, we can barely recognize the story of our beloved little boy from a year ago. We liked them small and adorable and defying the odds. But they had to go and become the Goliaths of their division, conference and possibly the NFL. That’s perfectly fine. Too bad they think arrogance goes well with those gorgeous tiger stripes.


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