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Bo Jackson Curse? The Bengals aren’t cursed, they’re just inept

Bengals owner Mike Brown (c.) is to blame for the Carson Palmer (r.) era and Andy Dalton era.

Bengals owner Mike Brown (c.) is to blame for the Carson Palmer (r.) era and Andy Dalton era.
Illustration: Getty Images

In my perusal of Wild-Card Weekend storylines to write about, I found the curse of Bo Jackson particularly interesting. If you’ve never heard of Bo Jackson then my god are you young, but if you’ve never heard of the Bo Jackson Curse then, like me, you’re new to this borderline contrived curse.

I didn’t know the Cincinnati Bengals hadn’t won a playoff game since they ended Bo Jackson’s career with a normal-looking tackle in the 1991 AFC divisional round 31 years ago, but it makes sense. For most of my life — I was born in 1986 and have been watching football since I can remember — the Bengals have been bad, even when they’ve been good.

That one stretch before Carson Palmer got hurt, when Chad Johnson hadn’t adopted Ochocinco yet, and you didn’t put “possession” before receiver when talking about T.J. Houshmandzadeh, was kind of impressive. (Possession receivers are to wide receivers what game managers are to quarterbacks.)

The Palmer Era fizzled out though, as did the Andy Dalton-A.J. Green era, which featured more playoff appearances (five to Palmer’s two) but also more playoff losses (five to Palmer’s two).

I have a soft spot for the Bengals because one of their talented receivers always ends up on my fantasy team. (Shout out Ja’Marr Chase.) They’ll look good early in the season, but as soon as you think they’re a safe bet, they’re down 24 to the Chargers in the first half — and that’s in a good year.

Owner Mike Brown’s insistence on playing the Kevin Costner role in his real life version of Draft Day has led to many missteps, including draft busts and a penchant for overlooking character flaws. He and Jerry Jones are the only owners who hold both owner and GM titles, but at least Jones spends money. Wait… did I just compliment Jerry Jones? I think I just complimented Jerry Jones. You know you’re a bad owner when Jerry Jones makes you look incompetent.

Houshmandzadeh told Colin Cowherd that Brown was so cheap they didn’t have Gatorade or bottled water when he first started, and that teammates there before him said they were provided with only used jock straps.

This isn’t a curse, it’s a shitty organization. It’s like how the curse of the Bambino wasn’t so much a curse for the Red Sox as it was a refusal by Boston to sign Black players (they were the last Big League club to integrate so when they signed Pumpsie Green in 1959, 12 years after Jackie Robinson). The Cubs blaming a Billy Goat because they were impossibly inept for a century isn’t a curse. The Bengals blaming a tackle on Bo Jackson because it was the last notable thing they did isn’t a curse.

The Bills losing four-straight Super Bowls is a curse. The Vikings’ inability to make big field goals even when they have a good kicker is a curse. The Portland Trail Blazers passing on Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant for injury-prone big men and being stuck in mediocrity is a curse.

Don’t chalk it up to a hex when Joe Burrow’s career gets shortened because the GM/owner hasn’t spent money or draft picks on an offensive line to keep him from becoming the next Bengals franchise QB ruined by injuries. He already tore his ACL, and the guy stays banged up.

Eight playoff appearances (not playoff runs; runs implies you won a game) in 31 years and getting outscored 176-90 in the seven games you’ve played does not qualify as unlucky. The closest you got to a win was A.J. McCarron’s valiant 18-16 loss to the Steelers in 2015.

If you’re looking to right someone you’ve wronged, start with Marvin Lewis, not Bo Jackson. Taking a Mike Brown-constructed team to the playoffs seven times in 15 years is a task more worthy of a Hall-of-Fame plaque than a quasi-retirement consulting gig for Herm Edwards at Arizona State.

This is the Raiders’ second playoff appearance in nearly 20 years, but they rightfully blame their own dumbass owners for their shortcomings like rational fans. To blame a curse is to give Brown a pass, and I know the Bengal faithful don’t want to do that.

I’ll be pulling for Burrow, Chase, and my guy Zac Taylor (GBR!) to end the “curse” Saturday, but don’t be surprised if the bad juju persists as long as Brown is the owner/GM.

Fun note: If you want another link between these two teams, the coach of the Raiders in their last Super Bowl appearance was Bill Callahan, who went on to coach Bengals head coach Zac Taylor when he played QB at Nebraska.

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