COMMENTARY | Indianapolis and Cincinnati are 112 miles apart--less than two hours away from each other down I-74. Yet when Indianapolis Colts fans think of their most bitter rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals are never mentioned. Why is that?
The Bengals are the closest NFL team to Indianapolis, but when Colts fans look at the 2013 schedule and see a Dec. 8 road game against the Bengals, the excitement level is somewhere around that of a warm, flat can of cola. There's just no burning desire to bash the Bengals, cage the Cats, or tame the Tigers.
Every Colts fan loathes the New England Patriots. They may be a thousand miles away, but they eat clam chowder, they talk funny, and we can't stand them. Bill Belichick is the second coming (or second cousin) of Beelzebub, and Tom Brady is his Head Demon. Nothing fires Colts fans up faster than a date with the Pats.
But the Bengals? Meh.
The problem with the Indianapolis-Cincinnati "rivalry" is that it has never mattered. In the Peyton Manning era, there were countless shootouts with the Patriots, many of which held heavy playoff implications or ended the season of one team or another. Any loss to New England was gut-wrenching and left bile in the mouths of Colts fans until the next time we met.
We've never had that with the Bengals, though.
The Colts and Bengals have played each other several times over the years, with a preseason matchup happening nearly every year since 1992. Of course, that's the preseason, and it's also usually the last game of the preseason, so all we're seeing are backups for both teams squaring off against one another in a last-ditch effort to make the 53-man roster. Not exactly the rivalry-building kind of tension there.
The two teams have played each other a number of times during the regular season, too, but as with the preseason games, the regular season games have never held any dire consequences or playoff implications or tension needed to build a rivalry.
Back in the 1980s when the Bengals put together a handful of respectable seasons, including trips to Super Bowls XVI and XXIII, the Colts were awful. Fresh off the Mayflower from Baltimore, the Indianapolis Colts couldn't put together a 10-win season to save their lives.
Not helping the development of a rivalry is the fact that during the brief heyday of the Bengals, the Colts and Bengals only played each other once--a 23-21 Bengals win in Week 1 of the 1987 season in which Cincy went 4-11 and Indy went 9-6. Yawn.
By the time the Colts got their act together in 1999 and became a perennial power in the NFL, the Bengals were back to being doormats of the league. Seven years in a row, Peyton Manning and Company pounded the hapless Bungles. More yawning.
The Bengals finally broke that streak in 2011 with a 27-17 win over the 2-14 Colts, but everyone beat the Colts that year (well, except for the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans). Again, not exactly the stuff of intense rivalries there.
The two teams have only met once in the playoffs. Everyone remembers that game, right? No? Yeah, neither do I. It might have something to do with the fact that I was a newborn when the 1970 Baltimore Colts trounced the Bengals by a score of 17-0 on their way to a Super Bowl V title.
Perhaps the Dec. 8 game in Cincinnati between the Bengals and the Colts will finally spark a real rivalry between the two neighboring cities. Maybe Andy Dalton versus Andrew Luck will be the beginning of a Brady-versus-Manning kind of thing. Maybe Colts fans will learn to despise Marvin Lewis the same way we post pictures of Belichick on our dart boards.
But if history since 1984 is any indicator, the Colts' trip down I-74 in December will be just another game that leaves fans in both cities falling asleep in their recliners rather than hanging on the edge of their seats.
- Sports & Recreation
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- Indianapolis Colts
- Cincinnati Bengals