ZHANGJIAKOU, China — Like all Cincinnati Bengals fans these days, Nick Goepper is feeling a mix of anticipation, nerves, dread and exhilaration as his beloved team prepares to play in the Super Bowl. Unlike any other Bengals fans, Nick is also feeling a mix of anticipation, nerves, dread and exhilaration as he prepares to ski in the Olympics … on the same day as the Super Bowl.
“It’s heartbreaking,” he laughs. “The Super Bowl is the same time as our qualifying for slopestyle!”
Goepper, a two-time Olympic medalist in freeski slopestyle, was raised in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, just west of Cincinnati, so he comes by his Bengals fame honestly. His success on the slopes — bronze in Sochi, silver in Pyeongchang — led the Bengals to invite him to announce their pick in the 2018 draft. (For the record: the pick was cornerback Davontae Harris, now of the Chargers.) Goepper, who skis for Team Red Bull, even wore a Bengals jersey during his final Olympic prep event at the X Games, the same day Cincinnati upset No. 1 Tennessee in the AFC divisional round.
“I’ve known Cincinnati my whole life, and it’s never been associated with elite-level sports,” Goepper says. “So it’s great to have this happen.”
At last, he could have added. Goepper is 27 years old, and the Bengals haven’t been in the Super Bowl in 33 years, so the math here is obvious: this is the first time in his life that his team has reached the mountaintop. Naturally, it had to happen while he’s on the other side of the world.
“I was keeping up with the [AFC championship] on Twitter as we were flying to Beijing,” he says. “It was pitch black, everybody around me was sleeping, and I was shouting and fist-pumping in my seat. It was perfect.”
Watching the Bengals in the Super Bowl will prove a bit more precarious. Goepper will be attempting to qualify for the slopestyle finals at 12:30 p.m. Beijing time on Monday, which is about 11:30 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, or roughly an hour after the game ends.
“There’s a chance that I can watch the first half before qualifying,” he says. “However, I think I'm going to stay pretty focused and tune into the results after the event.”
It’s probably a wise strategy. Cincinnati has a talent for finding its way out of trouble … but that often means spending a fair amount of a game in trouble.
“The Bengals, in Bengals fashion, seem to like to make it hard on themselves. They can be down three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, [Joe] Burrow can get sacked like 15 times, and they still come back. I have a feeling this game is going to be similar to that,” Goepper says. That’s not great for anyone’s nerves, particularly an Olympian’s on the precipice of competition.
“I’m not saying it’s going to happen,” he adds, “but let’s say the Bengals are not doing good. That might upset my performance and my competition.”
As for a prediction? “They’re going to win, obviously,” Goepper says. “Los Angeles already has tons of cool stuff going for it. Cincinnati deserves this win.”