Cincinnati, OH - The days after a Super Bowl can be a surreal experience for those who played the game. For the winners, it is a whirlwind of celebrations, of tears, parades, and probably more than a few adult beverages, some of which may or may not include avocado. For those that come up short, it is a far different feeling.
“This [Easterby] blows, man!!!!” was a common lament from many of the Bengals players as they cleared out their home lockers for the final time this season. The full impact of the last-minute loss to the LA Rams in Super Bowl LVI had not yet settled in for most. If a player didn’t swear at a reporter, most just glumly cleaned out their locker in funereal silence. Our reporter did try to tell the players that at least they got there, but several players could only snap “You wouldn’t say that if you were there.”
This is truth in reporting. Given that the Houston Texans are still the only franchise to never go to a conference championship game, much less get to an actual Super Bowl, some things have to be put into perspective.
Oh, you thought this would be a report about the Texans. Well, let us look at the key stories for the Texans:
- Deshaun Watson is still the quarterback, still has the lawsuits, still wants out, and no one has traded him.
- The Texans proceeded to go on a crazy coaching search, only to end up with a candidate no one expected or really saw coming
- The team is still projected to have among the worst odds to win the Super Bowl next season
- There are high draft picks to consider
So, clearly, nothing has changed between 2021 and 2022 (ok, the fact that the team has actual high draft picks again is different, but does it change that much?)
Thus, many a fan in Houston will do what has been done since 1966: Experience the Super Bowl vicariously through former players and their successes and failures. The Bengals boasted two such Texans alumni, DJ Reader and the man, the (self-proclaimed) myth, the legend, Vernon Hargreaves III
“Oh, you thought I was dead and buried? You thought I couldn’t be a part of a team to get to the Super Bowl? Well, shows you, and all the people out there who think they know what it is to be an NFL player!!! I get to the Bengals, when they struggling, just kinda treading water. Then I come in, and BOOOMMMMM!!!! This team be rolling!!! Then that glorious playoff run. You all know who the real reason for the success is…”
We were about to offer the stellar play of Joe Burrow, the evolution of the defense to face some of the most diverse offensive attacks in the game and perhaps the only guy on the team with more cool than Burrow, Evan McPherson. Yet, the cornerback would not stop about his “contributions”. Mostly to shut him up and give our ears a chance to re-acclimate to the atmosphere, we asked about perhaps the weirdest, strangest penalty in Super Bowl history.
The retort from Hargreaves:
“Well, there you go again…another minion bringing up that ‘penalty’. I think y’all are missin’ the point!! Yeah, we celebrate as a team, and of course, I had to be out there with my guys. So the team lost some yards and we did nothing on the possession. That is not the point. Up until that pick…by the way, if I am in the game, there would have been a lot more action in the defensive secondary…anyway, up until that pick, the team was kinda flat, not really doing nothin’. They needed some fire, so when we made the pick, and the D does its group thing, well, I am undoubtedly the best celebrator on the team, so out I go. I knew that it would spark the team, and you know what, it did. We were down 13-3. By the 4th quarter, we are up 20-16. You see how fired up our guys were...”
While this sounded like a good story, based on previous reporting experience with Mr. Hargreaves III, we figured it best to check in with someone whose had some previous experience dealing with his motivational tactics.
“I suppose he could say that he did inspire us” mused once and current teammate DJ Reader. “Well, after dumb[Easterby]-ery, we were all like ‘No way does that bull[Easterby] become the defining moment of this game!’ At halftime, all of us starters go together and were like ‘No [Easterby] way are we gonna let Hargreaves steal this away from us. No more dumb[Hargreaves] type stuff from here on out. I know we on D were fired up. Holding the Rams to practically nothing on the ground. [Easterby] I was so irate about Hargreaves that I powered through whatever that was at guard to nearly destroy Stafford.”
“Yeah, DJ was right. We didn’t want to be any more embarrassed after Hargreaves’ stupidity” observed an unnamed assistant. “Although, it might have over-motivated our O-line. In the first half, they were playing within themselves, keeping [Von] Miller and [Aaron] Donald in check. However, the second half, they just got so angry whenever they thought about Hargreaves, they lost contain and started to press too much. Then we hear that Miller and Donald started talking smack to the guys, figuring that just saying the name “Hargreaves” would throw them off...and it did. Especially on that last drive, Donald just saying to the guards that Hargreaves is gonna win it for us, and the guards, so emotionally wrought, couldn’t stop him. He did on 3rd AND 4th down to end the game...wow does that still hurt.”
“Hey, everyone is entitled to their opinions, but they all know the truth. They know that without me, they ain’t in the Super Bowl, and ain’t no one remembering the Bengals for this season” a defiant Hargreaves III snorted to us when we asked about this input.
Maybe he is right. Or maybe he has a slightly inflated opinion of what he truly brings to the team. Maybe liberation from the Texans did wonders...or maybe a Bengal can’t change his stripes. Much to ponder as the league ends one year and is on to the next.