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Dawn Of A New Day

The last 48 hours have seen the dawn of a new day in Cincinnati.  For now, at least, things seem a little brighter in the Queen City.  Soak up the rays, my friends.  It’s been a long road.  The last few months have seen a lot of fugly.

From the ashes of a dismal 2010 4-12 campaign, and the mushroom cloud left behind by Terrell Owens, things only seemed to get worse for Cincinnati. 

First, there was that disjointed mess of a press conference announcing that, despite a myriad of differences, Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis would continue to piece together a working relationship. Two terrible liars smiled through some very tense moments to announce that they came to the conclusion that continuity is good (usually).  At least that was the argument at the time, and that was the argument used again as the team left with Bob Bratkowski for Senior Bowl duty with fans clamoring for his head on a spike. 

After the game, the organization finally relented to appease the angry hoard.  Up-and-coming talent Jay Gruden was quickly installed in his place, with a reputation for offensive genius and quarterback-friendly schemes. The tribe had spoken. Viva la revolucion. 

In the midst of all of this, franchise quarterback Carson Palmer announced that he would take his proverbial ball and go home.  The tantrum was a familiar one to Bengal fans, but never before from a quarterback.  His “trade me or I’ll retire” pronouncements shook Bengaldom, while Brown remained unmoved, stoic and stupid. 

All of this while the owners and players called upon the lawyers to sort out their differences.

Not exactly a smooth offseason, but then, I thought last year’s was and look what that got us.

The truth is that the Bengals are better with Marvin Lewis than without, and perhaps better without Palmer than with him.  And while the jury is still out, I have to believe they are better with Gruden.  Growth, however ugly and slow, is still growth. 

The team has pulled themselves out of this rubble just in time for the 2011 NFL draft. Without free agency, they needed to score big in the early going. 

Boy did they.  

In less than 24 hours, they were able to add the most dynamic offensive player available in the draft, and pair him with the quarterback Gruden wanted the most.  The scenario had been predicted for weeks, but seemed unlikely as Thursday night approached.  The Bengals never pick the most logical choice in the first round, it seems, and there was no way their quarterback would still be around at pick 35 with so many teams needing good signal callers. 

Nonetheless, he was.  

Despite two failed trade attempts, the Bengals got the coveted wide receiver A.J. Green at pick number four, and the winner Andy Dalton at 35. 

Green will wear number 18 in the Queen City, and has drawn comparisons to Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, and Randy Moss.  Good company as the team looks to move past the prima donna pairing Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens.  Green has rare size and speed, and shows the kind of body control and hands that Chad once had.  He will be able to out-jump, out-run, and out-muscle most defensive backs, and immediately makes the offense dangerous. Best of all, he saw himself here all along and wanted it. With Jermaine Gresham, Jordan Shipley, Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell and now Green, the team has retooled their passing game with a bevy of young, talented weapons.  They just needed a quarterback. 

In the second round when Buffalo selected CB Aaron Williams at 34, the prophecy was fulfilled.  I wish I could have been a fly on the wall in the team war room when Buffalo’s pick was announced. The card quickly went up to the podium, and the future leader of the team was announced by the greatest Bengal ever, Anthony Munoz.  What a moment in team history.  

TCU’s Andy Dalton was the player Gruden loved so much he couldn’t hide it.  Everyone in the league knew that he was the guy the Bengals were targeting, and his stock had risen drastically over the last several weeks.  Him still being there at pick 35 was a prayer answered, and an unlikely culmination of lucky breaks. 

Dalton will win games for these Bengals.  He may not have the pedigree of California Carson Palmer, but he has the battle-tested grit of a Texas rustler.  His fiery red hair matching his fiery personality, he’s the kind of leader the Bengals have lacked.  What he lacks compared to Palmer’s stature, athleticism and big-time school upbringing he more than makes up for with his will and fortitude.

And the resume doesn’t lie. 41 wins in college.  A three-year starter.  Three-time bowl game MVP.  Two-time Mountain West Conference player of the year.  All-time conference leader in yards.  

In short, he guy is a winner.  To put it in Bengal terms, he’s got Boomer’s attitude and Kenny Anderson’s number (14).  That ought to be an awesome combination.  Barring injuries, these two will start game one and there is no reason to doubt them. 

Green and Dalton ride into town and Ochocinco and Palmer ride out.  The camera-hungry wide-out that would never shut up and the camera-shy star who never spoke up can now be discarded. 

A new day dawns, a new era begins, and the Bengals are better off for it

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