- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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So ESPN.com's AFC North blog reached out to the most famous Bengals fan -- singer, songwriter and actor Nick Lachey -- to get his take on the state of the franchise. As a Cincinnati native and die-hard Bengals fan, Lachey offered his candid take on ownership, Carson Palmer's trade demands and his personal message to other Bengals fans.
Nick, let's start with some background. How long have you been a Bengals fan and what were some of your best and early memories?
Nick Lachey: I've been a Bengals fan for the better part of 30 years. The first season I can remember getting interested in football was the year we went to our first Super Bowl against the 49ers. That was the era of Ken Anderson, Cris Collinsworth, Isaac Curtis, Pete Johnson, etc. That season, two things were born: A lifelong passion for the Bengals and an absolute hatred of the 49ers. They remain a thorn in the Bengals' side.
Who is your favorite Bengal of all time? Why?
Nick Lachey: My favorite Bengal of all time is easily Anthony Munoz. Aside from being the greatest offensive lineman that ever played the game, he is also the Bengals' lone representative in the NFL Hall of Fame. As intimidating as he was on the field, he has always been the most approachable and respectful person off of it. I remember meeting him as a young boy and being shocked by how nice he was to me. As a native Cincinnatian, I have a great deal of respect for how he has embraced our community as well. He has chosen to continue to call Cincinnati home long after his playing days and has done a great deal for the city there. As great as he was as a player, I can easily say he is an even greater human being.
With the high expectations coming in, where would last season rank for you among Bengal disappointments?
Nick Lachey: I think this last year was the most disappointing season in the history of the franchise for me. Certainly there were more pathetic seasons for Bengal fans in terms of record, but none with as many expectations as we had for the team in 2010. I think the most frustrating aspect for me was that we seemed to be in every game, and simply found a way to lose. We never really got blown out but made just enough mistakes and committed enough foolish penalties to take ourselves out of the game. I can handle being soundly beaten by better teams, but beating ourselves was difficult to stomach.
Quarterback Carson Palmer wants out and threatens to retire. Were you surprised? As GM, Nick, how would you handle this situation?
Nick Lachey: I was surprised by Carson's comments simply because he has been so hesitant to step up and say anything in the past. There have been many situations in the past few seasons when you would want and expect your highly paid franchise QB to step up and be the leader of the team, on and off the field. Carson has never been willing to be that guy. He remained silent, seemingly willing to let the chips fall where they may, collect his check and go home. I remember the days of Boomer Esiason, and let's just say I wish Carson had more of Boomer in him. Now, when Carson decides that he doesn't want to deal with it anymore, he finally shows the backbone Bengal fans have long waited to see and makes an ultimatum to be traded or retire. I'm the first to admit that the Bengals can be a tough team to play for at times, but they also made you the highest-paid player in the NFL at the time and you owe it to them and the fans to show some resolve, be a leader and fight through it. Being a very highly compensated franchise QB in the NFL is more than learning terminology and throwing passes. It's about being a leader, and Carson has proven that he cannot be that. If there is a team that thinks he is worth trading for, do it.
Building off that subject, how would you characterize the current state of the franchise?
Nick Lachey: ABYSMAL! Now that I'm done assaulting Carson, let me also explain why I can't blame him for being fed up. Short of the Los Angeles Clippers, who I also happen to be a fan of, the Bengals may be the most poorly run franchise in professional sports. Since Mike Brown has taken over, we've been the laughingstock of the league, all the while supported by a fan base that has refused to give up on the team. After years, even decades of "bungled" draft picks, unfortunate injuries, and off the field embarrassments, I see this as a breaking point for the Bengals and the fans in Cincinnati. People are tired of giving their hard-earned money to a team that seemingly cares more about growing the family fortune than it does about competing for a championship. So many years of futility has created an atmosphere of perpetual losing that no player wants to be a part of, Carson being the latest example. I feel bad for the players and the community that supports them. I think it's time for Mike Brown to admit he's not the football man he thinks he is and hire people who are. As an owner, I think you owe it to the fans who have so loyally supported your team and made you a lot of money in the process to field the best team possible. I think we can safely say that a team that has Mike Brown making personnel decisions is certainly not the best team possible. If he did the right thing and hired someone to take over those duties, he would instantly go from being Cincinnati's public enemy No. 1 to its newfound hero. Hope is a powerful thing, and as Bengal fans, that is all we're asking for.
Lastly, as the most high-profile Bengals fan out there, what message would you have for other Bengals fans who are losing hope?
Nick Lachey: As Bengal fans, we have endured so much over the past 20-plus seasons, with little in the way of satisfaction. We have paid for a new stadium, signed up for public seat licenses and continued to sell out a stadium for a team that has seldom performed to expectations. I have leased a suite for the past five seasons and commuted back and forth from Los Angeles to watch the team I love, many times flying back feeling as if the joke were on me. My message to the fans in Cincinnati would be this -- the power is in our hands. It's time that, as a fan base, we demand more from the team we so passionately love and support. Cincinnati is a rabid football town and we deserve to have a team that cares about winning as much as we do. As hard as it is, the only way we can show our resolve is to quit blindly supporting the same old dysfunctional, losing cycle that is the Mike Brown Bengals. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Albert Einstein said that and he was a pretty smart guy from what I've heard. Bengal fans, don't go insane.