Dinengdeng & Pinakbet

All-American as Possible Under the Circumstances

Gilbert S.C. Keith-Agaran | Photos courtesy Gil Keith-Agaran

I plan to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday, February 11th. I don’t care much for either team playing—the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers. I’ll take in the game simply because I’m a regular red blooded American that way.

But as Saturday Night Live lampooned, the conference championships are really the last NFL weekend for REAL football fans. Two weeks later, the Super Bowl is simply an event that anyone can indulge in—like the Oscars, Olympics, or, locally, Easter morning service or the Maui County Fair (when we had one). On Maui, probably any Laker game as well.

Whether you follow professional football or bought a block by yourself or with a group from work, or simply drop by a friend’s house for proposition bets on which commercial follows the first score, it’s part of being a card-carrying member of the regular community. If you don’t attend or watch (at least part of the game), what will you talk about around the water cooler on Monday? There’s no red America, or blue America, there’s just the NFL’s Super Bowl game (certainly no purple America with the RatBirds losing to the Chiefs).

The Bengals won their first playoff game since 1990 by beating the Raiders in a 2021 Wildcard game.

I may be dating myself but growing up, the NFL Monday Night Football game was “satellite delayed” and the talking head sports reporters would direct you to close your eyes if you didn’t want to see the score at 6 p.m. HST. Now you can sit in on the Manning Brothers take on the weekly match up if you don’t want to tune into ABC/ESPN/Disney, and then watch the replay in local prime time. Or you can get the highlights on YouTube TV so you don’t sound as ignorant of what happened like some poor saps who recently became fans of Dan Campbell and the Detroit Lions by watching HBO Hard Knocks.

Sure, there are some who could care less about whether San Francisco or Kansas City collects another Lombardi Trophy (named after legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi for you folks who think we should abolish athletics at the University of Hawai‘i—except for Wahine volleyball). Those same folks probably look down on popular American culture generally. Maybe they heard a Chiefs game is happening because someone said Taylor Swift has a fan section swaying in front of the Kelce luxury box.

The Bengals picked Joe Burrow (QB) as the first overall pick of the 2020 draft after finishing 2–14. Burrow would lead them to the 2022 Super Bowl.

I take the easier course. To avoid the Mean Girls picking on me, I try to blend in.

My problem is I actually am a fanatic for an unlikely team.

The 1982, 1989 and 2022 games were different because my team—the Cincinnati Bengals—appeared in those Super Bowls. Those were personal. I looked forward to Super Bowl XVI, XXIII and LVI as a long-suffering follower of a particular team, and not just someone tuning in because everyone else was watching.

Super Bowl XVI took place in the Detroit Silverdome—only the third NFL title game played under roof at the time. I was in college so being contrary to other West Coasters attending my East Coast college, I openly stuck with my small kid team the blue-collar Bengals instead of the more trendy, snotty San Francisco 49ers.

Fandom can be an inexplicable thing. It’s like who knew dinuguan and pinapaitan are Filipino cultural delicacies that separate the manongs from the manoks—you’re not a Full-Blooded Ilocano (FBI) if you don’t crave either occasionally (balut, in contrast, is just a colonial abomination).

I can only say the earliest game I remember is Kenny Anderson throwing the ball around in a playoff game when the Bengals fell behind. They still lost that game but I simply liked the Midwest Offense run by Cincy. I certainly didn’t want to bandwagon behind that other AFC Central team, the Pittsburgh Steelers who had somehow won a pair of Super Bowls and seemed to always thwart the expansion Bengals. (I cheered for the Oakland Raiders whenever they played the Steelers in postseason—I know in my heart of hearts Franco Harris did not catch that ball and, anyway, the pigskin illegally bounced off one of his teammate’s helmets before he possibly caught it—Immaculate Reception my behind!)

PHOTO LEFT: Joe Mixon (28), Joe Burrow (9) and Ja’Marr Chase (1), key members of the Bengals offense. PHOTO RIGHT: The Bengals took the lead in the 2022 Super Bowl on a 75-yard Joe Burrow to Tee Higgins TD.

The Niners had a link to my Bengals because Bill Walsh had been the Cincy QB coach. Walsh left when Bengals founder/owner/unquestioned lord and master Paul Brown handed the reins to defensive coach Tiger Johnson when Brown retired as Head Coach. Moving to the Bay Area, Walsh exported and then re-branded the Cincinnati O as the “West Coast Offense.”

I possibly would have switched to the Niners (I was already a San Francisco Giants fan) but those elitist City by the Bay natives attending my college were just too cocky and obnoxious going into Super Bowl XVI. I must have been a little over the top in my fandom because one of my classmates had an in with a minority owner of the Cleveland Browns and offered to get me a game ticket. As a poor scholarship kid from Hawai‘i, I didn’t have have the money to fly to Detroit for the game and pay for some kind of shelter afterwards, so I sheepishly turned him down—a self-respecting Bengals fan couldn’t accept charity from the team that shamefully fired Paul Brown.

The 1981–1982 Bengals boasted accurate passer Ken Anderson and a cocky young WR in Cris Collinsworth and a pair of hard driving runners in Pete Johnson and Charley Alexander. That team won the AFC title in an icy victory over San Diego and Dan Fouts. The Bengals entered the Super Bowl as favorites by a few points.

I remain convinced if Johnson or Alexander score at the goal line, Cincinnati wins, probably covers and the Bengals, not the Niners, are the team of the ’80s. I forget how many times the Bengals made it to the red zone in the game without scoring …

But the Bengals fell short. And I had to sit in the residential college Common Room watching as my San Francisco schoolmates celebrated every stop and Bengals miscue.

I secretly thought we’d be back fairly soon. Fans always think they’d be back the next year (like the four straight times the Buffalo “Wide Right” Bills represented the AFC in the Super Bowl—okay, they lost them all so maybe that could have been worse).

Ironically, I attended law school in the Bay Area. During my second year, Stanford hosted Super Bowl XIX that featured the Dan Marino-led Dolphins versus Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Roger Craig and that Niner defense that shutdown Miami. Quite a week of festivities and spectacles in the City, and I almost changed my allegiances during my time in Berkeley. But I am a loyal guy. I stuck with Cincinnati.

When I finally made it home to Hawai‘i, we got another chance.

It took longer than I expected and a quirky coach in Sam Wyche and young QB Boomer Esiason starting instead of Anderson.

Seven years after Super Bowl XVI, the Bengals earned a re-match with the Niners in Miami. Boomer was firmly at the helm and Collinsworth was at the end of his career. It was a FG battle. After Stanford Jennings’ 93-yard kickoff return TD, the Bengals led 16–13 and seemed poised for redemption. But then Joe Montana happens. 92-yard drive. Lewis Billups doesn’t make the interception and Montana connects with John Taylor on the next play.

In the following decades, my team admittedly were more Bungles than Bengals. Even when Marvin Lewis arrived and they began winning again, they consistently were the NFL’s not ready for prime-time players and failed to win a playoff game from 1990 until 2021. I saw every way for a team to blow a game.

Things didn’t improve with the arrival of new coach Zac Taylor. He went 2–14 to start—in retrospect, a strategic tanking that allowed the Bengals to draft cocky new quarterback and Ohio native Joe Burrow fresh from a record setting run to the NCAA title at LSU. With perhaps the best trio of young receivers in Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd and a defense that bent but seemed to make enough adjustments in the second half to slow opponents, Cincinnati raised my hopes. Even with a porous O-line that gave up a ton of QB sacks, the Bengals seemed competitive (if with a banged-up Burrow) after upsetting the defending AFC champs Kansas City 27–24. The Bengals rallied from 18 points down to win on an Evan McPherson Field Goal in O.T.

In 2022, I would have preferred a third game against the Niners but got the Rams instead in Super Bowl LVI. Like 1989, the Bengals led that one until the referees changed the way they called most of the game—I mean if Tee Higgins can score a 75-yard TD without getting flagged for a pretty obvious OPI, Logan Wilson’s little love tap didn’t deserve a flag on the Rams’ “winning” drive. Then the O-line failed at the wrong time and Burrow didn’t have time to get off a fourth down pass to a streaking Chase. Perhaps Joe Montana still gets off that throw. But regardless, the NFL got the storyline it wanted—the Rams won in their new expensive home stadium.

I thought we’d be back fairly quickly. But the zebras also beat us in 2023, allowing a limping Pat Mahomes to hone his legend in the AFC title game.

Then everything fell apart this year when we lost Burrow for much of the year and missed the playoffs and finished behind the RatBirds, Browns and Steelers. I’m betting we’ll be back in 2025 when Burrow and Chase have a shot at returning to Louisiana for Super Bowl LIX—those two LSU Tigers still own that state.

I’ll likely take in this year’s game at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center (my law firm is a sponsor of the event). The host of my usual venue decided to travel with his wife to New Orleans for Mardi Gras during Super Bowl week. But it’s the Super Bowl and I’ve got some blocks.

Gilbert S.C. Keith-Agaran missed watching the AFC and NFC championship match ups live because Apo Alfredo Evangelista committed him to helping at the Tulong for Lahaina® Fund distribution on the same day as the games. He had no skin in either game so no harm, no foul.