The League

Josh Zerkle
National Blogger

Josh Zerkle

Editor of the sports gossip and humor site With Leather

Bengals earn stripes

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Running back Larry Johnson seemed to exude every characteristic of football poison when he was released by the Kansas City Chiefs last week. Underperforming. Petulant. And he did himself no favors with the media. The Bengals got rid of such a player when they traded Corey Dillon in 2003.

Signing Johnson reinforces an aging notion that Cincinnati has become some sort of Island of Misfit Skill Players, and maybe that's fair. But the logic is even simpler than that: the Bengals need a running back. Larry Johnson is a free agent running back, just as Cedric Benson was a season ago. Johnson might not yield the same returns as Benson has this season, but never mind. The Bengals once again have beaten the market for talent, and in doing so have given Larry Johnson a chance to beat his own bad rep.

If you look at its history, you'll see that the Bengals organization is synonymous with second chances. After being fired by Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell in 1963, legendary coach Paul Brown started his own franchise across the state five years later. He named his new team the Bengals, and outfitted his players in black and orange -- the exact same shade of orange used by his neighbors to the north. When the Bengals joined the Browns in the NFL in 1970, Paul Brown had his chance at Modell, and football had itself a near-instant rivalry.

The Bengals may not be the bail bondsmen of the NFL. And even if they were, such barbs don't pack the same sting when your team sits atop the division. But the team now run by Paul Brown's son certainly has become its junk bondsman, finding opportunity where none was thought to exist. Troublemakers -- or anyone perceived to be such -- seem to gravitate toward Mike Brown's doorstep, where he eagerly scoops them up at a discount. Chris Henry runs terrific intermediate routes. Rey Muauluga has bolstered the team's front seven -- a perennial weakness of earlier Bengals campaigns. Andre Smith... okay, so it's an inexact science.

But these Bengals, now sitting at 7-2, have earned their stripes. And not their prison stripes, either. The team that was coming up short for the last fifteen years has given itself a second chance. And much like Larry Johnson, the team will look to leave its old reputation far behind.

By Josh Zerkle  |  November 17, 2009; 5:20 PM ET  | Category:  Cincinnati Bengals , Crime , Kansas City Chiefs Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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