From 2006 to 2014, the Cincinnati Bearcats boasted one of the most successful football teams in the country. Across those nine years, the 'Cats amassed 81 wins, eight bowl appearances, five conference championships and four Top 25 AP Poll finishes. For a program with one bowl appearance and one conference championship in the prior 42 years, it was an improbable—maybe even miraculous—sustained period of success.
The Bearcats are not winners anymore.
I suspect most readers started following the team during that nine-year window, which is to be expected. Because of this, the average UC football fan doesn't know how to handle losing. I bet that statement would absolutely floor an '80s or '90s fan, but it's the truth. Most Cincinnati football fans are used to being winners.
Winning is the best. Everyone knows this. I have seen the championship mountaintop and I’ll be the first to tell you it’s even better than advertised.
I also love the process. Sports, for all the fretting we do over them, are largely cyclical. At some point, your pro team is gonna win. The parity isn’t quite the same in college athletics, but the point stands. Nearly every loser will eventually be a winner, and nearly every winner will eventually topple.
Cincinnati Bearcat football has been winning Oscars in the loser role for two years now. If you stretch it back a bit farther to include 2015, you’re looking at a 15-22 record.
Before we get into this, we need to admit to ourselves that is an incredibly brief period of time. I know it feels like UC football has sucked for a quarter century, but there are players on this team who won a conference championship in red and black. Let’s not pretend like we’re hardened warriors on the battlefield of adversity.
We have, however, experienced our fair share of losing over the last 37 games, and it has stunk. I was camped out at Nippert for a dud of a game against BYU, clinging to the last remaining hope my alma mater had before our coach traipsed off the field while telling a fan to “go to hell.” I was one of seemingly 200 people who stuck around in Clifton to watch the Bearcats mercifully end their 13-quarter touchdownless streak in a 34-7 Senior Night loss to Memphis. I hung out to watch the final moments of a game in which a MAC school ran roughshod over us in our own stadium. I even saw the eventual National Champions* hang a half-Benjamin on us in a game that the sports gods mercifully rain-shortened. Cincinnati football has done lots of losing recently.
But here’s the secret about losing: It makes winning better.
While the ‘Cats have been down, I’ve been trying to eat as much crap as humanly possible. This is the part that people mess up. If your team is losing, stick your neck out. Rub your face in it. Lean into it. One day you’ll be a winner and you gotta have some stink on you in order to wash it off with victory.
You know who I feel bad for? 14-year old kids in Boston. They’ve got all the championships with none of the context. The whole thing is probably permanently ruined for them. You can’t appreciate the climb if you’re born at the mountaintop.
The Bearcats may not reach the mountaintop this year, and they may not even have a winning record. My message to you is this: Bathe in the failure, because things are headed in the right direction. When the Bearcats finally break through and return to the Big East days of glory, you’re gonna want to really feel it.
Eat the crap now, because time is running out. The ‘Cats are coming back.