CINCINNATI — Steve Williams isn’t your typical Cincinnati Bengals fan.
He was born in England and still lives there today. He has no connection to the state of Ohio or the Bengals. In fact, his first sports love is the other football that folks stateside usually refer to as soccer.
But his father was a big NFL fan. As a kid growing up in West Yorkshire, the two would watch whatever game they could find on TV, whether it was live or a replay or even just highlights.
Williams recalled being enamored with the Bengals in the late 1980s and ‘90s while watching quarterback Boomer Esiason chuck the football to big-play receivers such as Eddie Brown and Tim McGee.
What You Need To Know
- Super-fan Steve Williams and his wife made the trip to Cincinnati for the Bengals-Bills game
- The 8:30 p.m. contest is one of the most anticipated games of the year
- In addition to Williams, dozens of others have made the trek to the Queen City for the game, including droves of Bills fans
- Beyond a great match, the Monday night showdown also presents an opportunity to showcase Cincinnati
“They were just an exciting team to watch back then. And really, they have a lot of that same energy fans are feeling for the team today,” said Williams, speaking of the playoff-bound Bengals and their offense led by budding superstar Joe Burrow.
As an adult, Williams has been lucky enough to see his favorite team play twice in person, both times at Wembley Stadium in London. Even though he’d been to the country before, he’d never seen his Bengals play in the United States or even visited Cincinnati.
That was until late last week when he and his wife, Tracy Carrington-Williams, made the trip to the Queen City ahead of the powerhouse match-up on Monday night between the Bengals and the Buffalo Bills at Paycor Stadium.
Kickoff is at 8:30 p.m.
“We’ve come to Cincinnati just to watch the Bengals play the Bills,” an enthusiastic Tracy said Monday morning after she and Steve had returned to their downtown hotel room from breakfast.
The trip was an early present from his new bride to celebrate his 50th birthday, on Jan. 17.
More than just a trip to Cincinnati
Williams and Tracy are among dozens of sports fans who traveled to Cincinnati for the game.
Glenn Goodberry, 38, and his younger brother, Joe Goodberry, arrived in Cincinnati around 2 p.m. Monday. The brother made the nearly seven-hour drive from the greater Buffalo area of New York.
Glenn, a Bills fan, has been to Cincinnati four other times. This is Joe’s sixth trip to watch his beloved Bengals.
Joe doesn’t know why he became a Bengals fan. Theories range from him falling in love with the team’s helmets, which were the “coolest” when he was a kid, to rebelling against the hometown favorites. His dad told him it was because his mom had a crush on Esiason.
“It’s surprising as you hear about the diehards in the Buffalo area. But if we had 10 friends, maybe half of them would be Bills fans but the rest of them are fans of another team because the franchise went through so many struggles over the years,” said Joe, 36. “The four-straight Super Bowl losses just left many people disheartened.”
Steve admitted it hasn’t always been easy to cheer for the Bengals either, especially during the difficult “Bungles” seasons in the 1990s and early 2000s.
But he never thought about jumping ship. In fact, he doubled down on his commitment by branding himself with a Bengals tattoo — a stylized black-and-orange “B” with tiger stripes — on his left tricep.
“Once you choose a team, that’s your team. It’s as simple as that,” Williams said. He compared it to his favorite soccer club back home — Sheffield Wednesday F.C., which competes in League One, a third-tier professional league.
“It’s not the best time for them, and it hasn’t been the best time for 20 years, but they’re my team and I’m going to stick with them. That’s what I did with the Bengals and here we are today.”
There are a lot of comparisons between Bengals and Bills fans, Glenn said. After decades of struggles, they both have elite quarterbacks and talented offensive groups. As a result, there’s “wild anticipation” for the two teams to meet, Glenn said.
“Cincinnati and Buffalo both really are at the pinnacle of what they’ve been for the last 20 to 30 years. And from our perspective as brothers, it’s just sort of extra special to experience,” Glenn said.
Big game means big opportunity for Queen City to shine
Tracy overheard Bengals fans shouting “Who Dey” several times Monday morning, even before the couple had finished their morning coffee. But all weekend, she felt like she was “surrounded by Bills fans,” she said.
Bills fans have traveled better for this game than any group in the past two seasons, said Tony Castelli, marketing director for Earth and Ocean Restaurant Group. They operate E+O Kitchen just outside the Bengals’ home field.
“It’s been a great experience meeting them and welcoming them to Cincinnati for what is sure to be a great game,” he added.
The Goodberry brothers got in their vehicle early Monday morning and made the 450-mile trek to Cincinnati. They plan to enjoy The Banks and downtown before heading out to the game. They’ll go out after the game as well, Glenn said.
They’re staying overnight for this trip, but in the past they’ve stayed for as long as three days.
“We’ve talked about our wish that Buffalo would adopt some things Cincinnati has done with its downtown,” Glenn said. “There’ve been talks about Buffalo getting a new football stadium and we like how Cincinnati has provided things for fans of all ages to have something to do prior to or after the game close to both the Reds and Bengals stadiums.”
The Bengals are an important economic driver to our region, according to Julie Calvert, president and CEO of Visit Cincy. She noted that their impact has been especially great these last two “exciting seasons.”
Visiting fans not only add to the game-day atmosphere, she said, but they also make a major impact to the bottom lines of the local hospitality industry, including hotels, restaurants, bars and other entertainment.
According to a 2020 report for Sports Events and Tourism Association (Sports ETA), sports and sports tourism accounted for $45.1 billion in direct spending across the U.S. in 2019.
The Sports ETA survey found that in 2019, about 180 million people traveled to somewhere in the nation for a sporting event, either as a spectator or a participant. The data showed that 96.4 million of those people stayed overnight.
Overnight sports travelers spent $359 per person trip in 2019; day-trippers spent $79 per trip, per the Sports ETA report.
As a reference, the Western & Southern Open in Mason has a $60 million annual local impact, according to data from Visit Cincy.
Calvert didn’t have a direct number for the Bengals’ economic impact readily available.
“We welcome (out-of-town) fans to the Cincinnati region for tonight’s nationally televised Monday Night Football matchup, which should be one of the most important games of the NFL season,” Calvert added.
Tracy is admittedly not a huge fan of American football, but even she noted what she called the “passion” leading up to the Monday night contest.
The couple got invited to uber-fan Bengal Jim’s tailgate party and a few other pregame festivities. He’s excited to meet a few of the Bengals legends who plan to be in attendance, including Anthony Munoz and David Fulcher.
“We just want to immerse ourselves in the game day experience,” Williams said. “We’re just gonna get down there and try to absorb it all, and create some really great memories.”
The couple arrived in Cincinnati on Thursday night. They’d done a little research on their own, but also sought suggestions for things to do on social media.
One of their first stops with Northern Row Brewery in Over-the-Rhine and then a tour of some of the historical beer establishments and brewing caves in the neighborhood.
They also made treks to Findlay Market, the Cincinnati Zoo to check out the holiday lights, and to The Banks for New Year’s Eve.
“We’re very much people that like to take in the sights and sounds and the heritage of the places we’ve visited, so we’ve tried to do as much as we can,” Williams said.
Tracy, who’s on her first trip to the U.S., said she would have liked to have taken a riverboat trip. But that will have to wait for another trip, she said.
“To be honest, Cincinnati would never have been on our radar as a place to visit,” she added. “We’re here because Steve is a Bengals fan. But we’re glad we came. We’ve really enjoyed it so far.”