Instead of grabbing her attention through conventional means, Lanham winked at a friend, who had joined him at his sports bar in Milan, Ind., about 40 miles from Cincinnati. Then he jokingly proclaimed he would live on the roof of the restaurant if the Bengals lost to the Arizona Cardinals the following week.
That outlandish proclamation caught Chrissy Lanham’s attention, and she shared her husband’s announcement live on CBS affiliate WKRC. (The television station regularly does live shoots from the restaurant when the Bengals are on the road.)
Lanham is nothing if not a man of his word, so following the Bengals’ 26-23 loss in Week 5 to the Cardinals, he reached out to a friend in the tree service business and soon made his way up to the roof in a tree-trimming truck. (He originally was staying on the bar’s upper roof but later moved down to a lower level to be closer to the facilities.)
“I said it, so it’s my fault, but she kind of put salt in the wound by saying it live on Channel 12 News. So now I’m living it,” Lanham said. “Until they win, I’m stuck on the roof.”
Since Oct. 7, the day after Cincinnati’s loss to the Cardinals, the 42-year-old father of two adult children has only taken half a day off, to honor a previously arranged cooking agreement to help a family friend’s sick child.
Other than that, Lanham said, he has spent roughly 23 hours per day in his 12-foot-by-10-foot rooftop tent, which contains a flat-screen TV, a heater, assorted clothes, snacks, a cot and a sleeping bag.
This wasn’t a bet, so there are no specific rules about what Lanham can and can’t do, but he only leaves the roof to use the restroom and shower on the restaurant’s second floor.
All of his meals are delivered to him on the roof by one of the restaurant’s waiters or by his wife when she stops by to change out his laundry. (The Hog Rock Cafe is about a five-minute drive from their home.)
“When the Bengals lost the Cardinals game, I had intended to only leave [the roof] for Bengals home games, but the haters on Facebook and stuff kept whining, so I just don’t go nowhere,” Lanham said. “All I do is go to the bathroom and then back out here on the roof.”
Initially, Lanham did laps around the roof to pass time, but with winter approaching, he now spends the majority of his day in the tent, trying to stay warm.
“You just get bored as hell up here watching TV and Netflix, but there’s literally nothing else for you to really do now that it’s like 20 degrees,” Lanham said. “I just turn my heater on, strip down to my boxers and lay in my sleeping bag for most of the day.”
While living on a roof until your team wins its first game is uncommon, it is not unheard of in Cincinnati. In 1991, WEBN-FM, a Cincinnati radio station, wagered with a Denver-area radio station that if the Broncos won their season opener against the Bengals, sports reporter Dennis “Wildman” Walker would live on the station’s billboard until Cincinnati won its first game.
Cincinnati lost that game, 45-14, leading to a 61-day stay for Walker as the Bengals stumbled to an 0-8 start.
Lanham has cited Walker as an inspiration. Walker still lives in the Cincinnati area and has joined the younger man on the roof on Sundays to watch Bengals games while offering tips about maintaining his sanity.
“Wildman suggested that I get a sign-in book, which has been pretty helpful because there’s been some new faces around here of people that don’t know me personally but still want to show support and stuff,” Lanham said.
One of those new faces was former Bengals great Ickey Woods, who presented Lanham with an autographed jersey while they watched a Bengals game together on the roof.
“My husband isn’t really the type to get star-struck or anything like that, but I could tell that getting to meet one of his team’s best players meant a lot to him,” Chrissy Lanham said.
Chrissy Lanham has never been the type of person who prays about the outcome of NFL games — she has always believed that God has more important matters to tend to — but her husband’s lengthy stay on the roof has caused her to reconsider.
“This process has gone through stages for me personally, because I can obviously visit him whenever I want to, but it’s just not the same as having him with me at our home,” she said. “Being the upstanding man that he is, I know that he’ll never break an agreement, so I’m just praying that the Bengals win so he can come back home.”
There might be hope on the horizon. According to The Washington Post’s Neil Greenberg, there is only a 9 percent chance the Bengals finish 0-16.
The team’s best chances at a win, according to Greenberg, come in Week 13 vs. the Jets (44 percent) and Week 16 at the Dolphins (47 percent).
Should Cincinnati defy the odds and become the sixth team in NFL history to finish the season without a win, Lanham plans to move back home following the season finale. He would then return to the roof when the 2020 season begins and stay there until the Bengals win.
“I’m so ready to come down; it’s miserable up here,” he said. “I did not plan on being up here this long. This definitely wasn’t no business move, I can tell you that. The only reason I’m even up here is to silence the haters’ mouths. I never want anyone to be able to say that I wasn’t a man of my word.”
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