Both Reid and Carter have in common that trait, a willingness to tolerate some measure of personal misery in order to participate in a game that each respects.
"While little things turn me away from football," Reid says, "that five or six hours on Sunday is worth being in it. It's a chance to evaluate yourself—and not many people get that kind of chance in life. After a football game, mentally I'm more alert. I do my best work at the piano after a game. Football is such a game of emotion, but music is nothing more than an expression of emotion." The night after the Bengals lost 27-6 to the Browns in Cleveland Reid worked at the piano for three hours. "What I did at that time made more sense than what I had done earlier in the week," he said.
"Music has never interfered with football, but there have been many cases where football interfered with music—like getting my hands beaten up so badly that I couldn't play. They fight each other sometimes, but in the experience of football, a game, you'll react to that far more emotionally than you will to something like a movie or conversation. It runs deeper. Musically, it's very good to feel that and then try to get it down on paper. That's a real struggle sometimes."
As for defeat, Reid says: "If you maintain the spirit of competition by giving your very best, that's the important thing. If I play across from Larry Little and he turns out to be the better player on that day, I've got only to know that I gave it my best. If you get obsessed with that scoreboard thing, you can go insane. You always want to win, but even in an 0-and-14 year you've got to derive some positive things from the experience."
Reid is similarly forthright about his tastes in music. No classical snob, he is especially zealous in praise of Elton John and calls Randy Newman, a relative unknown, the best pop writer in the business. He has written some pop tunes himself, but found his greatest musical satisfaction last February when the Cincinnati Symphony performed his Cries of Love and Hate, a cantata for solo voice, piano and orchestra.
"I enjoy almost any kind of music," Reid says, "provided that it's not just something being done as a commercial gimmick. I know various forms of expression are vital, but there still has to be some kind of order. That's the thing I find irritating about so many avant-garde things, like movies. There seems to be the idea that if it's for the sake of art, any form is good. I find that invalid. I suppose we're struggling to be an intellectual society and that's a hopeless goal for America, because it's just not an intellectual country."
Reid grew up in Altoona, Pa., the product of a family he describes as being neither musical nor athletic, although his older brother, Bill, played the saxophone and his younger brother, Gary, played high school football. Carter also prospered with a small-town upbringing, gleaning countless athletic and scholastic honors in high school at Folsom, Calif. At Brigham Young he majored in statistics, threw 50 touchdown passes and married the homecoming queen. Drafted by the Bears in 1967, Carter made his first pro start the next season, and promptly led the Bears to four consecutive wins before he was sidelined by a fractured ankle. Despite this record, he was sent off to Buffalo, where he stayed for about 20 minutes before landing in Cincinnati in 1970, where, implausibly, he led the newest team in the pros to a division title.
Last season, when Carter missed four games with a left shoulder separation, the Bengals lost six times in the last two minutes by a total of 21 points. Along with a certain amount of frustration, it also provided a new direction for Carter's mathematics muse. "I would really like to take a look at dimensions of scoring differential," he says, "to find out what difference it makes when you're six points ahead, 10 points ahead, three behind, etc. Last year we were ahead a lot of the time but the other team was always within striking distance. I'd like to have some concrete approach to help the guys."
"Virgil," Reid says, "is like my older brother, who seemed to know exactly what the course of his life would be at the age of one. He has a more analytical mind. I can't react to feeding information into a computer. We're mentally complete opposites but I tend to admire those qualities, because I can't match them."
The admiration is no doubt mutual, as both Carter and the computer would be first to say.