Every week during the season on the Bengals Radio Network pre-game show, I do a segment called “Fantastic Fun Facts” with a player, coach, or Bengals legend. It’s a brief life story of that week’s subject where we get away from the X’s and O’s of football and focus on their backgrounds, families, and interests off of the field.
Here are a few interesting nuggets that we learned from the segment last season.
You have a messed-up little finger that points sideways. Was there a specific incident or was it just the wear and tear of all those years on the offensive line?
“Every week over the years I would tape my fingers up. Then I retired and you kind of reassess your hands and fingers and I looked and said, ‘Oh my goodness. It’s not going the way it was when I started out in the NFL.’ But everything we did was with our hands. In run blocking you’re punching. When guys are coming at you in pass blocking you’re hitting facemasks and shoulder pads. It happened over all the years and a lot of people ask me, ‘Was it one specific play?’ With that pinkie, no. It was an accumulation.”
You blocked for the Heisman Trophy winner at Oregon – Marcus Mariota. What did it mean to you when he won the award?
“I guess that I can say I helped a little bit. I was a leader amongst my group, but that guy worked so hard and did such a great job. He puts his whole lifestyle into that. That’s what he’s about. And off the field he’s a high-character guy that’s probably the best person that I’ve ever met. So for me, nothing personal came from that. I was so happy for him to get that award – he should have had it two years in a row I think.”
You helped invent the Lev Sled for blocking. What does the Lev Sled do that previous blocking sleds didn’t?
“I’ve always had an interest in invention. I’ve invented a half dozen things really and the Lev Sled is the most famous of the group. In the past when blockers would hit sleds, it would either go straight out or straight up. Blocking is really a force of straight out to create leverage and then lift. So it’s really an arcing type of motion. No sleds did that. So I kind of invented the idea and worked with Rogers (Athletic) and hit 15 different prototypes until it was the right angle and the right arc. I really like creating and thinking and to me, that’s what NFL football is.”
That sounds to me like it could have been said by Paul Brown.
“You know, I never met Paul Brown. I’m fascinated by him and I’ve obviously read the book. I’ve heard so many things about him here and I wish I had known him. He was so creative and so ahead of the game and I think those thoughts came from inside his own mind. That’s inspirational and it’s the way pro football is. They say that the NFL is a copycat league. Somebody comes up with an idea and then everyone copies it. We haven’t done a lot of that. I really don’t like that. I’d rather come up with our own ideas. All of the crazy formation things that we’ve done that we’ve done the last few years – those are unique and are Bengals things. Remember how we used to send Dennis Roland in motion? We were really the first team to send a lineman in motion. When Corey Dillon was here we invented a play called the chase play and Dillon got most of his yards off of that. Now that’s a staple NFL play. So we’ve really enjoyed doing things that are unique and ours.”
Despite a great career at Clemson and good workouts, you didn’t get drafted. Does it tick you off to this day?
“Yes. It still does. Because I know what I can do and a lot of people overlook me because of my height. They say things like, ‘He’s not the prototype NFL three technique’ and blah, blah, blah. But I have an All-Pro right next to me in Geno (Atkins). He’s not that tall but he shuts people up with his play and I feel like I’m going to do that down the road when I get more opportunities. So I live by ‘ball hard like a small guard.’ Don’t let anybody determine by your height what you can or cannot do.”
Despite being a great high school quarterback, you were this close to playing college basketball correct?
“I committed to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point that has a great basketball program. They’ve won several national championships and had a lot of success. I was committed there and sent in my deposit and everything. I had my roommate all set up, told the coach I was coming there and then I got the acceptance to (the University of Wisconsin) Madison literally like a week later. It was tough at the time but I felt like it was the best opportunity. It was a goal of mine and it was too good to pass up. So I had to make some phone calls and de-commit which was hard because you form a relationship with all of those coaches. But in the long run I’m glad I made that decision.”
You were the greatest 12th round draft pick in NFL history. How did you learn that you were selected because I remember that it was something bizarre?
“I was working as a bill collector for Beneficial Finance. The address was 607 Hill Street and I don’t know why I remember that. It was in downtown Los Angeles and my wife called me and said, ‘You just got drafted.’ And I said, ‘That’s impossible. I just got out of the Navy.’ And she said, ‘No, no, no, by some team in Cincinnati. Is that in Ohio?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And she said, ‘The Cincinnati Beagles.’ And I said, ‘Are you kidding?’ And she said, ‘No, I’m not kidding.’ And I said, ‘How do you know that?’ She said, ‘There’s a telegram here from Paul Brown saying, “Congratulations, you’ve been drafted in the 12th round.” Aren’t you excited?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely.’ So I walked into the boss of Beneficial Finance at 607 Hill Street in downtown Los Angeles and said, ‘I quit.’ I had no clue how they knew about me or what the connection was between the Cincinnati Bengals and a kid named Trumpy. But when I made the team, my wife and I moved into an apartment on Galbreath Road and another person living there was Al LoCasale. He was the Director of Player Personnel. So we’re sitting out on the front stoop one night having a beer and I said, ‘Al, who was responsible for me being drafted?’ He said, ‘Me.’ And I said, ‘What did you know about me?’ And he said, ‘I saw you twice. Once playing for Utah against the University of Houston and once playing catch on the beach in Daytona. I wrote your name down and kept track. In the 12th round Paul Brown said, “Offense. A receiver. Somebody with some speed.” So I flipped through my spiral notebook, got to the T’s and there’s your name.’ That was the sum total of the research they did on me.”
You posted an old photo of you and your brother Zach once in rodeo gear when you were young kids. Did you do some of that?
“We did when we were younger. We played football and rodeo and those were kind of the two things that we did. Then my brother got hurt and our parents actually made us quit. They didn’t give us a choice. They said, ‘You’re done. No more of that.’”
What event in rodeo?
“We rode miniature bulls.”
Any nasty spills?
“I never got hurt badly but my brother did. That’s why they made us stop.”
You’re from Houston – more specifically, the city’s fourth ward – and you said in an interview once that in the fourth ward you either played sports, sold drugs, or robbed people. Who helped you make the right choices?
“My three older brothers. I also have three older boy cousins and they’re the ones that kept me away from the streets. I also feel like the drug dealers in the neighborhood kept me off the corner because they saw that I was good in basketball and football. In every neighborhood like that, when you find a guy with special talent, you try to make sure that he can get out. So whenever I would try to hang out on the corners, my brothers would beat me up or the drug dealers would chase me off the corner and go tell my mom. So my neighborhood and my family are the ones that kept me from going that route and kept the football and the basketball in my hands and led me out of that neighborhood.”
Who was your favorite athlete growing up?
“I’ve got to say Chad Ochocinco. I loved his competitiveness and his swagger and I always looked up to him. I was number 18 in high school so I changed my name to ‘Uno Ocho.’ Everybody called me ‘Uno Ocho’ but I didn’t put it on the back of my uniform.
You are the son of one of the great offensive minds in football history. You dad Ernie was an offensive coordinator with the Chargers, Rams, Cowboys, and Patriots. Did you hang around his teams a lot when you were young?
“I did. I had the chance to be the ball boy for a lot of those years in San Diego so I had the chance to see Dan Fouts, Kellen Winslow, Charlie Joyner, Wes Chandler, John Jefferson, Pete Holohan – just some great, great players.”
You ran off some great names there. Was there a guy that you idolized the most?
“Well James Brooks was probably the toughest guy I saw. Pound for pound he was the toughest guy and got the most out of himself. It broke my heart when he got traded to Cincinnati.”
According to your bio you are an avid horse rider. Who had horses when you were young and how early did you start?
“My grandmother had them and I grew up with it. I was about three years old when I was on my first horse and I’ve stuck with it ever since?”
And it’s something that you still like to do?
“Of course. When I go home I ride and I’m trying to find a spot out here to do it.”
Any accidents on top of a horse?
“No, I’ve never had one. I don’t go crazy.”
While you were in high school, you helped the Clairton Bears set a state record with 66 consecutive wins. Why is Clairton High School football so dominant?
“That’s the route to go if you want to succeed in that area. Me and my friends gave it all we had. We fed off of each other’s energy and it led us to where we are now.”
It’s a former steel mill town that’s had rough economic times. What does the success of the high school football team mean to the folks back home?
“Football is everything in Clairton, Pennsylvania. It’s a small town with a lot of poverty and crime and sports brings everybody together. Not only the players but families, friends, enemies – they all come into that stadium to see the Clairton Bears play.”
After two years at the University of Florida your grandfather got sick and your father had some health issues as well, so you transferred to USC, moved back to California, and helped to keep the family landscaping business afloat right?
“That would be true. I used to have long days when I first transferred over to USC because I might have an early class in the morning or early workouts and then I would have to make the hour-long trip to Palmdale to cut as many yards as I could and then get back to Los Angeles. I did that for a few months but you really don’t think about it too much when you’re doing it for your family. I knew what the cause was and I was ready for it. And I’d do it again.”
How did a yard look after you cut it?
“Not as good as when my dad did it. But it wasn’t bad at all. I don’t think any of our clients were disappointed so I tried to do the best job I could.”
You separated your shoulder early in the Iron Bowl game against Alabama in your junior year at Auburn and kept playing. That games goes down in history as one of the best ever for the finish – the 109-yard ‘kick six’ return of a missed field goal on the final play of the game. Allow us to be flies on the wall or on the sideline. Takes us back to that moment and tell us what you remember.
“I knew that we had someone deep. I didn’t know that it was Chris (Davis), I thought it was just a safety because before the timeout we just had a normal safety back there. I saw the miss, I saw Chris catch it, and in my mind I’m already thinking overtime. So I turned around for a second, then I turned back around and he’s still running down the sideline. I was like, ‘There’s nobody really near him.’ So he starts running down the sideline, hits the corner, the kicker misses him and I just start hauling. I’m running down the field and looking to make sure there are no penalties and I just jumped on the dog pile. I immediately got off because my shoulder hurt. I look up and people are hitting me in the head and it’s not my teammates – it’s the fans who are storming the field. It’s like a wave coming at you and that was the most amazing, intense, memorable game ever.”
You’re from Houston, Texas but I’ve read that your dad was born in Ohio and went to Ohio State. Do you have any ties left to the Buckeye State?
“Growing up I always followed THE Ohio State University. It wasn’t just Ohio State – we were always corrected about that growing up. My dad was a big Buckeye and always pushed us. We actually went to watch Texas A & M vs. THE Ohio State University in the Sugar Bowl when they met in 1999. So we made that trip to New Orleans and it was a fun event for us as a family.”
You don’t go on vacations do you?
“I don’t, but that’s a failing. I don’t tell anyone to follow that as an example. I just have never done much of that. It started because my dad went on vacations and somebody had to be left tending the store. In those days I would talk with him on the phone early morning every day. He would go to California and stay at his place out there and I would stay here. When I have had the opportunity to go on vacations – probably over the course of my life I’ve done that three or four times – it never worked so well. I would be looking up at the ceiling at 3:00 am wondering what the heck I was doing in Hawaii for example when I could have happily been at my desk back home. But you don’t want to do it that way. You should take vacations and take your family and go places and do things. I regret that I didn’t do my duty there with my family. It wasn’t the right thing to do.”
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