View Full Version : Alum relations more than numbers

Arkansas Bengal
06-21-2014, 08:48 AM
(Photo: Jeff Swinger/The Enquirer)

Over the last 10 years or so the Bengals have made significant strides in turning around their image on and off the field. They've been ahead of the curve in building a young, developing roster. They've lowered ticket prices to make games more affordable for their fan base. They moved training camp back to Cincinnati allowing the core group of fans better access.

Few can deny the dramatic shift in enjoyment of Sundays at Paul Brown Stadium and pride surrounding the team in comparison to the days of the 90s when it couldn't have faded much lower. And that's about more than wins and losses for those who have been paying attention.

Unfortunately, the area of honoring former players hasn't been among them. This topic came up even more this week during my podcast series on former players when Tony McGee placed a spotlight on the subject (http://www.cincinnati.com/story/blogs/2014/06/19/scribe-session-series-tony-mcgee/10842003/) saying this:

"Quite honestly, I can say I haven't been invited back to do anything or be a part of it or talk to the guys. There's been no outreach at all. And that's fine. At some point I will come to a game and buy my own ticket and take my daughter to a game just to show her where I used to play. It would be greatly appreciated if the team would reach out and put something together and invite us out. I know some teams have alumni functions and things like that, quite honestly, I've never been invited to anything or heard anything. So, you just go on with your life."

A response when this topic is brought up from most revolves around the need to add a Ring of Honor or retire numbers and hang them in the stadium. Sure, that would be a fantastic way to confront the issue and one most teams utilize. In fact, 27 of the 32 teams utilize some version of the Ring of Honor or Ring of Fame around their stadium, as we documented three years ago when The Enquirer formed its own panel to come up with a Ring of Honor for former Bengals players. (http://archive.cincinnati.com/article/20120104/SPT02/301040066/The-greatest-Bengals-all-time)

For the record, the Bengals have one retired number, Bob Johnson's 54. Unofficially, Ken Riley's 13 and Anthony Munoz's 78 are no longer worn in regular season games.

But this isn't about retired numbers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_National_Football_League_retired_numbers) or rings or a Hall of Fame or statues outside the stadium as you see down the street at GABP. In talking to some of the former players I've spoken with nobody is looking for a grand gesture. They only ask for chance to get back together. They only ask for a moment. And it's hard to understand how that hasn't happened.
McGee pointed out he's been invited back by the Giants for alumni functions. He played three games for the Giants in 2003. He sacrificed himself in 136 games for the Bengals franchise over nine years. He didn't feel right accepting any invitation to NY. He was a Bengal.

Of course, Cincinnati had the '81 Freezer Bowl team back before the playoff game. It was as well-received as a pre-game event could be and probably the most memorable moment of what turned into a day most fans would rather forget. Fans hope that's the start of a trend. Somehow that was the first time the team had been honored back on the field in Cincinnati -- 33 years later. We are yet to see one of the most beloved squads in Bengals history, the 1988 group, given their day. Do the Ickey Shuffle before a game and watch the reaction.

Or the easiest idea of having an alumni captain before a (every?) home game. Read their stats, invite a few buddies from their team to support them, everyone cheers and the pride in the current and former incarnations of this franchise shows.

The NFL has a Homecoming page on its site featuring all the alumni outreach going on. (http://www.nfl.com/homecoming?2013)

The Bengals saw the easiest example of honoring former players during a late-season game in Pittsburgh last season. The Steelers had a homecoming game and there was Franco Harris and other greats on the field before the game, even tossing the coin.

In a few years, it would mean the world to a player like Chad Johnson who transformed the coolness of the Bengals to have a moment for fans to appreciate what he did before it all went awry. Not a number or name on the walls, just a moment.

The organization has its stance on hanging numbers/names around the stadium and that is all fine and good, but there are generations of players out there who only want to show their daughter or son where they played football and the fans that used to adore them. And the fans want to adore them one final time. Seems easy enough to let them.