Thursday, November 04, 1999

Blake has been here before


Win over Seattle in '94 began turnaround

BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Five years ago this week, the Bengals were 0-8 and headed to Seattle. Their franchise quarterback was sidelined and their No.3 quarterback, a guy named Jeff Blake, was making his second NFL start.

        0-16 was a distinct possibility. But Blake came out of oblivion Nov. 6, 1994 in Seattle's Kingdome, lofting a pass 76 yards to rookie receiver Darnay Scott in overtime to set up a victory that had the locker room chanting “8 and 8 with Jeff Blake.”

        With Blake flinging, the Bengals won three of their last eight, and from 1995-96, he led them to 15 victories while the Bengals went to the voters of Hamilton County to get funds for a new stadium.

        Now, with their new franchise quarterback sidelined, Blake gets another start in Seattle Nov.7. The Bengals are 1-7 coming off another 3-13 season and club president Mike Brown knows what would happen if there was a stadium vote now.

        “If we had gone into (the stadium campaign) the way we have played the last couple of years, I think the result would have been different,” Brown said. “With the way the public feels about us now, we couldn't expect them to want more of that, to do what they did for us.”

        Brown asked, “Who knows?” when one wonders if the Bengals would have moved to Baltimore or Cleveland because of a negative stadium vote if Blake didn't fill in so admirably.

        “I've never thought about it,” Blake said. “I never had the type of loyalty I wished I would have had. The support to know I'm the man regardless of the situation, a bad year or a bad couple of games. I wouldn't have to worry about being yanked.”

        From '94 to '96, Blake threw 66 touchdown passes and started for the AFC in the Pro Bowl after the '95 season. But he's thrown 16 TDs since while being demoted and promoted three times. It will always gall Blake he was benched after a 3-8 start in 1997. There was no surprise when the Bengals drafted another quarterback of the future, Akili Smith, before this season.

        “Certain people in the organization never really cared for me,” Blake said. “They never said, "He's the guy, the future of our team. No matter what happens, he's the man.'”

        Brown said he was the guy who wanted Blake when the Jets waived him on cutdown day 1994.

        “I like and respect him,” Brown said. “He's a spark, a battler, a guy who's never had anything handed to him. I'm the reason he's here. I wanted him. We gave him a deal that I would say was quite good.”

        After 14 NFL starts, Blake signed a four-year, $12.2 million extension that ends after this season. He won't be back.

        The Bengals wish he was the Blake of '94-96. But he has lost 13 of his last 16 starts, including his first four this season.

        Blake said the team's struggles can't all be pinned on him.

        “I know Mike has a job to do,” Blake said. “So do I. I can't do it unless I've got people around me. I never had the opportunity to play out a bad season. Who's to say I wouldn't have turned it around in '97?”

        Brown thinks Blake has a shot at repeating what he did five years ago, injecting life into the dead, and improving his own status: “Our league is full of guys who have come out of nowhere or who have been down and have come back.”

        Blake still thinks he jumbled the Bengals' plans in '94 (“They didn't want it to happen, but there's nothing they could do because we kept doing it,”) and he thinks it can happen again.

        “We did that on pure skill, on want-to, that was all us,” Blake said. “We can win six of our next seven. It's going to be fun out there.”

        Someone asked if the Bengals will miss him after this season.

        “Hopefully God puts it in their hearts that they will,” Blake said.

       



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- Blake has been here before
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