Sunday, May 13, 2001

Bengals had to help their image

        The going rate for credibility comes in at about $26 million. Corey Dillon gets the money; the Cincinnati Bengals get the legitimacy. Everyone else has to take the Bengals a little more seriously for a while.

        But before we start planning the parade for the impending 7-9 season of wonder, here's a stat the team won't be releasing any time soon:

        With Dillon the past four years, the Bengals were 18-46. Without him the four before that, they were 21-43. That's not to lay any of the mess at Dillon's feet. We don't blame high gas prices on Henry Ford. It's to say this was as much about appearances as performance.

        This is an organization that needs good PR the way a beauty contestant needs good smiles. Not to belabor a point. But in the process of stinking up the joint for 10 years, the Bengals have alienated their fans, their players and anyone else not on a chain gang who thought it might be fun to spend some time in stripes.

        The Bengals had to convince their disenchanted, dwindling fan base they were interested in accomplishing something beyond holding them up.
        They had to show their players they were serious about being better than 4-12. If they'd lost Dillon, heads would have been shaking like a carton of bobble-head dolls. If we can't keep our best player, how are we ever going to win?

        They had to fire a bullet into the league-wide perception Cincinnati is a place where only the bottom line wins. You will never attract prime free agents if you can't keep your own.

        It was either sign Dillon or extend the last-place lease another five years.

        “We had no intention of losing him,” team executive vice president Katie Blackburn said. “Our perspective all along was that we were going to have him back. Now we have him long-term, not just one year. That's clearly a far better message. There's no tension. Everybody goes to (training camp) with a good attitude.”

        There are players on this team who want desperately to escape the Here We Go Again Zone. Takeo Spikes. Willie Anderson. Oliver Gibson. And Dillon, who is free to dwell on team pursuits now that he's the richest Bengal in the universe.

        If there is a fear with Dillon, it's this: He runs best when he's angry. As a rookie scorned into the second round of the draft, Dillon ran mean. As a holdout last year who felt disrespected, Dillon ran mean. Nobody has ever run better carrying a boulder on his shoulder. That stiff-arm Dillon throws to crumble little defensive backs is a useful metaphor for what Dillon sometimes feels about most of the rest of the world.

        Will he keep the same football rage now that he's content with his pay?
        The Bengals were generous. They had to keep Dillon; they didn't have to keep him happy. Mike Brown is all about leverage. Dillon might have had less leverage than any other star player in the free agent era. The Bengals brought out the money truck anyway.

        The team is buying credibility, a dollar at a time. Lorenzo Neal was a good signing. Jon Kitna is better than what they've got. The Bengals are trying. Pat them on their heads for that.

        “I hope it's a good message to players, fans, coaches, everybody,” Blackburn said.

        It is. Until September.

        E-mail: Past columns at


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