Sunday, November 10, 2002

Blake empathizes with former mates

Ravens QB remembers his time as a Bengal

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

BALTIMORE - Jeff Blake told two different stories this past week about his six years as a Bengals quarterback.

Blake, now the Baltimore Ravens' starter, will play today against the Bengals for the first time.

Blake showed the same fancy footwork he possesses in the pocket when discussing his Bengals days with Cincinnati-based reporters. He said those years are behind him and that he has moved on with his life and career. He said he prefers to focus on the positive memories.

But when reliving his Bengals experiences with reporters who cover the Ravens, Blake took direct aim at the Cincinnati franchise and expressed sorrow for his former teammates.

"I played with a lot of those guys and I feel for them," Blake said to Baltimore and Washington, D.C., reporters. "A lot of them don't deserve to be in the situation they're in. I'm not going to sit here and laugh at that situation, because I was in there at one time, and it's not pretty."

Blake had a 25-41 record as a Bengals starter through six seasons. He actually was in Cincinnati for relative good times, the string from 1995-97 when the Bengals were 22-26.

It has been worse since he left: The Bengals are 11-29. They were 11-37 in three seasons before Blake arrived.

"It's tough playing in a situation where you're losing week in and week out, year after year after year," Blake said. "Going through something like that makes you a stronger person, a stronger man, a better father, a better husband, a better everything. I don't wish that on anybody. It's hard to go every year knowing that you might only win four or five games and be the ridicule of the league."

Blake mentioned one former teammate by name, fifth-year Bengals linebacker Takeo Spikes, who is playing in the last year of his contract. In free agency, the Bengals probably will give Spikes a binding tag, which will limit severely his opportunity to sign with another team.

"It's going to be tough for a guy like Takeo, who will never have an opportunity to go to a team and be a playoff contender every year," Blake said. "They just let me go. They did me a favor. They drafted Akili (Smith) in the first round (in 1999), and it was like: `OK, we want Akili to be our quarterback. You're out of here.' It was fine with me. I was a free agent and signed a big contract with New Orleans and had a great time."

The tone of Blake's story was decidedly different when talking to Cincinnati media.

"I let that go a long time ago," he said. "I've had some good times since then in New Orleans, going (7-4) before I got hurt.

"Now that I'm (in Baltimore), I'm having a good time also, so I let that stuff go a long time ago, and now I'm just out playing ball."

Blake stands as the third-most productive quarterback in the Bengals' 35-season history, behind Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason. In six seasons with the Bengals, Blake threw for 15,134 yards and 93 touchdowns.

The Bengals have struggled to find an adequate replacement since letting Blake go and handing the job to Smith. Scott Mitchell, Jon Kitna and Gus Frerotte also have started in the two-plus seasons since Blake left.

"I had a great group of guys with Darnay (Scott), (Carl) Pickens, Tony McGee, David Dunn (and) James Hundon," Blake said. "We had a lot of fun out on the football field. We put up a lot of points, scored a lot of touchdowns.

"Didn't win a lot, but we were successful as individuals on the football field, which made it fun."

Shake 'n' Blake was the Cincinnati rage in the mid-1990s, when Blake gave suffering Bengals fans an antidote to the sour David Klingler era. Elegant, tight spirals filled the air and fell into the hands of Blake's gifted receivers.

Blake said he liked hearing that No. 8 Bengals jerseys emblazoned with his name are still a common site around Greater Cincinnati.

"I never had a problem with the fans of Cincinnati," he said. "I mean, you play bad, you get booed; that's any city you go to. You play well, they cheer."

Bengals president Mike Brown showed Blake the exit. Asked if he would be motivated knowing that Brown was sitting in a Ravens Stadium luxury box watching today, Blake said, "I could (not) care less where Mike Brown sits."


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