Voting for the second Bengals.com Hall of Fame class continues through July, but this is going to be one halftime lead tough to blow. Tim Krumrie and Cris Collinsworth, folk heroes from the '80s rivaling only Doc Brown and Marty McFly, are dominating the finalists vote along with Ken Riley, the Florida A&M quarterback who threw NFL passers for a loop during a club-record 207 games and 15 years down on the corner.
The exit polls in the most devout precincts of Bengaldom have no problem with what looks to be the next class. As Mickey Mentz, owner of the Web site WhoDeyFans.com says, "They're all iconic Bengals."
Krumrie, a two-time Pro Bowl nose tackle, has lengthened his preliminary lead over Collinsworth by appearing on 54.3 percent of the ballots. Collinsworth, a three-time Pro Bowler who retired as the club's all-time receiver in 1988, has hauled in 49.3 percent while Riley is easily holding on to the third and final spot like one of his team-record 65 interceptions.
Versatile running back James Brooks is a distant fourth with 28.1 percent, followed by Super Bowl head coach and offensive innovator Sam Wyche at 27.3 percent.
Pro Bowl guard Max Montoya (19.6), all-time rusher Corey Dillon (19.2), six-time Pro Bowl cornerback and punt return artist Lemar Parrish (18.6), all-time scorer Jim Breech (18) and pioneering safety David Fulcher (16.9) round out the second five of the ballot for 10 finalists.
But while the overall numbers indicate an electoral romp, the grassroots samplings indicate enough fragmentation of the base that should make the next selection even closer. You're talking about fans that work to live and also live to work the Bengals.
Look at how the Chairman of the Boards voted. Denny Gallagher and RC Courtright, message board moderators on Bengals.com, broke up their ballots from the top three. Gallagher opted for Brooks and Dillon along with Collinsworth while Courtright added Montoya to Riley and Collinsworth. Mentzer went with Breech and Wyche while CincyJungle.com senior managing editor Josh Kirkendall continues his push for Parrish. Nick Seuberling, podcast producer for WhoDeyWeekly.com also went for Wyche.
"How can you not vote for a guy that ripped Cleveland on national TV?" Seuberling asks. "Seriously, he's the last coach to win a playoff game, he led them to a Super Bowl, and he had a great offensive mind."
Seriously, he's right. Seuberling, 30, grew up in West Chester, Ohio, and says he fell in love watching Wyche's '88 Bengals X-and-O teams to death. That team was so good and he fell so hard that the passion is still there even though he's working these days in Toledo, Ohio, as an account specialist customer service representative. As he says, "an account specialist customer service representative by day, podcaster by night."
And how many guys can say that the son of a Hall of Famer was his snapper? Seuberling kicked at Cincinnati's Moeller High School in the late '90s with snaps from Michael Muñoz.
"That team had it all. I'm a big James Brooks fan. He did so much for that team," Seuberling says. "And I've always been very fond of Collinsworth. He's a fan favorite who's done well after he played."
The thirysomethings and fortywhodeys are careful caretakers of the stripes and cautious that they're not getting too wrapped up in their generations. Gallagher, 40, who rules the boards while also owning Buckeye Flooring in Lima, Ohio, raised his own eyebrows with Dillon. But here's a guy that's been a season-ticket holder since Dillon was a rookie in 1997 and hasn't missed a game at Paul Brown Stadium preseason or no.
"Kenny Riley is a guy that I think should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and this one, too," Gallagher says. "But for a long time Dillon was the only reason I went to the games. I mean, he did some great things behind teams that had to be some of the worst teams of all-time, in my opinion."
But the vote shows the kids of '88 can never get that little kid season out of their veins. Each generation has a team. Red Sox Nation has the '67 Sox. The Dawg Pound has the Kardiac Kids of '80. The '96 team revived the Yankees dynasty and a new species of legions.
Kirkendall, 33, is another '88 guy seduced by Ickey and the men. How could he not? When his family moved from Minnesota to Mason, Ohio in suburban Cincinnati, the first game he saw in his new home was Super Bowl XXIII. Now a computer technician for the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, he also attacks keyboards in his off time piling up the content on CincyJungle.com worthy of a full-timer.
But he has become an advocate for a guy that left the Bengals about the time he was being born in the North Country. Parrish. His one '88er on the ballot is Collinsworth, but history tells Kirkendall he had to go with two guys he never saw.
"Lemar Parrish is as deserving as any," Kirkendall e-mails. "I hear older Bengals fans all the time talk about Parrish, covering his receivers so well that it actually opened interception opportunities for Ken Riley. That being said, of the 25 interceptions by Parrish, four were returned for touchdowns; double what Riley had from 1970-1977, the time they played together.
"Parrish is the only Bengals defensive player to score two defensive touchdowns on interception returns in the same game. And it wasn't just about his defense. Parrish is arguably one of the best punt returners in franchise history. His 18.8 yards/return on punts in 1974 is still a franchise best, along with his four touchdown returns. His career 24.7 yards/return on kickoffs is still a franchise best. ... Parrish isn't just as deserving as any player, I believe he's one of the franchise's best players of all-time."
Another fan from cold country, the cyberubiquitous Courtright from Jamestown, N.D., is an adamant supporter of Riley. But at 41, he's also got some interesting takes on his two other generational candidates, Collinsworth and Montoya, two of the few that played in both Super Bowls.
"By far my No. 1 guy here is Riley. His longevity and production make it not even close," Courtright says. "Maybe it's my admiration of the offensive linemen, but I voted for Montoya because I think the offensive line has been so important in the history of this franchise. Look at our MVP quarterbacks and it's no coincidence they had tremendous lines. Even when Carson (Palmer) had his great years."
Collinsworth still has a hold on the 10-year-old kids that first saw him. But now Courtright, an avid Twitterer, sees him in a new light.
"He was always a fan favorite, but I think even more so now," Courtright says. "With what he does with social media and his Web site (footballpros.com), he's become very fan friendly. And when Boomer (Esiason) came out and ripped the organization a few weeks ago (about ESPN's last pro sports franchise ranking), that turned some fans off and I think they've become more drawn to Collinsworth."
Plus, he was a heck of a player. As Kirkendall says, "I really debated Dillon and Krumrie a lot, but thought Collinsworth, during his rookie year was huge, boosting the offense and Anderson."
Mentzer, 34, who has merged his site with Seubering's, is another guy that came of Bengaldom at about the time of Super Bowl XXII. Given that Breech would have been the MVP that devastating night in Miami if Joe Montana hadn't brought down the fishes and loaves (not to mention John Taylor), you can see the vote even if Breech is a kicker.
"I'm surprised Nick didn't vote for Breech," says Mentzer wiith 0.0 qualms about voting for a kicker.
"Not after going through what they did with Shayne Graham," says Mentzer, who grew up in Columbus and is now a computer programmer living in the Cincinnati suburb of Loveland, "you understand just how important kicking is. He hit big kicks and he had good percentages, over 70 percent on field goals (71.5) and over 95 percent on extra points (95.9). And he has the (third) longest scoring streak in the NFL (186 games). Plus, he was perfect in overtime. That's pretty impressive."
Impressive enough that it sounds like the Hall vote is going to be closer next time.
But at the moment, the fans who work to live and live to work the Bengals, are juggling this year, too. When Seubering invited a beat hack to be on a WhoDeyWeekly.com podcast this week, he wondered if 9 p.m. was OK because some of the guys are in charge of putting their kids to bed.
As the ballots show, debates never nap in Bengaldom.