Bengals Huddle up

Posted Oct 17, 2012

Domata Peko pitches in during Tuesday's Hometown Huddle.

On Sunday afternoon Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis volunteered his de facto captains, Andrew Whitworth, Robert Geathers and Dan Skuta, for the walk to midfield at Cleveland Browns Stadium and the coin flip.

On Tuesday morning they gathered again, this time around the nuts and bolts of a playground apparatus as volunteers for the NFL's annual Hometown Huddle trying to help folks that didn't win some coin flips.

"Part of the job," said Whitworth, complete with a Home Depot apron and a Reds ballcap. "I think it's hard for young players to understand, but they will, that part of your job as a professional athlete is not just on the football field, but everywhere. You've got a chance to make a difference in the city that supports you. You have to be able to give back."

Try telling that to a four-year-old. Geathers, the dean of the Bengals who plays his 125th game in stripes Sunday night, had to do just that to RGIII Tuesday morning.

Robert Geathers III is off from preschool on Tuesdays and he and his dad usually spend the Bengals off day together. But when his dad left the house to drive down to the Hometown Huddle, his son didn't want him to leave.

"I had to break it down for him," Geathers said. "I told him I was going to help people that aren't as fortunate as him."

The coin toss isn't the only thing the Bengals lost Sunday and Johnmark Oudersluys had to admit that made him a bit uneasy about Tuesday's turnout. With Bengaldom sharpening pitchforks after two surprising losses, how many of the men would venture into the middle of it all?

Try an estimate of a robust 44. From the Pekos (Domata and wife Anna) to the practice squad. From the newest Bengal (Wallace Gilberry) to the dean (Geathers) to the oldest (Terence Newman).

"Not surprising to me," Whitworth said. "We've got a bunch of solid guys who have their own outreaches and foundations."

Well, Lewis did say he's got a bunch of nice guys.

"They've all been very friendly, very nice," Oudersluys said. "It's great to see how enthusiastic they are on an off day."

Oudersluys, the executive director of CityLink Center, has an opening in less than a month and he needs things to run smoothly as a city-wide initiative to fight poverty started by a group of social agencies is on the verge of becoming reality on one campus.

A slew of charitable foundations and corporate givers have answered the call. One of the bigger movers and shakers in the project has been sports anchor Brad Johansen of Cincinnati's Local 12, and the Marvin Lewis Community Fund donated all of Tuesday's supplies.  

Oudersluys got smooth Tuesday. By the time Lewis, his players, and scores of volunteers left the West End facility after working shifts in the morning and afternoon, prospective clients were scheduled to begin arriving for interviews.

"The whole purpose of CityLink is to help people from around the region get out of poverty by combining several social services," Oudersluys said. "But this is also a facility that can help their children and the children of the West End."

Such as the two play facilities, the playground and an indoor playroom where Geno Atkins and Dennis Roland were among the players painting. Nate Clements and Jason Allen helped build bins for the community garden the center plans to use to promote a healthier lifestyle, while Newman, Gilberry and Reggie Nelson painted chairs and garbage cans as part of the landscaping project.

"A big part of the center is we want the kids to be able to come to a safe and clean place while their parents are taking classes or getting help," Oudersluys said. "It's a place where families come for assistance."

After he got his first sack of the season and 31st as a Bengal last Sunday, the dejected Geathers spoke eloquently and frankly in the locker room about what must be done. But there was no doubt he would make Tuesday's commitment despite the disappointment.

"The city of Cincinnati has been great to me and my family," Geathers said. "The least I can do is get down here and be with the fans and help people in the community. We don't get out as much as we like during the season, so the Hometown Huddle is a great opportunity to do it."

And then there was Gilberry, who got his first sack as a Bengal on Sunday in his fourth game after signing in an emergency situation 29 days ago. He had been cut by Tampa Bay on a Friday, and by the next Wednesday he was at Bengals practice.

"Who knows how long I'll be here in Cincinnati?" asked Gilberry, who recently funded a playground at his elementary school near Bay Minette, Ala. "But doing something in the community lasts forever. I get a chance to draw my handprint and sign my name; it's here forever."

Some Bengals had double duty in the community Tuesday and why not Michael Johnson? He played another 86 percent of the snaps at right end Sunday and he kept right on going into Tuesday. After pitching some mulch into a wheelbarrow, he was off to his own event for Most Valuable Kids and led 40 Brighton Center students on an afternoon tour of Paul Brown Stadium.

He had no time to go under cover after a loss.

"You can't let emotions guide you, control you," Johnson said. "It's part of being a professional. It was a tough loss. But the sun came up Monday morning and now we've got a chance to get on the right track."

Besides, these are the kind of days Johnson likes about being a Bengal.

"We've got good guys here. We do a lot of things together and I hear it's not like that on other teams," he said. "That's one of the things I've enjoyed about being in Cincinnati."

Whitworth was still shaking his head in the playground. One of the more solid left tackles in the game, he had allowed his first sack-and-strip since he was a rookie. But he had to admit Tuesday was a bit of therapy.

"It's great to see the guys away from football; you see some smiles," Whitworth said. "It's a beautiful day. We get a chance to give back to the city of Cincinnati and then we get to go back to work tomorrow and get ready for a big game against the Pittsburgh Steelers."

Whitworth may have started a watchword Monday when he noted the AFC standings. The Bengals are one of seven 3-3 teams. Six teams are going to make the playoffs. Why not us, Whitworth wondered. He was thinking the same thing Tuesday.

"When you think about it, that's community service," said Whitworth, who runs a mentoring and leadership foundation with wife Melissa in his hometown of West Monroe, La. "If everybody takes the attitude they don't have time to do it, nothing ever gets done. Why not you? If you want to make a difference, get your feet to work and your hands to work and do it."

It's like the new guy said.

"Today is a day," Gilberry said, "where you take yourself out of it."


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