Before he sent part of his Bar Mitzvah money to the Marvin Lewis Community Fund as a $500 donation, Cameron Koffman teased his dad.
“Yes Cameron, I know Marvin Lewis coaches the Bengals,’ Jeff Koffman assured his precocious 16-year-old son. “And I know who Ochocinco is.”
Ochocinco? When Cameron was just a kid and Chad Johnson was the Bengals Pro Bowl wide receiver, “Ochocinco,” was his son’s password to the internet in the household of a Jets family in Manhattan.
“It started with Carson Palmer,” Jeff Koffman says of that 2005 season. “Then he became a rabid Bengals fan. Then he just became everything Cincinnati.
“We went there on vacation last summer. We went to a Reds game. We went to Fountain Square. We had chili three way, four way five way,” he says. “He loves the city even more now.”
He also loves the Bearcats and visited the University of Cincinnati.
“On March 8,’ Cameron Koffman says, “I’m going to Piscataway, New Jersey to see them play Rutgers.”
The long-range plan is to come back this season and watch the Bengals play a regular-season game at Paul Brown Stadium.
“It’s the only thing I haven’t done,” says Cameron Koffman Thursday from The Bronx, on break between classes at Riverdale Country School. “The Bengals don’t come to New York very often. In the real down times when Carson Palmer was hurt and Ryan Fitzpatrick was playing, I was at the game they lost by 12 to 15 points to the Jets (26-14 in 2008) when they had Brett Favre.”
And the only other thing he wants to do when he’s in town is shake Lewis’ hand. He has become inspired by Lewis’ charity work in Cincinnati and he’s particularly impressed by the five $20,000 college scholarships Lewis hands out each year to Greater Cincinnati high school seniors.
“I read articles on Bengals.com a lot and I always saw this recurring theme of charity work for the Marvin Lewis Community Fund,” Cameron Koffman says. “I started reading about (the fund) and he supports a lot of values that I support.
“It’s a Jewish custom when you receive money for your Bar Mitzvah, you donate a lot of it to charity and my parents always taught me to give back to the community.”
This will surprise no one, but Cameron Koffman, No. 4 golfer on his high school team, is a straight A student who was accepted this past semester at The School for Ethics and Global Leadership in Washington, D.C. During a stint immersed in politics, the students were required to spend time with the CEO of a non-profit and Koffman chose the Capital Hill Arts Workshop. When he came back home, he told his dad the workshop and the Lewis fund were two of the four programs receiving his money.
“I saw how these charities could make a lasting impact and they kind of bring communities together,” he says. “The program brought together underprivileged kids in Washington with other kids teaching them art. It gives communities a sense of togetherness even though Washington is a very, very, very separated, diverse city. I saw the Marvin Lewis Community fund also looking to help underprivileged kids and kind of working to help bridge the gap between those underprivileged in Cincinnati and not underprivileged and I thought it was definitely worth a donation.”
Cameron Koffman makes no bones about it. He likes underdogs. A history buff who aspires to be president of the United States, he admires Woodrow Wilson’s efforts to help make the world safe for democracy and the political acumen of The Comeback Kid, Bill Clinton. So now that he’s a little older, his favorite Bengal is Pro Bowl linebacker
“Other than the fact that he’s absolutely amazing, I love his story. Of how no one believed in him,” Cameron Koffman says. “I really appreciate Marvin giving him a chance to prove himself. A lot of people get that chance and they don’t prove themselves. But Vontaze worked hard during training camp, he gave it his all, he made the team and then he proved to be the linebacker people thought he was before his senior season at Arizona State.
“I think he epitomizes the team as a whole with that attitude and the determination and perseverance,” Koffman says. “I don’t I mind the fact he gets those penalties sometimes. I think it shows that he’s passionate about the game more so than other players.”
Passionate. Remember that word. Jeff Koffman, who works in private equity, uses that word to describe his son about everything he believes in. Yes, he really does want to be president. Yes, he really loves the Bengals. Yes, he really loves Cincinnati.
“When he was in Washington, he was reading The Cincinnati Enquirer every day and keeping up on the mayoral election and the (street) car issue,” Jeff Koffman says. “He learned about the history of the city through the election, and was keeping up with the Bengals every day and he was converting his friends to be Bengals fans.”
Jeff loves the Jets, but he loves his son more. So when Cameron asked him to take train down from New York and meet him in Baltimore last year for the Bengals game, Jeff said yes. He met Cameron as he got off the train from D.C. and they watched a Cincinnati loss despite
“Even though they lost,” Cameron says, “I said to my dad, ‘Thank you so much for taking me. I know they lost. But I’ll remember that forever.'"
In what should make local pols in Hamilton and Broome counties quite nervous, Cameron Koffman isn’t a big fan of the Big Apple. He likes open spaces, like Binghamton, N.Y., a pleasant small metropolis perched in the state’s southern tier where Jeff was raised and where Cameron still enjoys visiting his grandparents.
“Those are the two places I’d run for a congressional seat,” Koffman says. “Cincinnati or Binghamton.”
But first there is the matter of carrying the AFC North precincts and then the AFC district and then the NFL Electoral College. He loves the hire of Hue Jackson as offensive coordinator. (“I liked him on Hard Knocks. He looked to have a lot of energy.”) He thinks Lewis softens the loss of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. (“He coached that Ravens defense.”) And he’s still backing
“I just think there is some curse on him and Marvin in the playoffs because the fact is they were the better team most of the time.”
But that’s on the scoreboard. There is something else and he wrote about it in his e-mail to Lewis’ foundation.
“The organization's efforts to promote education to underprivileged kids (and as a whole) are truly commendable. I also think that it is great that the Bengals are able to give back to the community because the community is there for them as well,” Cameron Koffman’s e-mail says. “I wish that every NFL coach was doing this in their local communities to encourage kids to work hard in school and succeed. I would love to be kept in the loop with how the organization continues to affect positive change in the community as the year goes on. I appreciate all the work you do. Thank you so much.”
On Thursday, Jeff Koffman asked the e-mail be read to him. He never heard about it. He never read it. But he could believe it.
“He’s passionate,” is pretty much all Jeff Koffman could say.
His son has made a Burfict-like hit for underdogs everywhere.