After churning out a game as big as his hometown of New York, New York, Bengals linebacker Vinny Rey of that non-football hotbed of Queens approached Ravens running back Ray Rice of New Rochelle on Sunday to congratulate him on Baltimore's 20-17 overtime victory.
"He didn't know me, but I knew him," Rey recalls. "I told him, 'I'm from New York, too.' He said, 'Cool, man.' "
Asked if he thinks Rice knows him now after he helped hold him to a Podunk USA 1.7 yards per carry on 18 tries, Rey smiles.
"I hope so," he says.
Who doesn't know Vinny Rey now? On Sunday he became the first Bengal ever (not Bill Bergey, not Reggie Williams, not Brian Simmons, not David Fulcher, not Takeo Spikes) to get three sacks and an interception in the same game while throwing down a team-high 13 tackles. This from an undrafted guy that came into 2013 with 18 tackles in his three previous seasons.
He played 85 snaps on Sunday, 71 at middle linebacker in place of
"I told you not to sleep on Vinny Rey," right end
If it sounds like Johnson is happy for Rey, so is everybody else in the locker room. His teammates love the humble Vinny who wears big glasses, drives a Hyundai sonata, and jokes with his high school coach how boring he is.
"Everybody's happy for Vinny because it shows what hard work can do," says special teams coach Darrin Simmons. "He gives them a chance to win. I love his professionalism and his persistence. The ultimate for any player is to maximize his potential. I think Vinny does that every day. He wants to be the best right rover on the kickoff team, the best left tackle on the punt team that he can be. And I think he does that off the field, too, in his life."
The players were joking in the training room that they were going to put Rey's picture next to the club's only Hall of Famer, Anthony Muñoz. A couple of Rey's mates gather around to congratulate him on Thursday morning's scheduled appearance on NFL Network.
"Yeah, I'm going to be on with Takeo Spikes," he says, unable to contain a big smile. "I remember watching him when he was playing with the Bengals when I was just a kid."
Spikes, who played in the NFL under three presidents, is going to love this. He played his last season in Cincy when Rey was a 15-year-old sophomore at Bayside High School running back a 100-yard interception against his friends from Far Rockaway to tie a 6-0 game Bayside eventually won, 26-6.
"He came back to the sidelines huffing and puffing," says Joe Capuana, "and said, 'Coach, maybe I should have been a defensive lineman.' "
Capuana, now the athletic director at Bayside after head coaching varsity football in the
"He came in as a freshman at 6-0 and 180 pounds and when he left he was maybe 6-1, 250 pounds and had such great feet, long arms, and work ethic," Capuana says. "We put him at center because having an athlete like that at center is a luxury. You figure a kid like that would have wanted to play fullback or 'put the ball in my hands.' But that's Vinny: put the team first. We moved him to the D-line, but finally we said he's so smart and cerebral, put him at linebacker, and he had over 100 tackles for three straight years."
But no matter how many tackles you make in the big city, it's hard to get noticed. The only college offering was tiny Hofstra, where the Long Island school wanted Rey to play nose tackle. Duke came in so late he didn't even get the last scholarship and had to go to prep school for a year before he played three seasons as a two-time captain for the Blue Devils.
"He's always done it the hard way," Capuana says. "New York City is not a football hotbed, like out there in Ohio or Pennsylvania.
"He was definitely overlooked. I told him to visit Duke and he loved it. What's not to like about Duke? Except they were terrible in football at that time. He got off the plane and said, 'Coach, I want to go to Duke. Call the (Hofstra head coach),' and I told him, 'Vinny, we'll call him together.' "
Capuana figures if Rey played his high school ball 10 minutes away in New Jersey or say, Florida, he would have been on Rivals.com's big lists. Instead, the future Bengal played in the Boomer Esiason Bowl pitting the best kids from the city against the best kids from The Island, home of the former Bengals quarterback.
"It's a special game because the proceeds go to cystic fibrosis and it's a hard all-star team to make," Capuano says. "But Vinny, there was no question he was making it."
Rey took the hard way every day once he decided he wanted to play for Bayside, the Queens powerhouse, rather than stay home on the ocean in Far Rockaway. Capuana figures that meant at least an hour, maybe two, one way with a subway trip and then two different buses from there.
"And this is a kid who had over a 90 grade average," Capuana says. "How many guys would do that? Make that trip every day? Same with prep school. How many guys would do that? It just shows you his tremendous work ethic. I told him if my son could be half as good as him he'd be just fine."
The drive to the subway was easy because Rey's father was headed there, too, as a driver for the A train that rattles across the entire city, up to the tip of Manhattan.
With 25 years in and a year from retirement, Lemuel Rey has certain perks and he can get a Monday off after driving to Baltimore to see watch his son's career game. But since they left right away for the five-hour drive back to the city without going to dinner with the other 20 or so family members, Vinny figured his mother had to be back at her job as a guidance counselor for the city's public schools.
"They get to Cincinnati maybe once a year," Vinny Rey says.
The iPad says Rey shouldn't be playing. That he should be on his way to becoming a high school principal back in The City, a goal he has toyed with while working with youth. Some say he's just not big enough to play every snap at NFL linebacker.
"I've got a few knocks," Rey says.
But Darrin Simmons sees what the computer doesn't.
"He's a good athlete, he studies, he cares, he wants to win," Simmons says.
A downhill, smart guy? The kind of guy defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer can blitz.
Every year Capuana hosts Rey for a visit so he can talk to the kids. "Everyone knows him," he says, and he talks about anyone can do it if they try.
But of all the accomplishments Rey piled up at Bayside, one of Capuana's freshest memories is the day he saw tears streaming down Rey's face.
It was Rey's senior year. The week Bayside was supposed to play their rival from The Bronx, John F. Kennedy. Both ranked in the top five with the game set for local TV.
But that Thursday, there had been an incident on a city bus and the bus driver threw off the Bayside football players that were on it. Complete with a call to the bus company. Capuana was called into the principal's office.
"There are going to have to be consequences," he was told.
"I told the principal, 'I'll find out what happened,' and I knew I only had to talk to one guy because Vinny was on that bus," Capuana said.
Come to find out after the suspensions hit the papers, the bus driver made more of it than it really was. It seems like it wasn't terrible. Kids being kids, but …
"I knew Vinny didn't do anything, but he would tell me what really happened. That's the kind of guy he is," Capuana says. "He said, 'Yeah, there were players acting foolish but we're all to blame. If anybody gets suspended, it should be all of us. We're a team.' "
Capuano says he couldn't see playing the game. Not with 15 players gone for the week. That would leave them with just 25 kids against a top opponent and he feared people getting hurt. They forfeited. He gathered the team in the auditorium the day before the game to break the news.
"I didn't tell anybody and Vinny sees my face before the meeting and starts crying," Capuana says. "Vinny said, 'I'm to blame. I'm the captain of this team and I let this happen.' That's the kind of kid he is."
Everybody was back the next week and they won the rest of their games and then ended up meeting JFK in the city semis, where they lost after taking a boatload of injuries.
Fast forward a decade later and just off a plane from Baltimore and Rey is still thinking about the team first. There are rumblings about being named AFC Defensive Player of the Week. Would they actually give it to a guy on a losing team?
"You know what?" he asks. "It wouldn't matter. I wouldn't care if I got it. We lost. If we won, that would be a different matter."
Consolation? There's a pretty good chance once New Rochelle's Ray Rice saw Sunday's tape he knows The City's Vinny Rey now.