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101 another hit with Kremer

Andrea Kremer, who became ESPN's first female correspondent 21 years ago, has covered the NFL from Deion Sanders to Deion Branch. She has also, unfortunately, covered it from Denise Tom to Ines Sainz.

Kremer appeared at Paul Brown Stadium on Thursday night as a special guest for Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis' annual Football 101 extravaganza for women that gives them open access to behind the scenes. Now a sideline reporter for NBC's Sunday Night Football and a correspondent for HBO's Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel, she has to take some satisfaction in the scene that unfolds every bye week.

While some of Lewis' assistant coaches give video presentations inside, others are going through drills on the field after a cocktail hour and auction raising about $175,000 for the Marvin Lewis Community Fund. The field of 450 women is famously filled almost as immediately as the signups open and the waiting list is just as formidable.

"It points to the popularity of the NFL for women. I think the number now is 44 percent of viewers. That's pretty amazing," said Kremer, who has done a similar event in Denver. "It's the same thing. Tremendous support, very knowledgeable women."

The evidence is everywhere on this night. Just watch defensive line coach Jay Hayes as he gets grilled on the nuts and bolts of the no-huddle and how the defensive coaches disguise their signals.

"If I told you," Hayes says when the grilling gets hotter, "I'd have to kill you."

"You have to try and demystify the language of football," Kremer said. "If you can get people to be familiar with a couple of different terms, then they're going to be much more comfortable watching. And this gives them such a better idea about what the players go through. To be in the same locker room or on the field where most people have never been helps make it."

Kremer has been behind the scenes ever since she got out of the University of Pennsylvania in 1980, an era when women and sports reporting bordered on the unknown and awkward. She became one of the hearty pioneers who did her homework and began paying her dues right away. First, as sports editor of the Main Line Chronicle in Ardmore, Penn., the state's largest weekly newspaper.

She then did a stint with NFL Films before heading to ESPN, joining the cable giant the year before Bengals coach Sam Wyche kicked USA Today's Tom out of the visiting locker room in Seattle, sparking a debate about a women's place in the locker room more than a decade after their rights had been upheld in court.

The ghost of Sam surfaced last month when the Jets apparently had a difficult time handling the appearance of Sainz, a reporter for TV Azteca and a former Miss World contestant. The league and the Jets apologized for the behavior of some coaches and players, all of which left Kremer shaking her head.

"The biggest problem I have is that ultimately whatever happens, the issue always goes to 'Do women belong in the locker room?' 'Do women belong covering sports?' 'Do women belong in the football business?' " she said. "It's a ridiculous concept. It always comes back to this: I have as much as right to be in there as you do or anyone else."

She also has as much right to weigh in on the AFC North race, where she thinks the Bengals still have a shot but is surprised by the 2-3 start.

"There's no question that one of the biggest surprises in the first quarter is Pittsburgh getting to 3-1 without Ben (Roethlisberger) and the Bengals already teetering in a very tough division," Kremer said. "When was the last time you saw the AFC this strong? The entire AFC South is mired at 3-2. And I really think any of the teams can win the West. Three teams can still win the North and the East is strong. Really, it's the same thing in the NFC with New Orleans struggling. Last year you had two dominant teams and they made the Super Bowl. This year it's the complete opposite."

So the Bengals are still in it, she says. But with a caveat.

"It falls back on the quarterback," she said. "They have to get more consistency out of the position."

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