A club instead of a cane

5-11-04, 6:25 a.m.

LEBANON _ Marvin Lewis' brother-in-law, a civil engineer from Salt Lake City who carries a cane next to his nine-iron, traded golf shots and civic talk with the mayor of Cincinnati.

Oscar Robertson, who blazed trails on and off the basketball court during the tumultuous '50s and '60s, sat on the easy shady porch here at Shaker Run Golf Club. Kevin Greene, the linebacker whose raging long blond hair symbolized the Steelers' wild streak of success in the '90s, walked past.

Pete Johnson, the enormous running back who barged the Bengals into their first Super Bowl nearly 24 years ago, found himself out on the course with the 24-year-old kid who is supposed to take them to the next one, Carson Palmer.

"Marvin always seems to be the common denominator with a lot of different people," said Dave Lapham, the Bengals radio analyst who doubled as an auctioneer here.

Less than 24 hours after the Bengals head coach packed up his first minicamp of the season, the common denominator for Lewis turned to his other passion. Lewis has immersed himself in the Cincinnati community since his arrival 16 months ago, but the culmination seemed to come Monday in the sprawling first celebrity golf tournament for his charitable foundation that encompassed 53 foursomes, 60 volunteers, and nearly a quarter of a million dollars designed to keep the cane in Angelo Papastamos' bag.

"Believe me," said a weary but smiling Papastamos after taming multiple sclerosis for another 18 holes, "I couldn't have done this a year ago."

MS is an insidious, inscrutable condition of the nervous system. The symptoms and toll vary from cell to cell, body to body, making it as mentally draining as it is physically devastating.

Papastamos, the 42-year-old brother of Peggy Lewis, is the reason that 80 percent of the $250,000 raised Monday is earmarked for a MS research grant in Ohio. He's the reason that MS, along with several youth charities, is the focus of Lewis' well-documented good works. Such as Boys Hope and Girls Hope. The Boys and Girls Club. Youth Inc. The Bengals were one of the sponsors of the event that included a long drive contest and an auction luncheon.

Spend a day with Marvin Lewis at minicamp?

That got some play.

"For the first year, it's already in the elite," said Lapham, a regular on the local celebrity golf circuit. "The thing about Marvin is that he has this ability to reach out to everyone. But, it's the same way he coaches. Communicating. Taking the time to talk to everyone."

Lewis made sure his coaches, players and former players got invites, which is why you saw center Rich Braham crossing paths with corporate chiefs in the locker room. Bengals executives Katie and Troy Blackburn sat at a table with new assistant coach Chuck Bresnahan. Lewis sand-wedged in a round himself, in between the hand shakes with teen-aged volunteers and future Hall-of-Famers.

"You know Marvin, he stops and talks and thanks everyone," said Sharon Thomas, who directs his foundation. "He's exceptional at this sort of thing. How he finds the time is amazing, but he does."

Darrell Green, the Canton-bound cornerback who played a year for Lewis in Washington, also checked into the party tent and Lapham introduced him as still able to run a 4.4-second 40-yard dash. On Monday, Lewis had the people in the fast lane eating out of his hand.

"When you have a guy like Darrell Green come to your event, a guy respected by everyone, that says volumes," Lapham said. "And I think it's a big boost to the team. It makes guys feel like a part of something big. I know the former players would run through hell in a gasoline suit for him because of the way he's included them in things."

Robertson, one of the true Baby Boomer icons left on the planet, also got the invite but couldn't play as he rests an injured shoulder. As a guy who knocked down a few barriers in another time, he's appreciative of Lewis's broad appeal.

"Marvin is a football coach who just happens to be of African-American descent," Robertson said. "In certain fields of endeavor, you have people like Carl Lewis when he ran. People didn't think of him as being African-American because he was doing something for them. He was winning for them. He was creating honor, getting medals, which meant America could hold its head up high with the Olympics. That's what it's all about. And Coach Lewis is doing that for the city."

Papastamos, a good Baby Boomer, got a kick out of seeing Robertson. James Harris, who Papastamos remembers as "the old Rams quarterback," is now the top personnel chief for the Jaguars and Papastamos enjoyed having dinner with him Sunday night. He knows Kevin Greene from back in the day Lewis coached him 10 years ago with the Steelers, and it was good to talk again.

But mainly it felt good to get out and do something competitive. There are benefits to being Marvin Lewis' brother-in-law, for sure, but he has turned into a formidable partner in the fight against MS ever since Papastamos woke up 12 years ago with numbness in his left leg and arm.

"My wife and I are very involved out in Salt Lake and there's a bike race out there that raised $350,000. And it works. I know," Papastamos said.

It was probably because of the money he was able to play Monday. Heck, it's because of the money he's been able to walk unassisted for the last couple of months. Back in March, he did what he never could have done five years ago and went for a four-mile hike with his wife and two children, six and three.

"I've been on an experimental drug. I'm just one of 12 people in the western United States using it and it's helped me do everything. It's made all the difference," Papastamos said. "The University of Utah is a tremendous place. It's all because of the money that's put into the research.

A few years ago, Papastamos said he could beat Lewis in golf. "He was a real hack, I don't know what he shoots now, but he would hack it around, but maybe he could beat me now."

Which is tough for Papastamos to say because we're talking about a guy who played basketball and tennis in high school and continued to play those games and others on a high level in rec leagues. He'd always look forward to the golf matches and basketball games with Lewis and his other relatives at the big family get togethers, but those are pretty much memories now.

Still, Monday was an extremely good day, Last year at this time, he was using the cane in the bag. As Peggy Lewis and her brother walked down a fairly steep hill to get to the luncheon, he didn't need to take her arm.

All of it got Papastamos thinking about next year. He used to have an 18 handicap, but MS has robbed his balance, and now it's 28. Yet, with the new drug. . .

"I'm hoping I can get some kind of game together over the next year," he said. "When you don't have balance, it really hurts you in golf."

That's the kind of day it was in Marvin Lewis' community Monday. A day to take out the driver instead of the cane and think about tomorrow.

Isaac Curtis, the greatest receiver the Bengals ever had, was already thinking about his own golf classic next month with two holes to play Monday.

Yes, he already has Lewis on his list.

"He's our big catch, had to have him," said Curtis with a smile. "He's a pretty popular guy."

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