The first things Paul Rapien noticed when he came out of the tunnel were the lights.
"Unbelievable," he said.
Paul Brown Stadium was awash in light Saturday night and the green glow had to be something special to get a kid like Rapien awed. When you've been playing football since you were in fourth grade and play left guard for Elder High School, you've pretty much seen it all. Title games. Big crowds. College stadiums.
But they say there were 30,000 or so people in the NFL's newest stadium, where the two larger-than-life video boards stunned guys used to seeing replays only on Friday Night Fever.
"It's the most fun I ever had playing in a game," said Rapien, and it just wasn't because Elder beat Highlands High School, 21-14.
"Our locker room," said Highlands coach Dale Mueller, "had to be as big as Fort Thomas."
They played the first prep game ever at PB and the Bengals hope it's not the last. After all, Bengals President Mike Brown's first memory in life is asking his father, Paul Brown, if he could come along to a high school game. He was three years old, so it didn't happen, because Massillon High was playing at night.
"We would have been thrilled to play at Riverfront Stadium, but this was beautiful," said Mueller, who has also played in the other big joints worthy of one of the Tri-State's top programs. "I think Mike Brown truly wants to do what's best for the community and I think he wanted to help high school football in this area and he did it and we wanted to thank him."
Mueller made sure he left a phone message for Brown Monday morning. "Thank you for the use of the stadium. Terrific for the guys," the pink piece of paper said. Elder coach Doug Ramsey's kids plan to write a letter to "The Cincinnati Enquirer," thanking the people of Hamilton County for the stadium.
Which is some of the things Brown has had in mind for the place. A place for guys like No. 73. Paul Rapien.
"We want the stadium to be used in this way," Mike Brown said today. "We want the people in this community to be involved with it and have exciting times here whether it's high school or college or other events, as well as the Bengals." . . .more
There is no other event at PB this year, but the Bengals are looking into possible future ventures. A key factor at pulling off Highlands-Elder was the grass field has two weeks to recover and the game wasn't in September or October. The club isn't sure if such events are feasible in November and December because of weather, but it plans to look at all options.
Highlands seems to make that annual sojourn to Cardinals Stadium in Louisville for the Kentucky championships and that's nice. But it's also Astrotruf. Last year, Highlands went to "The Pit," Elder's storied home, and that was great because of the history and theater. But you can't get 30,000 into "The Pit."
"The thing about the new stadium is that the people are right on top of you," Mueller said. "I mean it was loud. There were times you couldn't hear the snap count. It was cozy."
Ramsey was there when Elder beat Moeller in '88 at Galbraith Field and there was something like 10,000 people there, but it was nothing like this. Asked if he would give up "The Pit," once a year to play on the river, Ramsey laughed, "I would, but I don't know about my athletic director. Our kids really enjoyed it with the atmosphere of all the people and the scoreboards."
The reach-out-and-touch scoreboards were a big hit. With Elder driving for the winning touchdown in a raucous fourth quarter you needed hand signals, Rapien couldn't help but sneak a look at a replay when quarterback Matt Scholl scrambled out of the pocket on fourth-and-seven and got the first down.
"Yeah," Rapien said with a laugh. "I looked. When we made that, I wanted to see what happened."
What happened is Rapien saw Scholl cutting off the back of Rapien's No. 73. The Bengals hope they can replay the whole night for years to come.
MUD SLINGING: The Bengals play a Ravens' offense this Sunday that was paralyzed in the Miami mud Sunday night. After racking up 55 points in their first two games, the Ravens could manage just two field goals in a 19-6 loss to the Dolphins, thanks to Hurricane Gordon and the baseball dirt and grass configuration of Pro Player Stadium.
The Bengals took a lot of heat when they invoked their right to keep turf in Cinergy Field this season instead of allowing the Reds to install grass. But the Miami swamp is Exhibit A of what the Bengals were thinking if they had to play in Cinergy in case the new stadium wasn't finished. About 30 percent of the field would have been dirt and the club feared it would have been an offensive quagmire like the one Sunday night, where Baltimore quarterback Tony Banks passed for just 189 yards and the Dolphins' Jay Fiedler went for 160.
BROADWAY DOUG: Former Bengals kicker Doug Pelfrey worked out on Long Island for the Jets Tuesday, but he still could audition for the Jaguars on Friday in Jacksonville. Don't look for the Jets to lop incumbent John Hall right now. The Jets just gave Hall $900,000 to sign a three-year, $2.4 million deal, although they are disappointed in his kickoffs.
According to reports, Pelfrey hit all his kickoffs inside the 5-yard line with hang times of at least four seconds. As for field goals, Pelfrey said he was perfect from 40 on in, 3-for-4 from 45 and 2-for-4 from 50 and beyond. The Jags are planning to stick with kickoff specialist Steve Lindsey this Sunday for the second straight week, but may have to make a move later if Mike Hollis' cranky back doesn't improve. Lindsey missed a 33-yard field goal try against the Bengals last week.
When Hall was a rookie in 1997, he set the modern NFL touchback record with 29. But this year he has just one touchback and only five of his 12 kickoffs have reached the end zone. Hall did miss a 33-yarder this week in the Jets' win over the Bills and coach Al Groh has said a few times this season the kicking game has to improve. Pelfrey is trying to prove to teams he can kick off after spending time this past season with Dolphins kicking coach Doug Blevins.