A noteworthy comeback

Posted: 7:30 a.m.

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Palmer: Comeback nearly complete

Bill Palmer needed a lift, too, all those months ago, and he got such a kick out of one of the Get Well messages on Bengals.com that he printed it and showed his wife.

"It was a father saying how, 'My 10-year-old son got hurt playing football and all he did was say, Dad, I'm going to be like Carson. I'll just come back next year,' and he wanted to thank Carson for that," says Bill Palmer with a laugh.

All those cards and letters and e-grams and video greetings go out there with Carson Palmer Monday night in the NFL's most scrutinized moment of the season. The girl from Ben Roethlisberger's hometown who dots her "i's" with hearts to the Football Dad.

Palmer isn't receiving those 10-foot high cards any more like he did after the surgery. With school out for the summer, he hasn't received those pictures from a class of little kids wishing him Get Well Soon, the ones that had those drawings of Chad and Rudi and made him burst out laughing.

"Hilarious," he still says.

But the good thoughts are still coming with his return now down to a day. Dip into his most recent mail bag and the addresses are from a Johnny Cash ballad. Evergreen, CO. Hudson, NY. Covington, KY. Guernsey, IA.

Palmer and the Bengals and the NFL are everywhere, man.

An inscribed school picture falls out of an envelope from an 11-year-old girl who writes on the top half of a computer printout: "Carson Palmer: U are my favorite player in the world's history of football. The way u run up and down the field as a q.b. makes me wanna be you. The day you got hurt I was in tears. ... The one thing I wish for on my birthday is to meet you in real life and get a picture and an autograph with you. Because you really inspire me on your career."

Support is overwhelming

The outpouring that began when the cart drove him through the tunnel Jan. 8 clearly moved the usually immovable Palmer by the time he surfaced in Cincinnati after his reconstructive knee surgery.

"Very overwhelming. It's really touching to me and my family," Palmer said back in March. "It just shows the loyalty and support in this city and from the Bengals fans. It makes you that much more excited and makes you want to work that much harder to get back. I feel like I've really brought something positive into their lives and it's so special for me. "

Palmer certainly didn't need the support to yank him out of depression. By the time head coach Marvin Lewis arrived at Palmer's Indian Hill home hours after the season blew up with his knee, he observed, "I wouldn't say 'down' would describe him."

Lewis said that had already happened in the training room when the surgery was explained to him. Heck, now as he ate pizza back at the house, he wanted to get on a plane that night to start the comeback.

But the support obviously helped and finally made Palmer realize what it all means to be quarterback of Bengaldom.

"What was amazing is how many people and from all over the country; not just Cincinnati," says Bill Palmer, who lives in Denver, works in Arizona, and keeps ties to California. "To this day I'm out in Arizona and people out here are asking about him."

Dear Mr. Palmer: It was a pleasure watching you lead the Bengals to the AFC North championship last year. It was such an exciting year and it brought back the pride to all of us fans. I would like to wish you and the rest of the Bengals the best of luck this year. God Bless and I'm still praying for the total recovery of your knee."

Bill Palmer admits the crush of attention from media and fans stunned him that first week.

"I said, 'What is the big deal? OK, it's a knee injury. People are dying every day.' I think that's how Carson looks at it a little bit, too. He always seems to down play everything."

That's how he's doing it with his own dad.

Bill Palmer is a dad, too. He has had a few 10-year-olds. And he must be a hell of a good one, too, because when does his kid ever not say or do the right thing?

But all the cards and letters and e-grams and video greetings can't hide how nervous he is about Monday night.

"Very nervous," he says. "Mainly because his mother and I were told it's a nine-to-12-month rehab."

With the adulation comes pressure. And Bill Palmer continues to be amazed at how his son breezily handles it with the rehab not yet eight months. But parents always worry about the pressures.

"I do know one thing," Bill Palmer says. "The ones who have his interest at heart are him and (and his family). I'm not saying that anyone is telling him, 'You've got to play,' but he's not blind. He hears it all and you turn on ESPN and you hear how (the season) revolves around (the injury.)"

"But he just says, 'Dad, it's all right. I'm fine.' "

From Hudson, NY in black marker: "I'm a big fan and I'm glad to see you back. Great interview in SI about your rehab. Best wishes on the season."

Bill Palmer went to watch Carson work out back in July when both were in California and he couldn't quite believe what he saw.

"I was scared to death," he says. "I was nervous at how aggressive he was. I told him to be careful. He told me he felt OK. I mean, he was very aggressive that day at practice.

"He has potential to be something special and if he does one more thing to it, it could destroy it. His reaction is, 'Yeah, I understand,' and he just doesn't make a big deal about it. 'Yeah, Dad.' "

A 15-year from Ventor, N.J. writes: "You will be one of the best QBs of all time when you hang up your cleats You make the offense flow. You and Chad Johnson are the best tantum (SIC) and will win many Super Bowls in years to come. Your No. 1 fan."

Bill Palmer says the injury hasn't changed Carson. Carson at 26 is pretty much like he was at 15. Told that when asked a few months ago where that Heisman was his son said he wasn't quite sure, his father says, "I can tell you exactly where it is. It's in a packing box in his basement."

"I told him, 'I want it. I've got a sports room now, so I'll put it some place,' " Bill laughs. "But that's just the way he is.

"I think he's still a little taken aback by the reaction. In his mind, it's still just a football injury and he's going to come back. All he seemed to talk about 10 days, two weeks after, was losing the game. That's not contrived."

Letter on notebook paper from Findlay, OH from the girl with the dotted hearts: Dear Carson, I'm your biggest fan, so is my dad. I know that Big Ben is from (here). But I don't like him. You are a better QB." The back of the note is engulfed in large block letters: "Bengals Rock."

Bill Palmer told him about the printout from the Football Dad and he didn't say much. Never does. "While he reads it, in a way I think he feels if he acknowledges, then it's more significant than he thinks he is."

They keep coming.

An invitation to an 8-year-old's birthday party from 12:30 to 2 p.m. on Sept. 16 in Batavia, Ohio.

The Saturday before the home opener against Cleveland?

No one knows if he's playing in it. But on Monday night, can there be any doubt that those who care will be watching with the eyes of a dad and the heart of an eight-year-old?

"I guess," Bill Palmer says, "I'm as nervous as any parent would be."

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