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A Pro Bowl thank you


Before heading out to Thursday's practice, Tyler Eiefrt (left) checked in with Kristi Hayes, dad Greg, Bengals rehab trainer Nick Cosgray and tight ends coach Jon Hayes.

KAHUKU, HI - Let's see.

Like the rest of us, Nick Cosgray has to stop and think about the last time he had a vacation. A real vacation. You know, one where you went without the two kids and actually went out of state and maybe even had to change your watch.

"I guess 2006," Cosgray says. "Cancun."

Now he has to add the 2016 Pro Bowl on Hawaii's breathtaking North Shore to the short list.

That's because last month, one of his more celebrated patients, Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert, walked into the training room last month and suddenly asked, "Can you get time off in the last week of January?" and when Cosgray blinked and asked, "For what?" Eifert, with his classic Hoosier nonchalance, leaked out, "You're going to Hawaii with us."

"Really?" Cosgray asked.

"As long as you can get time off, you're going," Eifert said.

"Oh yeah," Cosgray said. "I can get time off."

Which is how Cosgray, the Bengals' director of rehab in the ward of trainer Paul Sparling, surfaced here Thursday at Pro Bowl practice, an Eifert red-zone touchdown away from the raging surf.

Lisa Cosgray, his wife, was back at the hotel getting ready for the afternoon and once-in-a-lifetime visit to Pearl Harbor. As guests of Eifert, they'll end their six-day vacation with tickets to Sunday's game (7 p.m.-ESPN) and head back to Cincinnati Monday afternoon.

"He doesn't have to do anything for me. None of these guys have to do anything for me," Cosgray says. "I was doing my job. He was doing his job. He worked his butt off to get back. You can tell just by the great success he had."

During the Pro Bowl draft on Wednesday, Eifert is cooling off in a hangar at  Schofield  Barracks, not thinking about this season and his 13 touchdowns, most ever by a Bengals tight end and most by any tight end this season, two more even than super hero Rob Gronkowski.

Eifert, instead, is thinking about his elbow that popped out so grotesquely that it had be to driven into place by human hands before he left the field in the first quarter of the 2014 opener and sent him on a grueling 10-month rehab that cost him the rest of that lost season.

He also had shoulder surgery to address a separation, but it was the elbow that had the Bengals worried.

"Nick really helped me," Eifert says. "I mean, my elbow was really screwed up."

How screwed up? It just wasn't a dislocation. Muscles and ligaments were also caught up in the wash.

"I couldn't do this," Eifert says, cocking his elbow and arm at a 90-degree angle. "But I haven't had any problems."

"When it first happened, it was four to six weeks and he should be able to get back," Cosgray says. "But then as he went through it, there was more damage in there and it's something you couldn't possibly have known until it was four to six weeks down the road. They went in and cleaned up some things and there haven't been any problems."

He did lose three games this season, but one was to a pinched nerve and two to a concussion.

"I told Nick, 'I'm glad you guys are buddies, but I hope your friendship dwindles next season,'" says Greg Eifert, Tyler's father. "And don't spend as much time with him.'"

Greg Eifert, a manufacturer's rep, and wife Julie must have done something right along the way. Raising their children in Fort Wayne, Ind., helped keep heads on straight. But that's never a lock.

"I think he's matured that way in the last four or five years," says Greg Eifert, roaming around the practice field. "He understands without the people around him he wouldn't be here. That why he also brought Coach Hayes. He wouldn't be here without Coach Hayes."

Bengals tight ends coach Jon Hayes played in the NFL for 12 years and coached in the league for another 14, so his appearance here with wife Kristi says a lot about Eifert as well as the game itself.  The last time Hayes was at a Hawaiian Pro Bowl, he was invited by Chiefs teammate Christian Okoye, the rampaging running back from the late '80s.

"He brought the guys that blocked for him, so look at how the tight end position has changed," Hayes says. "I wasn't altogether surprised Tyler asked me, knowing what kind of young man he is."

Hayes is out of a tradition where players selected "to go over the water," took all of their teammates in their position room as well as their position coach. Inflation has cut into that a bit, but the position coach is still a prominent figure. Bengals wide receivers coach James Urban and his wife are also here as guests of A.J. Green and the Paul Alexanders here are with left tackle Andrew Whitworth.

Former defensive line coach Jay Hayes (Geno, Atkins, Carlos Dunlap) has changed teams and is working this week on a new staff in Tampa, while secondary coach Vance Joseph (cornerback Adam Jones) had to stay close in his new job as defensive coordinator in Miami. Cedric Peerman got the nod so late that his invite to special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons had to be politely declined.

But inviting the rehab guy, well, maybe Eifert has started a tradition of his own.

"I was shocked," Cosgray says.

But Eifert makes perfect sense why he's going to be toasting Cosgray this week around the pool at the Turtle Bay resort while watching the waves engulf an orange Bengals sun nightly.

"It's just not me. Look at all the guys he's helped come back for us and how they helped us this year," Eifert says. "You look at Leon, Vontaze, Clint.  All these guys came back."

That would be slot corner Leon Hall, off two Achilles surgeries since 2011. Plus, WILL backer Vontaze Burfict (2015 microfracture knee surgery) and left guard Clint Boling (2014 ACL).

Sparling and his staff that includes Dan Willen and Keith Justice also have played a huge role in the comebacks, but nobody spends more time together than the rehab guy and the patient. Cosgray's bond with Hall, the Bengals answer to Carolina's rebuilt Thomas Davis, is visceral.

"Every day together, really, for about a year," Eifert says.

"It's nice to have a connection with players," Cosgray says. "They need to trust you and believe in you. And you have so much invested in them with time and work, you become the biggest fans."

The Indiana connection no doubt helped. Cosgray, 37, grew up in Monticello, Ind., and went to Purdue games as a kid while rooting for his beloved Fighting Irish, the future team of Tyler Eifert.

"That definitely helped," Cosgray says. "I think we've got a lot of the same Midwestern values.  His dad played basketball at Purdue and my wife went to Purdue for a year. I followed Notre Dame growing up. And we've been to a lot of the same towns.  And everyone knows Tyler loves golf and I get out and hack around."

This one won't top the honeymoon to Jamaica. It better not. But Wednesday was as nice as it gets. They took a short drive on the scenic rural road of Kamehameha Highway and had breakfast in the old sugar mill town of Haleiwa.

"We rented a car so we could drive up and down the coast," Cosgray says. "We stopped at a little beach where we saw some surfers try and get up on the water. I never once thought we would come to Hawaii. Never.  It was a place that was never there. It wasn't viable for us to come out."

But that's the kind of year it was in Tyler Eifert's red zone. From 13 TDs to the froth of the surf, anything was possible.

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