Updated: 8 p.m.
GEORGETOWN, Ky. - Two mutual admirers got to give each other some mementos Monday here when an American icon just happened to show up at the end of Bengals practice.
Muhammad Ali, the once and future heavyweight champion and one of the most popular figures in history, gave head coach Marvin Lewis a pair of signed boxing gloves and Lewis gave him some Bengals hats and shirts along with a lifetime memory for his team.
"All right, Champ. Way to go, Champ," said right guard Bobbie Williams as the team finally figured out who was approaching them in the slowly driven cart coming to the middle of the field.
Racked by Parkinson's but determined to get out of the vehicle and have pictures taken with various groups of Bengals, Ali had the help of fullback Jeremi Johnson. Lewis called up Johnson to aid his fellow Louisville native.
"Where are the cameras?" asked Johnson, making sure the moment was recorded for posterity. "First time I ever met him. This makes my preseason. He is Louisville. You can tell when you cross that bridge. You see it on all the buildings; 3D pictures of him everywhere. Everybody from Louisville and Kentucky can tell you that. He is Louisville."
Accompanied by a sister and a son, Ali arrived at Georgetown via some connections with the college and the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville.
But it was more than that.
"Muhammad is a big sports fan. Anybody close by, he wants to see," said Greg Roberts, president and CEO of the Ali Center. "He loves the Bengals. He loves Coach Lewis. He thinks a lot of Coach Lewis. We just came to honor the college and seeing Marvin was here, he wanted to make sure he could talk to Marvin and be a part of this. He loves Marvin as a coach."
The night before the Bengals beat the 9-0 Chiefs at Paul Brown Stadium in Lewis' first season, he showed them the clip from the movie Ali that depicted his stunning seventh round TKO of Sonny Liston in his first title fight.
"To see a walking legend right in front of your eyes, it's an amazing thing to see," said offensive linemen Scott Kooistra. "There's the wow factor ... we finally saw him and it's the wow factor. ... Everybody went 'Wow.' "
Lewis looked liked he swallowed the obligatory canary after keeping such a big secret. He has had Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith as visitors here, but he had to admit Ali is his "greatest visitor" in training camp.
"It's cool. Somebody at the pinnacle of not just his sport, but sports," Lewis said. "One of the greatest competitors, one of the greatest athletes of all times."
Lewis kept the gloves close. "Champ, I've got guys already trying to grab them," he said. And after introducing Ali to the team Lewis said, "This is one guy who when he talked, he backed it up. Some of you guys who want to talk, this is the guy that backed it up. "
As each wave of Bengals stepped forward to have their picture taken with Ali, quarterbacks Carson and Jordan Palmer were unsure when to step in. When it looked like Ali was done, Lewis saw them on the edge. "One more. C'mon guys."
"Awesome," Carson Palmer said. " There's the man right there. No one knew. They really kept it hush-hush at the school. It's amazing to see him in person. I've seen all his fights on ESPN Classic."
Palmer could see how Ali had been the forerunner of teammate Chad Ochocinco's penchant for showtime.
"I think Chad's probably taken a little of what he's done in the past," he said. "He's a guy that a ton of guys look up to in every sport, at every position. He's the champ."
The Ocho checked in on the visit via Twitter:
"Muhammad Ali was at our practice today, that was the coolest surprise for us to meet the champ, he is taller than I thought in person. the champ, I need to kiss da baby, I met a legend, Ali Ali Ali, roar= crowd going wild , down goes Frazier."