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Another Thank You Note Eight Years Later As Gio, Bengals Move On

Giovani Bernard: Ultimate teammate.
Giovani Bernard: Ultimate teammate.

Giovani Bernard's Bengals career began with a thank you note to club president Mike Brown eight years ago and it is probably going end with one Wednesday night when Bernard gets a chance to get away from the phone to write one.

"This isn't a sad or sorry moment," said Bernard, hours after he was released. "I had my eight years there and I'm thankful to everyone there. The whole entire city, the whole entire front office. The coaches that are still there. The coaches that have been there. Everyone knows it's a business. It happens to everyone. I'm grateful and I'm excited about the next opportunity."

Bernard, one of the most productive running backs and one of the most inspiring players in team history, had such a good pre-draft visit to Paul Brown Stadium that he did what he didn't do for the other interested NFL teams. He wrote thank you notes to Brown, running backs coach Hue Jackson, and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.

"I just had a feeling about this place," Bernard said the day after the Bengals took him in the second round. "I just wanted to say 'thank you' for taking the time to sit down and talk to me and just spend time."

Eight years later, he's still thankful. So are the Bengals.

Bernard leaves as one of only 11 players to combine for more than 6,000 rushing and receiving yards and his 342 catches are the most ever by a Bengals running back. His reliability, honored by a captain's 'C' on his jersey, is ensconced in his club-record 829 straight carries without a fumble in a run spanning his rookie and last seasons.

"As a running back, even more as a person, you want to be reliable," Bernard said. "You want to be one of those individuals everyone can rely on and be there. Not just to the coaches and not just to the organization, but my teammates."

Bernard, who overcame a childhood that included some poverty and the death of his mother at age seven, became a prime mover on and off the field. A son of Haitian immigrants, he traveled to Haiti to build a school named in her honor. His work with the Le Jardin Vert de Josette School (translating to Josette's Green Garden) helped earn him the Bengals' NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year award, along with several other community endeavors.

His locker-room presence was also a big factor in the crafting of the club's mission statement on social justice in the weeks leading up to last season.

"No better friend, teammate and mentor than @Gbernard25. I'll always cherish our time together and can't thank him enough for all he has meant to my career. Wherever he goes is getting a great player and even better person," is the way Bengals running back Joe Mixon tweeted it.

The move also closes a chapter of sorts and continues to usher in Joe Burrow's new wave.

In the last three weeks the team has seen the departure of three captains, beginning with wide receiver A.J. Green and defensive tackle Geno Atkins and now Bernard. Only tight end C.J. Uzomah, punter Kevin Huber and long snapper Clark Harris are left from the 2015 Wild Card Game, the last playoff outing for the Green-Andy Dalton Bengals.

Bernard was also one of the the last vestiges of the Carson Palmer Era. Bernard was drafted with the 37th pick, one of the draft choices the Bengals received from Oakland when they traded Palmer in 2011.

It was the veterans from his time that he praised. From left tackle Andrew Whitworth to wide receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamad Sanu.

"I wanted to be a mentor," Bernard said. "When I came in, I had some. Guys like Whit, Jermaine Gresham. Guys like Andy, Mo, Marvin. So many other guys that gave me the blueprint of being that type of teammate. It's just not something I had in myself. It's the guys that have been around this organization for years that have just spoken volumes to my heart to be this type of teammate and be that type of player."

A look back at the best images of Bengals running back Giovani Bernard.

After signing Samaje Perine to a two-year deal last month, the Bengals tried to renegotiate a lower number with Bernard to avoid his $4.1 million salary cap hit, which didn't fit after their more than $30 million cap foray into free agency. After Perine averaged 4.8 yards per his 63 carries last season, he also showed he could protect the passer on third down.

"The numbers just didn't line up," Bernard said.

Bernard and his wife spent Wednesday morning looking at Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins, as they waited in their car for their COVID vaccine shots. Maybe they talked about the hometown Dolphins being one of those opportunities.

"Who knows?" Bernard said.

"What I always counted on was my film and I hope I put good film out there every year, even last year," Bernard said. "Let that just kind of be my resume because that's what it is. Let everybody have a look at my resume and just decide from there and see what happens."

But first there is an exchange of thank you notes as Bengaldom sits down to write, too.