Dave Lapham is one of the 17 nominees on the Bengals' inaugural Ring of Honor ballot, but that shouldn't rob us from hearing the same entertaining, enthusiastic takes on the list that he's been giving to his loyal listeners on the Bengals Radio Network when it comes to everything stripes.
As he heads into his 36th season in the booth, he's uniquely qualified to offer up one of his tell-it-like-it-is scouting reports on each and every candidate now before Bengals Season Ticket Holders in a vote ending June 18. When he broke into the NFL as a third-round pick in 1974, four of them (Isaac Curtis, Lemar Parrish, Ken Riley, Bob Trumpy) were already on the team.
He would then go on to share a team meeting room with six guys he also described on radio in Ken Anderson, Jim Breech, Cris Collinsworth, Tim Krumrie, Max Montoya and Reggie Williams. The other six he covered from the booth and offered the microphone: Willie Anderson, James Brooks, Corey Dillon, Boomer Esiason, David Fulcher and Chad Johnson.
Coming up with modern day comparisons to help younger fans see players they never saw is a challenge. Lapham rightfully hesitates when asked about "comps." It's just not so clear-cut.
"Different eras. Different kinds of players," he says. "The big thing is that offensive and defensive coordinators asked them to do specific jobs that would differ according to the game and the opponent."
But when he could, he did offer a comp. Still, there's no comparison to have a Lap Listen on old friends and the new breed.
WR ISAAC CURTIS
Big play waiting to happen, man. World class speed. I don't think I've seen a guy with a combination of game-breaking speed with sticky fingers. His hands were unbelievable. It's like he had super glue on his fingertips. He'd catch the back half of the football. It was almost impossible to overthrow him. I remember my rookie year in 1974. We ran a flanker reverse to Isaac. I was like, 'Oh my God, I've never seen a guy run like that.' When he got his full stride going it was amazing.
And back then the league let them beat him up. Tackle him, throw him around. Here's a guy that averaged (17.1) yards per catch for his career. If he played in this era he would been in the mid-20s or something. It would be stupid.
Hard to find a comp for him when you're talking about his speed. Bullet Bob Hayes can't hold Isaac's jock strap in terms of running routes and catching the ball. Obviously (Hayes) was the fastest man in the world and all that, but that's the thing about Isaac. I remember receivers saying not only does he have world class speed, but he can run routes. I remember watching him, he was so smooth. Ice Man was like smooth and cool. Everything he did was so fluid. 'Oh, he's not running that fast.' Oh hell yeah he is. You could have put an egg on his head and it wouldn't roll off. He was just flying. He was ridiculous. You're not going to meet a more humble guy, better teammate, quality human being.
He had to be physical because before Paul Brown got the 'Isaac Curtis Rule,' put in, guys would try to abuse him and intimidate him. Every chance they got. But he's going over the middle of the field to make catches. Isaac and (Cris) Collinsworth both tough guys.
CB LEMAR PARRISH
From the ability to excite teammates, fans and discourage opponents with a big-play ability, he might be as good as I've ever seen. That dude, man, he was electric. Electric with capital letters. Freaky athlete. He had some long arms. His change of direction, his burst was just unbelievable as a return guy. I remember my rookie year (1974 in Washington), he scored a defensive touchdown and he scored a punt return touchdown and they were both from distance and I'm like, 'Gheesh, this guy is a different breed of cat.' When the ball was being thrown, people probably said, 'Alright, if I pick one to throw it on, I'm going to test Kenny Riley and not Lemar Parrish,' because people thought his athleticism was so ridiculous. Maybe Rattler (Riley) benefitted from that, but Lemar Parrish was not there for Kenny's entire career and I'm not sure Lemar capitalized on every opportunity like Kenny did.
I'd say he's an earlier level Deion (Sanders). I'm not sure his short space quickness and length of stride, speed and all that maybe not quite Deionish. Maybe Deion was a little better. But for his era, I'd say that's a fair comparison, I really would.
CB KEN RILEY
The thing that strikes me first is how good his hands were. I can't remember him dropping an interception. If he did, everyone was dumbfounded, in shock. Louis Breeden kids out of his 33 interceptions he probably dropped 66 more. Ken Riley had 65 and it didn't seem like he dropped ten. When he had an opportunity to make a play on the ball, Kenny Riley made a play on the football. He wasted no opportunities. When you look at the percentage of balls thrown in his direction that were intercepted, it may be as high as any in the history of the game. It's up there. His hands were extraordinary.
And when you look at it, having played the quarterback position at Florida A&M, he understood route concepts. He had the advantage of seeing it from the other direction in terms of what defensive backs might do. I think Rattler did all of them. He was very, very savvy. He wasn't afraid to tackle. He would upend people and they would somersault and land on their heads. He would intimidate them. He didn't want people trying to high point a ball on a contested catch in front of him, so he would take their feet right out in front of them. He did that regularly. Total class as a player and human being. One of the more solid guys you would ever want to meet. A great teammate. He wouldn't hesitate to tell young receivers, 'Look, you're tipping this route. Don't do this because I know exactly what you were going to do.' All around just a big-time player.
Tight ends in today's football are doing things Bill Walsh was doing with Trumpy in the '60s and '70s. It was a nightmare trying to match up with Bob Trumpy because he could run like a wide receiver with a big body of big old square shoulders. Tall, strong body. Shoot, he averaged over 20 yards a catch one season as a tight end. That's crazy. He made plays on the triple pass double reverse on the ball down the field. He would kill people with that. He was too fast for linebackers, too big for defensive backs. He was a big-play guy.
He'd seal the edge. He had those coat hanger shoulders, broad shoulders. He had some strength to him. He would not embarrass himself by any stretch of the imagination blocking down on defensive ends. And back in his day, the best athletes were defensive ends, outside linebacker-types, they were the toughest guys to block. Trumpy had to contend with those high talented guys in the running game and then go out and be a receiver. Back in the day the tight end was the third tackle in the running game and not a big weapon in the passing game. But for the Cincinnati Bengals that son of a gun got down the field as well as a lot of wide receivers. He was special.
I think of a guy like Russ Francis (in the '70s and '80s), probably a bigger guy than Trump, but Francis would block like a tackle and make big plays in the passing game. The Chargers didn't ask Kellen Winslow to block like the Patriots asked Francis to block and the Bengals asked Trumpy to block. There's really not a comp in this generation of tight ends because they're not asked to block like that.
TEAMMATES AND SUBJECTS
He led the league in passing in consecutive seasons twice and with two different offensive coordinators. That speaks volumes of not only his ability, but adaptability. He did it with offensive geniuses that had different systems. In my mind if he's not the most accurate passer ever, it doesn't take long to call roll. He's among the best putting it in tight spots, small windows. The other thing about him is that he was a damn good athlete. Basketball was his sport. He ran 4.6 and on that first Super Bowl team he was our second leading rusher and a lot of those were naked bootlegs where he had a run-pass option and he'd be 15-20 yards down field before the defense could get there. Very athletic guy. From a foot speed standpoint, he surprised people.
Kenny to me was methodical and meticulous in his approach. He got his degree in accounting and it seemed like he could just pick apart defenses. He's not (Tom) Brady because he's so much more athletic than Brady. Drew Brees would be a comp, but look at Kenny's legs and he had some size. He's a bigger guy than Brees. Brees would be a smaller version, but probably a decent comp. I look at Kenny and Joe Montana as having similar traits. I think Kenny was a better athlete and he was bigger and faster. But I think Bill Walsh would probably say there were similar traits there between Kenny Anderson and Joe Montana. I'm not saying that it's a complete comp, but Montana was very accurate. Kenny's arm was stronger, but both put the ball into small spaces.
Mr. Clutch. Nine field goals in nine overtimes. Nine-for-nine. You can't do any better than that. There are nine wins in the Bengals win column he finalized and didn't lose. It seemed like the more important the kick, he rose to the occasion, whether it be overtime or playoffs or Super Bowls. I thought he was going to be MVP of Super Bowl XXIII. I voted for him. It didn't finish out that way.
There's another guy whose athleticism never gets discussed. He played shortstop, centerfield on his baseball team. He was the point guard on the basketball team. He played quarterback as well as kicked for his football team. Jim Breech is a damn good athlete. He'd get in there when the defense was getting ready for games, he'd run opposing plays at receiver. He was a football player. He understood football. He was a football player that just happened to be a hell of a kicker.
Talk about a unique guy. Really hard to come up with a comp for him. Defensive backs would look at him and his body type and just wouldn't believe the speed he had until he was right up on their toes. Cris Collinsworth ran by more defensive backs that were squatting because they weren't believing he had the speed he had. He'd run by guys regularly. A 6-5 guy that had sprinter speed and he had the athletic ability to sink his hips and get out of cuts.
The thing I respect most about him, though, usually guys like that don't want to go across the middle and make the catch. He was big-time tough. I mean big-time tough. He'd take shots and hold on to the ball. He'd surprise you in the weight room how strong he was. A different breed of cat. What's hard to compare is a receiver that had the kind of toughness is usually a third down possession receiver that's going to run a 12-yard hook. Take a shot and leave the field and wouldn't be able to do anything else. He could do both. A unique player.
NT TIM KRUMRIE
The nickname I gave him was, 'The Ultimate Warrior.' I called him that early on as a teammate. You knew it was football season when that old scar he had on the bridge of his nose, the helmet would come crashing down on that scar and it would open up and there'd be blood everywhere. You knew it was football season because Krumrie was bleeding from his face and nose. He was toughness personified. Wrestlers that I played against, in general, they're just impossible to get out of balance. They're planted. A tree that has a huge root system. That's what he was. And amazing strength to go with it. His bio mechanics, his physiology, whatever you want to call it, he just had it. His pad level would be perfect. He tried to get you in as vulnerable a position as he could get you. For a nose guard to lead his team in tackles as many times as he did, to make as many plays as he did, it was just something to watch.
I knew he was a great player, but I was sold when he went against Miami's Dwight Stephenson. He was having a great year and here we go. I think he's one of the best centers in the league and I think Krumrie's the best guy over the center. Krumrie kicked his butt. I'm like, boy, that confirms it for me. Dwight Stephenson, Hall of Fame, perennial Pro Bowler, Krumrie handled him, man. Stephenson did not get anything done with him one-on- one.
Just for him to come back the following season after experiencing such a badly broken leg so late … He did it in Super Bowl XXIII and to come back with all that hardware and repair he had in that leg and line up. He was diminished from what he was before that, but to line up in an NFL game, to compete like that and play like that, you have to be kidding me. It's unheard of. I think I've never seen anything like that. That wasn't just an injury.
RG MAX MONTOYA
Maxie could pull and block in the running game as well as anybody in the National Football League. He could cut block big people, smaller people. It didn't matter. He was as good a cut blocker as I think I have ever seem. He was an incredible pass protector. He had seasons it seemed he shut down everybody. Quiet, but intense competitive fire. Maxie would not back down from anybody, anytime, anywhere. He was up for the battle.
I consider the guard that just retired from the Ravens in the bad-ass category, Marshal Yanda. He would knock you into the ground and spit tobacco juice on you and Maxie would do the same type of thing. The Bengals did different things with Maxie in terms of pulling him on sweeps in front of the running back and while Yanda didn't do that, he pulled and trapped and was a damn good pass protector. But I think Yanda is a good comp for Maxie. Multiple Pro Bowl player up front and up for the fight, not backing down from anybody.
OLB REGGIE WILLIAMS
Extremely intelligent, obviously. Extremely athletic. He could do a lot of different things. He was a workout freak. Combination of size, speed, agility. Gifted athlete at the weak side, outside linebacker position and he blossomed under the Doctor of Defense's (Hank Bullough) imagination using him in different ways. They talk today about importance of versatility and Reggie had all of that, for sure. A well-rounded guy off the field as well, no question about it.
All of these guys were sheer delights … A guy like Reggie is very unique. He had a lot of different life experiences that he brought to the team. On the field, another guy that's tough to comp because he did so many different things in a different style of defense.
THE NEXT GENERATION
RT WILLIE ANDERSON
The most underrated thing about him is his mind for the game. You used to tease the offensive tackles and say, 'No matter what the defense does, your rule is to block the end, block the end. That's all you have to worry about.' Obviously that's an oversimplification and we're just teasing guys. But Big Willie had VISION. Big Willie saw the whole field. He was so perceptive and had such an understanding of what defenses were trying to do, how they were trying to leverage the edge, leverage the perimeter. He helped a lot of young guards next to him who were maybe struggling looking for things and he would do it for them. Willie had tremendous football IQ. He would study a guy's body. 'I'm going to do this technique to offset this strength in his body.'
As gifted as he was physically with just raw power, brute strength, physicality, he took it to another level because he was such a good a technician and had as much intelligence as anybody and executed every single snap as well as he could execute it. He was a machine in every sense of the word. He shut down a lot of great players, now. His foot work was impeccable and, man, his hands, he would attack. Willie was a sight to behold on the edge. Just getting it done.
You can talk about Jonathan Ogden-type players, but Willie could move. He was like Victor the Dancing Bear. He had some feet on him. Ogden was a big guy that could move pretty well. But a lot of these guys were nowhere near as big as Willie. There's only a few guys that you can say had that size. Orlando Pace was a big guy that could move, but he's not as big as Willie. My first vision of Willie and one that will always stay with me, he was going one-on-one against John Copeland in practice. In Willie's rookie year. He hits into Copeland and Cope was a damn good run defender. He could two-gap an elephant. Willie gets into him and Cope's eyes get big, man. Willie is rising him up and took him over on his back. I'm like, 'Oh my God, the Bengals have themselves a drive blocker.' Then I watched him pass protect and I said, 'I can see why he's the 10th pick.'
RB JAMES BROOKS
Pound for pound maybe as physical a guy they've had on the team. He was not afraid to run people over. That was the thing about JB. People would look at his body type (5-10, 180 pounds) and think he's one of these guys that try to give a million moves out in space. A scat back, right? Are you kidding me? He'd lower his pads and run your butt over. That allowed him to do the other stuff. He was complete. He'd run the hell out of it and catch it, block. When Ickey Woods rushed for his 1,000 yards, JB was doing some blocking. He was the definition of a football player. Whatever his assignment was, he never half-assed it. Never. Played every play 1,000 percent. I saw him just plain embarrass linebackers running over them. These guys were shocked he had that kind of punch.
They trusted him in blitz pickup, too. When defenses started putting linebackers between the center and the guard in the Double A Gap Blitz, they would not hesitate to put James Brooks closer to the line because they knew that linebacker would not overpower JB. I saw him bench press significant weight for a 185-pound man putting 315 or more up in the weight room. Maybe take a look at Christian McCaffrey. He's a bigger JB, but James Brooks could make that big play and catch it. They say McCaffrey can line up as a receiver. JB could line up as a receiver. They're not exact, but the big play potential is there. Different eras, but the same type of excellence and overall versatility.
RB COREY DILLON
Unbelievable combination of size and speed and physicality. He hurt you when you had to tackle him. Very rarely in the National Football League do you see guys flinching when they're going in to hit certain players. I remember seeing many different players flinch when they went to hit Corey Dillon. When he got a head of steam going, that was one powerful human being. I'll never forget his big games. He'd have as many carries that went for 15 or 20 plus yards as went for no gain or minus yards, but he hit some big ones and when he hit them they were home runs. Grand slams.
I remember being on the field before a game and Corey Dillon would run close by you on the grass and you'd feel the earth move. That's how powerful he ran. And they never really had a quarterback to complement him in the passing game. Everybody knew what they were going to do. Eight-man man boxes and he'd still got it done.
QB BOOMER ESIASON
Definition of a leader. You look up leader, field general, whatever you want to call it and in Webster's Dictionary there's a picture of the Blond Bombshell right there. Sam Wyche and Boomer Esiason was the perfect combination for what Sam was trying to get done. He needed somebody who understood what he was trying to do and could interpret it and make his teammates believe and that was right up Boomer Esiason's alley. He loved the challenge of orchestrating the whole thing. He loved being the maestro. We talk about Joe Burrow's people skills. Boomer could teach a doctorate course in how to handle human beings. Unbelievable people skills. He's one of those guys he makes people feel better about themselves and feel important to the cause. That's a rare talent. That's why his linemen loved him.
The style of offense they played, his play-action would be wide open with a lot of space to throw it into. He wasn't one to thread the needle. He willed wins. His personality was so strong and his belief in what he was doing was so strong, he brought everybody with him. He lifted the boat.
SS DAVID FULCHER
Troy Polamalu before Troy Polamalu. Dick LeBeau did the same things with Fulcher that he did with Troy Polamalu when they supposedly revolutionized football. Fulrock was doing that with the Bengals and Dick LeBeau in the '80s. LeBeau trusted his football instincts and allowed David Fulcher some room to use those instincts. You have to give credit to (free safety) Solomon Wilcots working with Fulcher. David saw something, Solomon had to adjust. It wasn't necessarily the way the scheme was drawn up. A lot of times quarterbacks were going to the sidelines saying, 'He wasn't supposed to be there.' But Fulcher would see it before it happened and put himself in position to do something.
He was famously carrying more weight than defensive lineman Jim Skow for the Super Bowl. To have that kind of size and to be able to do the things he did … Hell of a blitzer and he's got the most interceptions by a Bengals safety (31) and there have been quite a few good safeties here. He was a takeaway machine. Interceptions. Sacks. Fumble recoveries. He was one of those guys who was a play waiting to happen. Polamalu was smaller, a different type of athlete. But Dick LeBeau was an instinctive player himself and he was a smart enough coach to realize with guys like Fulcher and Polamalu, don't over coach these guys. They have the God-given ability to see plays before they unfold. So he built his defense around those guys and did it twice successfully.
WR CHAD JOHNSON
Chad has the greatest feet I've ever seen in a wide receiver in terms of route running, staying in bounds on a sideline play, he had unbelievable feet and as a result, unbelievable balance. A tremendous route runner, competitive, he made big plays, never shied away from the big moment. He wanted to be on stage. He may be the No. 1 entertainer I think I've ever seen in terms of overall on-the-field, off-the-field, in the locker room, in the community. He was different that way. But I've never seen quicker, jackhammer feet than Chad Johnson. Unbelievable. There are speed receivers out there today, playmakers, but I guess my thing with Chad is the overall package.
He's not embarrassed to let you know about it and some of these great receivers are a little more reserved the way they go about it. I don't think there's anybody that gives you the cinematic value as well as the value of actual play than Chad did. It was always entertaining to say the least. Odell Beckham Jr., is pretty unique, too, but he had different strengths. When you look at it, Beckham is trying to be like Chad for the overall cinematic value. But the thing that stands out about Beckham is the great hands. The one-handed catches. His hand-eye coordination is unbelievable. I give Chad the edge in feet, I give Beckham the edge in hands.
Two of the best trash talkers for the Bengals are Chad and Lemar. They're on the all-trash talk team. That's the offensive player and the defensive player. They let the opposition know what they just did and how they did it and that they're going to do it again.
OL DAVE LAPHAM
(He wouldn't say it, but Lapham is often described as smart, versatile, tough. Here's how he responds to that scouting report:)
"I give Paul Brown a heck of a lot of credit. He saw the fact I could absorb a good amount of football. He would give me a letter grade on the upper left hand corner of the paper with my assignment and a grade in the upper right hand corner for everybody else's. He's the one that kind of got me out of having tunnel vision and seeing the big picture. That helped me mentally. I'm as proud of playing five different positions in the same game a couple of times as I am of anything. The versatility. I felt like my teammates were giving 100 percent playing injured. I had torn cartilage the first Super Bowl season. I didn't miss any games. I had the surgery on Monday and dressed out that Sunday. Played special teams and a few snaps and got back into the flow. I remember (head coach) Forrest Gregg asking me, 'How does it feel? A little squishy?' It was worth it. I don't regret anything. If I had the opportunity, I'd do the same thing all over again.
As a kid I remember telling my grandfather when I was six or seven years old, we were watching the Colts and Giants, and I remember looking up and saying to him, 'Gramp, I'm going to do this someday.' And he patted me on the head. 'Yeah, sure sonny.' When I got drafted, he was the next call I made after I told my parents. To both play in and call a Super Bowl is a big thrill. I gave as much effort as I could, be the best teammate I could. I felt like I emptied the tank. No regrets and to be able to go in the booth and still experience the game of football I've loved all my life, how lucky am I to do that for all these years? It's been a blessed life.