Bengaldom buzzing

The "Do Your Job T-Shirts" have sold out three times. A total of 50,000 orange Cintas towels are poised to be handed out. Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson and his offense are plotting a stunner for the pregame intros. Wide receiver Chad Johnson is urging fans to sneak into Paul Brown Stadium's 12th straight sellout.

"Gate B," he said. "It's on the (North) side."

We have now officially entered the weekend of a total Bengals Eclipse. An orange and black striped sky beckons for the club's most anticipated home opener since the Super Bowl team teed it up again in the Riverfront Stadium opener nearly 16 years to the day on Sept. 17, 1989.

"I think you can go there," said Scott Simpson, who has felt the buzz all the way up into the perch where he runs the stadium scoreboards. "Everybody is just waiting."

So is the Bengals Pro Shop, where last month's two preseason games made the Top Five Game Day Count in PBS' five-year history. Which means Sunday's game against the Vikings could be Christmas for Monty Montague, the club's merchandise maven.

"It's been electric every day this week," Montague said. "Like a mall atmosphere."

Optimism and Marvin Mania are selling, as they say, like hot cakes.

"I'm excited," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis after Friday's workout on the stadium field. "Uh-huh."

Ho hum. But even the icy Lewis lit up a few weeks ago, the day after the club's preseason finale broke the building's preseason attendance record.

"That was something," he said. "Talk about a late-arriving crowd, but all of a sudden they were there."

Running back Rudi Johnson can't wait to repeat his Sunday morning pregame drive from the team hotel to PBS. He drives slowly so he can make sure he takes in the smell and chatter of the tailgaters, watch the vendors set up, and he keeps an eye out for certain fans.

"Oh yeah," he said. "I'm watching out for the No. 32 jerseys."

No one knows what Anderson and the offense has up their sleeves for the starting lineups. But PBS has a rich tradition on that score. Every Boston school kid knows that not only did Paul Revere's Ride start with the signal at the Old North Church, but that Bill Belichick's bolt to greatness started at PBS. It was the site of the pregame snafu at the 2001 opener in which New England ran onto the field as a team instead of individuals. The Bengals beat them that day, but five months later the Patriots collectively hoisted the Lombardi Trophy to begin their run as the ultimate team in the ultimate team sport.

Team is what is now hot in Cincinnati. The Pro Shop is ahead of last year's record-setting pace. The ball caps players wear on the sidelines are the big sellers, as well as anything with the words "Who Dey."

Bengaldom has even erupted into cyberspace. According to figures from NFL.com, traffic to Bengals.com spiked 88 percent last month compared to August of 2004. For the first time, the club's Web site crept near the bottom of the second quartile as a small-market entity rode into the middle of the NFL pack.

"I think the young core players have really helped the popularity," said defensive tackle John Thornton. "Chad, Rudi, Carson (Palmer). You go out and you see more people between 20 and 30 showing interest."

Simpson and Vince Cicero, director of corporate sales and marketing, say the difference will be clear on the scoreboards during the game, where a wave of new sponsors are to appear.

"We've been feeling the buzz since January, so it's really nothing new," Cicero said. "Now it's kickoff."

Thornton knows how valuable home-field advantage is. During his first two NFL seasons with the Titans, Tennessee never lost in its new stadium and he went on to play as a rookie in the Super Bowl.

"The home crowd is huge," he said. "I think there were a lot of people jumping on the bandwagon there, where Cincinnati has more tradition. But it was big. Suddenly we were 7-1."

He also knows what it means to win the first one. Ironically, it came against the Bengals in the '99 opener, when the Titans erased a nine-point lead in the final 7:56. It was in that game the Bengals lost two of their biggest stars in that fourth quarter because of cramps, quarterback Jeff Blake and running back Corey Dillon. As if to underscore how far the program has come from that opener, the usually taciturn Lewis has openly talked about trying to make his team one of the best conditioned in the league.

"I don't think there is any question that we're in better shape," said Rich Braham, the center that day and now in his roster-high 12th season. "Marvin stresses it and demands it."

Thornton still remembers the atmosphere surrounding his first NFL game.

"They had been 8-8 three straight years and everybody was sick of that," Thornton said. "But nobody knew what we were going to be. Would it be a fourth 8-8, or what?"

Thornton laughed at the similarities. But that's all.

"When we're 6-2 or 7-1," Thornton said, "then I'll think about it."

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