Giovani Bernard, who has quietly scaled the franchise’s all-time charts with steel-belted dependability, just as quietly signed a third contract agreement with the Bengals Tuesday that keeps him in Cincinnati through the 2021 season.
That would be the 5-9, 205-pound Bernard’s ninth season as a Bengal, believed to be more than any running back in club history, eclipsing the eight seasons of three other mighty mites, Essex Johnson, Archie Griffin and James Brooks, in a line that goes all the way back through the ‘70s and ‘80s before representing the first two seasons of the ‘90s. With his low-to-the ground lunch-pail style Bernard has moved within 33 catches of passing Brooks with the most receptions by a Bengals back and 617 yards of passing Harold Green into sixth place on the all-time rushing list.
“It’s a blessing, number one, to be able to play for a long time and, number two, to be at the same place so long,” said Bernard before walking down the hall to thank Bengals president Mike Brown. “It just shows how much the Brown family thinks of me as a player and a person.
“As far as a player, I want to be there for the younger guys and the older guys as well. I’m one of those guys I’m getting up in years and a lot of the younger guys are starting to look up to me as a role model. Just to show them the work ethic that I have year in and year out …. That’s all I know what to do is just do my job. Can’t worry about this. Can’t worry about that. But I know how hard I can play whenever I get the opportunities.”
The deal says as much about Bernard’s character as his versatility new head coach Zac Taylor hopes to exploit in his offense. He plays a position viewed as disposable by many and he’s coming off a career-low in carries and touches, but the front office and Taylor’s coaching staff view him with much more regard. Since Taylor’s good friend, Randy Jordan, coached Bernard at North Carolina, he’s followed his career. And on Tuesday he recalled the night and year (Halloween, 2013) when Bernard lit up Taylor's Dolphins with a surreal across-the-field 35-yard touchdown catch on which he may have run double the yardage.
“He’s an invaluable player for us,” Taylor said. “We define what a Bengal is and he fits that description. He’s a physical and hungry accountable teammate that will do everything he can to help his teammates and that’s exactly what Gio has done for us.”
If Bernard is Taylor’s version of the classic Bengal, his life is a classic success story. That game-to-game work-ethic is rooted in his upbringing by Haitian immigrants in Boca Raton, Fla., where his mother’s sudden death when he was seven marked the family’s slide to poverty. But his father, who built a dry-cleaning business and then lost it, was able to get the family back on track with 18-hour days as he scratched his career back to life. His dad insisted on going in and opening the store the day the Bengals took Bernard in the second round of the 2013 draft.
His son insisted on giving back and when he got to the NFL he started building a school in Haiti named after his mother. Three years ago he put on solar panels and two years ago a water filtration system was installed. There are three classrooms and now, after Tuesday, maybe more. He’s even thinking about a turf football field.
“It’s something I hold dear to my heart,” he said of Jardin Vert De Josette.
For now, the only football field he’s focused on is the one he’ll be on in Seattle Sunday (4:05 p.m.-Cincinnati’s Local 12) for the opener. There is the sense that Taylor’s multiple scheme is going to turn to Bernard’s multiple talents for a bigger workload. But Bernard is only looking at it as a whole.
“The best thing I took from Coach Taylor’s offense is the hurry up about it,” Bernard said. “That’s the thing we really want to do this year is push the pace. Get to the ball, get the ball out. I’m really excited about it ... the city is really excited about Coach Taylor’s offense. This team is special. We have the pieces, we just have to go out and prove it.”
They just made sure Taylor has one of those pieces for what may be a record stretch.
Bengals running back Giovani Bernard signed a two-year extension with the team. A look back at his career in photos.