Bengals have it covered

Posted: 6:45 p.m.

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Palmer is the cover subject of this week's Sports Illustrated.

Once upon a time, you hardly ever heard the Bengals story outside the 275 loop.

Now they've come full circle with a Sports Illustrated cover splat in the middle of a paper bag drab offseason featuring the rehab of Pro Bowl quarterback Carson Palmer. The last time a Bengal made the SI cover, Palmer was nine years old when the subject was yet another Bengals Pro Bowl quarterback named Boomer Esiason on Aug. 7, 1989.

"It shows you the star power of Carson and the Bengals and how much (the country) loves football," says Michael Silver, one of the magazine's NFL writers who authored the piece in the May 29 issue. "It's the most intriguing story of the offseason. Here you have arguably one of the NFL's top three, four or five players suffer what a doctor calls a career-threatening injury. Last year it was how is Randy Moss going to do in Oakland and what Terrell Owens was doing with the Eagles."

While Silver makes no predictions on Palmer's return for the Sept. 10 opener against the Chiefs, he depicts the hard-working Palmer's rehab as it has been portrayed locally: Heading along smoothly with no setbacks. Head coach Marvin Lewis, who wants Palmer to play in at least two preseason games if he's going to play in Kansas City, tells Silver what he has been saying since January. He thinks Palmer is going to be ready for Game One.

The fears of Dr. Lonnie Paulos, for now anyway, seem to be just that.

In fact, Palmer took a shot at Paulos, his surgeon who went public with the grisly details. Silver says the quote eventually ended up getting cut, but that Palmer said Paulos "likes to hear himself talk."

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PREVIOUS BENGALS SPORTS ILLUSTRATED COVERS

Cover photographs courtesy SI.com

Aug. 12, 1968
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Dec. 14, 1981
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Jan. 16, 1989
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Aug. 7, 1989
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Silver captures the frustration with the Steelers' success that has infuriated Palmer and Bengaldom since Palmer was felled by Pittsburgh defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen on his first pass of the Wild Card loss. Palmer gladly elaborated on his March remarks when asked to comment on Steelers coach Bill Cowher's Who-Dey chant: "When he started doing that, I was still pissed they won."

"I hate them," Palmer says to Silver of the Steelers. "I hate them even more than I hate UCLA. Yeah, it's because I'm jealous and I want what they have. I guess I'm just not that evolved."

If Lewis and Cowher are tired of the storyline, just wait until the national guys get a hold of it with both gloves.

"It's hard to blame Bengals fans," Silver says. "You just hope it would have been the Steelers year, but the Bengals had just beaten them and they were at home. ... It's one of the biggest moments in the playoffs in a long time. Now with Carson, Marvin and Chad (Johnson) all signed up, it looks like the Bengals are going to be good for awhile, and hopefully the Steelers can continue to sustain what they've had. It's quite a rivalry."

As for jinxes, the Bengals come out of SI pretty well compared to most.

The magazine chronicled Bengals founder Paul Brown's return to pro football in the Aug. 12, 1968 issue and while the Baby Bengals did go 3-11, Brown also put them in the record books two years later when they became the youngest expansion team ever to reach the postseason.

After wide receiver Cris Collinsworth made the Dec. 14, 1981 cover, the Bengals went to their first Super Bowl. Although they lost, Collinsworth managed to play in another one, became the Bengals' all-time leading receiver, and then embarked on arguably the most successful broadcasting career ever by a former player.

SI counts the Feb. 1, 1982 issue as a Bengal cover even though it features 49er Earl Cooper scoring a touchdown against them in Super Bowl XVI. Still, the Bengals rebounded to post a 7-2 record in the strike-shorted season of 1982, second best in the NFL.

OK, running back Ickey Woods could have fallen prey. After appearing on the Jan. 16, 1989 cover hailing the Bengals AFC title, Woods rushed for 79 yards on 20 carries in a last-minute loss to the Niners in a Super Bowl marred by a bizarre cocaine incident with fullback Stanley Wilson. Three years later, Woods was out of the NFL after two reconstructive knee surgeries.

But Esiason beat the jinx in 1989. He didn't repeat MVP, but went to the Pro Bowl again in throwing as many TD passes as he threw the year before (28) with three fewer interceptions. The Bengals didn't go to the playoffs, but Esiason led them to the 1990 AFC Central title in his third straight Pro Bowl season.

Silver, 40, who estimates he has written about 60 cover stories for SI, predicts the next Bengals cover to come during this season.

"It will be Chad caressing the goal post or something like that in the most creative touchdown celebration ever performed," Silver said. "When the Bengals win the Super Bowl, I'm going to suggest a Paul Brown-like sketch of Marvin."

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