Bengals, NFL plan tribute

9-20-01, 5:40 a.m.

Updated: 9-20-01, 7:25 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals and the NFL have finalized their plans to honor the victims of last week's attacks in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania at Paul Brown Stadium in the 1 p.m. game against the Ravens.

Bon Jovi will sing "God Bless America," before the 1 p.m. or 4 p.m. games across the league. Lionel Ritchie and Mary J. Blige will sing in the other time slot. Bon Jovi will be accompanied by the Manhattan police and fire departments. Ritchie and Blige are to sing with the Boys Choir of Harlem.

Also at PBS Sunday:

 Fans will receive an American Flag donated by Berning Printing and C.J. Krehbiel Printing Companies;

 Fans will also receive a keepsake pamphlet for the in-game tribute;

 Field-level "United We Stand" bunting will be on display;

 The Ohio State University Marching band will perform pre-game and at half-time;

 A field-sized American Flag will be unfurled prior to the National Anthem by more than 200 Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Professional Firefighters;

 A patriotic video tribute will be showcased on the two 90-foot wide video screens;

 A moment of silence will precede the National Anthem;

 The colors will be presented by the Ohio Army National Guard;

 The National Anthem will be sung by recording artists Trin-I-Tee 5:7;

All players, coaches and on-field staff will participate in the tribute. All players will wear an American Flag Decal on their helmet, and all personnel will wear special sideline hats incorporating the American Flag.

SPIKES SHARPENS WORDS: Takeo Spikes expects Pro Bowl trash talker Shannon Sharpe to come into Paul Brown Stadium Sunday spewing more garbage than Jerry Springer.

That's because Spikes has heard it all before. This past offseason. When he worked out a few times with Sharpe in Atlanta.

"I don't let it get into my head," Spikes said.

Sharpe, the Ravens tight end, would pause and play it up with his standard shot at the Bengals. Such as, "Don't even worry about Cincinnati, guys. It's like being in Siberia. I wouldn't want to be there, man."

"We always go back and forth," Spikes said Wednesday. "I'd say something like, 'You're just riding the hype. You're no better than any other tight end.' It's friendly. We're good friends. It's just conversation. . . . I don't let it get into my head."

But Spikes admits there is enough extracurricular activities around this rivalry that make it a not-so friendly matchup. The Bengals remember how they were

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embarrassed last year in the 37-0 loss that claimed head coach Bruce Coslet and how Ravens head coach Brian Billick had his way with them in the last few minutes.

"Regardless of what Shannon says and what beef Billick and Coslet had, it goes deeper than that," said Spikes, failing to hide a sly grin. "Billick, I kind of X him out because he's not playing a snap on the field. But whatever comes out of the players' mouths, you know everything starts from the top. I'm excited to just have a chance to play against Coach Billick."

Spikes, a four-year veteran, has never been on a team that beat Baltimore. That's his message to Sharpe.

"This year is 2001. You're only as good as your last game," Spikes said. "Let's play. . .You can talk as much as you want to talk. What it comes down to is between the lines."

He admits Sharpe will have a tough offseason if the Bengals win: "I'll never shut up."

REFS BACK: The regular officials are back after missing the last preseason game and the regular-season opener when they settled on a new deal with the NFL owners that ESPN.com reported as a six-year contract that increases salaries 50 percent immediately and 100 percent in 2004.

Bengals President Mike Brown, who had been frustrated by the officials' failure to sign a deal sooner, indicated the owners' fuse had been short.

"I'm glad to have the officials back and wish it hadn't been so long," Brown said. "It's good for the game to have them back so the game can move on."

ELVIS EXPLAINS: Ravens quarterback Elvis Grbac said Wednesday he nearly signed with the Bengals back in March because he thinks they have a bright future. Spikes still isn't buying it.

"He put it in real terms and not dress it up," said Spikes of Grbac's decision to pass up a Cincinnati deal that had more in the first two years than Baltimore. "To me, I take that as a slap in the face. That he didn't want to come here because we weren't winning."

But the always pleasant Grbac went out of his way in the conference call with the local media to say at least twice that playing for the Bengals was "enticing," and that his decision had more to do with Ravens assistant coach Matt Cavanaugh.

Grbac admitted that with "four or five years," left at age 31, he was looking for a chance to get a Super Bowl ring as a starting quarterback.

"If you have a chance, you hope to take that opportunity, but that's not to take away from Cincinnati," Grbac said. "You never know how things might change during a year. Is it a long shot for them? No. I think talent wise they are right there with everybody, it's just you have to put everything together. (You) could have said that about Baltimore at the beginning of last year."

Grbac would have received more money from

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the Bengals in the first two years of their offer than the $7 million he gets from the Ravens and if Baltimore is as set on Chris Redman as people think, Grbac could be there only two years.

Grbac indicated Wednesday that the deciding factor could very well have been the presence of Cavanaugh, the Ravens offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach. Cavanaugh coached Grbac one season in San Francisco in 1996.

"His knowledge of the West Coast offense was a real comfort level for me to come in here and learn this offense," Grbac said. "There were other times in my career when I had a chance (to go) with Matt before. He went to Chicago one year when I became a free agent and they went with Rick Mirer. I thought I was at a point in my career I felt I had to get with somebody I felt comfortable with and trust. It was just a good fit for me.

"Nothing to take away from Cincinnati," Grbac said. "It was very, very enticing to come in there. I know what (Jon) Kitna is going through and why he signed there and I see some of the talent they have there. As a quarterback, you can see the future there is very, very bright."

Grbac, a Cleveland native (St. Joseph's High School) with friends in Cincinnati, makes a homecoming of sorts. But he has already had a role in Bengals' history.

He played in Dave Shula's last game as head coach when he and the injured Steve Young took turns at quarterback in the 49ers' 28-21 victory on Oct. 20, 1996. Before Young returned to engineer the winning rally, Grbac hit eight of 12 passes for 87 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

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