Bengals Pack them in

6-2-04, 6:15 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Before working the line like Kerry and Bush only hope they can in this battleground state, Bengals Pro Bowl wide receiver Chad Johnson strolled up to one of the Paul Brown Stadium ticket windows Wednesday and startled the customers with the proclamation, "All tickets half off."

He was kidding , of course, but all Bengaldom was as serious could be Wednesday in producing the biggest one day ticket sale since its club went to the Super Bowl 16 years ago.

There were no specific numbers to the response for the four two-game ticket packages that include the first two prime-time telecasts in PBS history. But there was plenty of tangible evidence, ranging from the crowd of 150 along the plaza that greeted ticket sellers at 9 a.m. and the early indications that the tickets sold in the first two hours beat last year's entire first day of sales.

The wait on the plaza for tickets was as long as two hours, but it was interspersed with such moments as head coach Marvin Lewis shaking hands with the customers before Wednesday's practice, director of business development Troy Blackburn dispatching bottles of water to those waiting, and Johnson shaking hands with everyone standing outside in line.

"We're waiting in line to see you play," said one fan," and when Johnson nodded, another asked, "Hey Chad, how long is the wait?"

Johnson turned and raised his arms and said, "It's worth it."

Brandon Rau, 23, and Nick Simpson, 22, of Amelia, might not have been so sure until Johnson showed up.

"He's the man. This makes me feel better about standing out here. He's awesome," Simpson said.

Rau, who works third shift at 3M as a pressman, got off a 12-hour stint at 7 a.m., but there he was fighting the noon day sun in a Seven Dust T-Shirt.

"When we couldn't get through on the phone, we decided to come down," Rau said.

The club had its Automatic Call Distribution system as well as an estimated 21 sales representatives working the phones that never stopped.

"There's no question that we were prepared, it's just that the sheer volume of calls takes time," said ticket manager Tim Kelly. "The response has been fabulous. It's really great to see and we really appreciate the fans' enthusiasm and support. Preparing packages takes a little bit longer than single-game tickets, but all we can ask is for people to have patience, stay in line, or stay on hold, and we'll be with you as soon as possible."

Wednesday's response puts the Bengals ahead of last year's pace, when they set a franchise attendance record of 479,488, which included five sellouts and the four largest crowds in club history.

The four two-game packages are:

PACK D: Nov. 28 vs. the Cleveland Browns, and Dec. 19 vs. the Buffalo Bills in a reunion game against former Bengals linebacker Takeo Spikes and former Bengals head coach Sam Wyche, now the Bills quarterbacks coach.

Single game tickets for the pre-season games also went on sale Wednesday. Fans may purchase Ticket Packs and pre-season single game tickets by calling the Bengals Ticket Hotline. In Greater Cincinnati, call (513) 621-TDTD (8383). Outside of the local Cincinnati area, call toll free at (866) 621-TDTD (8383).

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