When Domata Peko returned this weekend as Ruler of the Jungle, he ran into a guy he calls "the new 94," even though Sam Hubbard has been a Paycor Stadium staple for six seasons.
That's because when "The Cincinnati Kid," was growing up, No. 94 belonged to "The Big Uso," the popular nose tackle who anchored three AFC North championships during 11 stout seasons in the middle. "Uso," means "brother," in Samoan and Peko was the big brother of four top seven defenses.
"I like (Hubbard) a lot. He's not just an edge. He plays the run really well. He's been holding up the 94," Peko said. "He was telling me he watched me growing up and how nice it was to have a legend in the house. He showed me a lot of respect."
Peko also got a chance during Saturday's walkthrough to meet for the first time a pair of players he inspired while he was playing for the Bengals who are now backups on his old defensive line, Josh Tupou and Jay Tufele.
"I told them how really great it was to see a couple of Polynesians holding it down," Peko said. "We talked a little football and I was telling them how proud I am of them representing our people out here in Cincinnati."
The Peko family always seemed to be together whether it was at training camp or at community events. But on Sunday, wife Anna was back home in Hollywood, Calif., running the restaurant they own and Domata Jr., a 6-5 wide receiver/tight end, is back there at UCLA in his red-shirt freshman year. Joseph, a high school sophomore, made the trip with his dad.
"When you see him, you'll think he's my freaking twin," Peko said. "He's a two-gapper, 6-3, 295. We're going to take a family trip back here next year. It's a lot of fun to be back. A lot of great memories."
They both wore a No. 15 jersey in honor of Chris Henry, the late Bengals wide receiver. Joseph wore a knit "15," stocking cap his father had made and handed out to the team when Henry died late in the 2009 season.
The image of the Steelers on the other sideline did nothing but fuel the nostalgia. It took him back to a 2010 Monday night game at Paycor when Peko took a snap and plowed the way for a Cedric Benson fourth-quarter touchdown that cut the lead to 27-21 in a game Pittsburgh held on.
"When I got a chance to run over Troy Polamalu, my friend, that's my favorite memory. They put me at full back and we needed that one," Peko said. "I thought I was going to be on a linebacker, but I ended up being on my good friend Troy and of the best safeties ever. Committed some Samoan-on-Samoan crime there."
Peko, who turns 39 Monday, remembers how those games would very nearly start with brawls before they even began. He thought the 2015 team was going to win the Super Bowl, a dream deferred when backup quarterback AJ McCarron's miraculous fourth quarter against the Steelers in the Wild Card evaporated at the gun.
"He's still here. He was another guy who I got to see and it was awesome," said Peko, Ruler of the Jungle on a day another backup quarterback takes the helm against the Steelers. "I'm with Jake (Browning) all the way. It seems like the team has his back. What a big dub it would be for them and the city."
MORE JAKE: Browning says he's learned a lot from watching Joe Burrow and on Sunday that may mean a little bit more than demeanor. Don't look for him to hold the ball, either.
Steelers three-time All-Pro game wrecker T.J. Watt is right where you'd think he'd be, tied for third in the NFL with 11.5 sacks. And he's made life miserable for Burrow and any other Bengals quarterback since 2017 with a third of his nine career sacks against them of the strip-sack variety. Throw in six tipped passes and two interceptions and Browning knows where he's lining up.
"For me, just in general, not having played a ton in live regular-season football, playing on time is very important," Browning said last week. "Don't just sit back there and pat the ball, and I think that comes into play more so when you're playing a good front four. I think part of what makes them so difficult is obviously he's very good, but when there's only one it's much different than when there are four legit threats.
"So you can't just help one side the whole time and leave the other guy on an island because they do have four legit guys. I think for me, it's just playing on time and not sitting with the ball back there and a lot of that stuff gets figured out with scheme and stuff like that."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Tufele, who has played seven games, was inactive as Hubbard returns after missing two games with an injured ankle …
With the return of rookie running back Chase Brown (hamstring) off injured reserve, Chris Evans was inactive …
Backup tackle D'Ante Smith, who surfaced on the injury report last week, was inactive along with backup center guard Trey Hill …
Ruled out on Friday, wide receiver Tee Higgins (hamstring) and cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt (quad) were inactive …