Bengals Strong

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 Reggie Williams: he worked out between city council sessions.

Kim Wood left the NFL weight rooms more than a decade ago, but the headlines he has zealously culled from Roy Rogers to Roger Goodell have never left and the men he knew who "ran on their own gas,' may never be more relevant.

Bengals founder Paul Brown tapped Wood as the NFL's first full-time strength coach 40 years ago and charged him with keeping his locker room clean from steroids and other chemical enhancers seeping into the Astroturf of the 1960s and 1970s.   Wood, a former University of Wisconsin running back who bench presses current events and made a fortune out of muscling weight training cleanly into the athletic mainstream, remains the conscience of the carbohydrate.

It just so happens that when news broke last week that the NFL plans  to interview players implicated by Al Jazeera in its documentary on performance enhancing drugs, Wood began his sixth annual football strength clinic.  The charges are alleged and the NFL Players Association is rising in their defense.

But the headlines sent Wood back to an even more dangerous and yet simpler time.  Nestled in Cincinnati's cozy Northside, Wood brought together his loyal band of disciples and mentors studying how to make the head safer and the rest of the body more equipped to deal with a modern game grappling to find that elusive sweet spot of safe violence.

The rules have changed so much that Wood says the pros have evolved into college ball and the collegians have morphed into the pro game he once knew. But one principle remains the same.

"The great athletes would do what Paul Brown talked about,' said Wood, 71, as he took a break in the proceedings this past weekend. "They had fierce hearts and they ran on their own gas. The great athletes didn't take drugs. And if you ever asked them to 'Hey, try this,' they'd probably punch you in the face. It was not a part of their ethic."

The anti-drug discussion rapidly becomes a round robin through Bengals history. The best and the brightest never opted for the stuff, Wood says, during the days steroids flowed throughout the league like Gatorade  

Tim Krumrie and James Brooks. Anthony Munoz and Reggie Williams. Isaac Fischer Curtis. And so many more.

"For five years, maybe more, Isaac was the best receiver in the game," Wood said.  "Isaac should be in the Hall-of-Fame. Reggie Williams was as good as some guys that are in the Hall of Fame. Kenny (Anderson) should be in the Hall of Fame. Kenny (Riley) should be in the Hall of Fame. We're paying the price of being a small-market team. Those guys weren't self-promoters. If we had won the Super Bowl, all those guys would be in the Hall of Fame."

This is about the time Wood starts to think about breakfast.

He hears that the Bengals and the rest of the NFL draws players to its massive, sparkling facilities for off-season training with not only work-out bonuses, but breakfast and lunch.  By the time Wood got out after the '02 season, the workout bonuses had just begun to crop up.

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The Riverfront Stadium steps led to four Pro Bowls for James Brooks (21).

But breakfast?

He understands times have changed. And that this is not the same NFL. But he also knows some pretty good players had fried eggs stopping by Weiland's bar and grill on the way to lift at Spinney Field back in the day.

"It was really a question of who were the pros?" Wood recalled. "The pros have evolved into the college game where your life is structured by somebody else and the colleges have evolved into pro football. We had a number of guys that were serious about being the best they could be as pro players. The good ones always got breakfast. They got it themselves. That was part of the whole Paul Brown thing. Responsible, resourceful. And the good ones were."

Where to start?

Why not with the lone Hall-of-Famer to play with the Bengals his entire career?

"Anthony Munoz was a tremendous athlete who just happened to come in a Double X-tra Large size," Wood said of the legendary left tackle. "He ran (five) miles a day (during the season). He was a third baseman and pitcher for a national champion baseball team at USC. No one had ever seen a guy like that at 285 pounds and he could move. The guys today are bigger, but they can't move."

Different game. But how different? How different when talking about a guy like Brooks, who rushed for more than 6,000 yards while catching 27 touchdown passes?

Wood remembers how Brooks pounded those stairs at Riverfront Stadium after they would drive the mile or so up from Spinney to get in their conditioning work. The offensive line would be halfway around and Brooks would be lapping them heading into his second trip.

"The Reds didn't want us there, but we'd go in and Brooks was like the Energizer Bunny. He just kept on going," Wood said. "Brooks was amazingly strong. He was a much smaller man than they let on; 180 pounds?

"Maybe. But he was made out of steel. Never complained. He used to get the crap knocked out of him and he'd jump up and say, 'That's the best you can do?' He would never show he was getting beat up. He was tremendously conditioned. One of the most admired people I've ever seen."

And then there was Krumrie, the 12-year nose tackle who became a cult hero with a throw-back violence and rugged individualism worthy of the Wild West. The tape of Krumrie grotesquely breaking his leg early in Super Bowl XXIII is burned into Wood's mind.

But what he remembers is the sound track.

"The footage didn't show him with a broken leg, trying to stand up," Wood said. "The footage didn't show him screaming at the team as they were carting him off, 'Forget me. Win the god ---- game.' He was a tough guy who was always in tremendous, tremendous shape. He cross-country skied. He wasn't a pretty boy. But there's never been a conditioned athlete like him. And the same thing with Reggie."

If there is the antithesis of how they went about the offseason in the 20th century compared to how they train in the 21st century, it is Williams, the outside linebacker who started both Super Bowls with Ivy League brains and MMA toughness.  His 206 games are second in Bengals history to only Riley's 207, and the most ever by a sitting Cincinnati City Councilman.

"He's in city council and he comes down to work out and he takes off his suit," Wood said. "It would be 15 to 20 minutes of hell. And he'd put his suit back on and go back to city council. He had to budget his time. We were fortunate that we had guys willing to do that."

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Tim Krumrie: 'Never been a conditioned athlete like him."

Sure, if Paul Brown came to Wood and said he had to pick two defensive co-captains, Williams and Krumrie would be close. But there are so many others, too. Like the corner Riley and the safety David Fulcher.

"I mean, no one tried their butt off more than Kenny Riley, a Hall-of-Famer," Wood said. "And Fulcher was a great, great player. You're talking about a 250-pound man and when the ball was in the air, he would pick it off."

But that doesn't mean Wood doesn't enjoy the current era, although he admits he's not as tied into it as he once was.

"It was fun to watch Peyton Manning. It's fun to watch this little red-haired guy," Wood said of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. "He tries his ass off and he's good. (A.J.) Green is an excellent player. The defensive linemen are good players. They've got it going on. They've got a good team. They haven't won the big ones, but that's football. They will. I think Marvin (Lewis) has done a pretty good job and I think everyone in the organization should be very proud. In the playoffs, sometimes you do, sometimes you don't. It's not a major flaw. The other guys won the game."

But it is also a different game. Fourteen years might as well be 40 when it comes to PEDs for the man whose legacy is Mr. Clean.

"The kind of drugs like growth hormone, which they don't have a real good test for, they didn't exist when I was in the game," Wood said. "It's much more complex. There are other types of drugs being used that weren't even thought of when I was there. Do I think the NFL has problem with that? They might have a problem. The complexities have greatly increased. When it comes to drugs you can't test for …."

Wood thinks there is really only one, true, noble answer and he has his proof from Brooks' stadium steps to Williams' city council suit to Krumrie's gritty resilience.

"They had a pride," Wood said. "And like Paul said, 'I respect people that run on their own gas.'"

 

Season Ticket Members enjoy an afternoon meet and greet with Bengals Rookies at Paul Brown Stadium 6/21/2016

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