2-11-03, 3:45 a.m.
Updated: 2-11-03, 11 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
New Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis makes his debut on Broadway when Cincinnati opens its preseason the weekend of Aug. 7-11 against the New York Jets on the road. P>Specific dates and times have yet to be nailed down for the away games, but the Bengals come home to Paul Brown Stadium the next two Saturday nights for 7:30 p.m. games. The original schedule released Tuesday had the opponents flopped for the home dates. The correct matchups at home have the Bengals against Detroit Aug. 16 and Tennessee Aug. 23 before finishing the preseason in Indianapolis the weekend of Aug. 28-Aug. 31.
"We've been presented with a nice challenge," Lewis said.. "We're playing three playoff teams, plus a team (Detroit) with a new coach who consistently had San Francisco in the playoffs. Our defense will be facing some of the hottest quarterbacks from the end of last season, and there's a couple of top ten defenses (Tennessee and Indianapolis) for our offense to face."
Preseason opponents, game sites and weekend assignments for all teams were released Tuesday. This season, for the first time, the NFL is setting the preseason schedule, rather than having teams arrange their own matchups.
It's the first time the Bengals have played the Jets on the road in the preseason since a 28-17 loss in 1986 and the first time they've been in Jersey for the preseason since they lost to the Giants, 24-17, to open the 1998 schedule.
It's the Bengals' first preseason game ever against the former AFC Central rival Oilers/Titans after 67 regular-season and playoff games, and Lewis goes head to head against another first year coach when Steve Mariucci brings the Lions to town. The finale marks the 10th time in 11 years the Bengals have played the Colts in preseason.
TRADITION WALLED OFF: The Bengals may be riding a 12-year playoff drought. But the new era is relying a bit on the strength of tradition to condition the players that the bad old days are gone.
In the weight room renovation undertaken by new strength and conditioning coaches Chip Morton and Kurtis Shultz, buzz words from the Bengals new head coach are going to stand side by side quotes from their first head coach.
And, that new head coach, Marvin Lewis, is allowing only two pictures on the walls.
"P.B. and Anthony," said Lewis of Paul Brown and Anthony Munoz, the only two Bengals in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"That's what we aspire to do," said Lewis Monday of a spot in Canton. "That's one of the reasons we're in this business. It's a legacy where we should be proud."
Meanwhile, Morton and Shultz, his assistant, have been more like Sherwin Williams in their efforts to paint an impressionistic first day of
workouts on March 24. During this past weekend, the Paul Brown Stadium crews went to work painting the walls of the weight room white, measuring three sides for wall-to-wall mirrors, and charting the best way to flood the room with more light and color.
"This is the first place the players are going to see on March 24 and we want them to know right away that it's new and different and they can see the changes without any question," Morton said. "We're trying to enhance the pride of the organization and we want this to be a place guys want to come."
Enlarged photos of many Bengals of the past used to line the walls of the room, but now the new mirrors are going to be on three of the walls, plus the wall in front of the aerobic equipment.
"The mirrors open up the room and make it larger," Morton said. "Sometimes it's important to check out technique, and on the aerobics you can check your gait. Of course, there is some ego involved. They want to see the finished product.
"I'm not going to make a passing judgment on what motivates people," Morton said. "But certainly looking in a mirror is a lot better than staring at blank wall."
It won't be fancy walls. Morton has hustled around looking for logos and has come up with the Bengals' current striped helmet and the Bengals' original plain orange helmet. The plan is to put them next to each other, separated by a few words.
Morton, who worked with Lewis in Baltimore and Washington, already knows what kind of inspirational sayings the coach wants on the wall.
"Finish." One Play At A Time." "Outwork. Outhit. Outrun."
Morton has also settled on a Paul Brown quote to put on the wall. But, for now, he's leaving everyone in the dark.
"Check back on March 24," Morton said.
JACKSON RETIRES: John Jackson's football career has now gone full circle twice. Jackson, the Woodward High School product who came back to finish his career with the hometown Bengals during the 2000 and 2001 seasons with the class of a long-time pro, retired Monday from the team that gave him his start and greatest moments at left tackle during a news conference at the Steelers' facilities.
"John was really a great tackle. That's a tough position to play. John was there each week and really played through injuries, tough opponents and playoff games," said Steelers president Dan Rooney. "He was a player we could count on."
Jackson signed with the Steelers Monday and then retired after spending last year out of the NFL following his release from the Bengals in training camp. Richard Katz, Jackson's Cincinnati-based agent, said his return to Pittsburgh had nothing to
do with the treatment he received during his two-year stints in each San Diego and Cincinnati after leaving the Steelers following the 1997 season.
"That had nothing to do with it," Katz said. "He spent 10 years in Pittsburgh and he has a fondness for the Steelers because they drafted him and he helped them to the Super Bowl (in 1995). He felt it was the only way it could be done."
Jackson, who turned 38 last month, admitted it was difficult playing for the Bengals, but he wouldn't elaborate at the news conference.
"It's that old saying if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all," Jackson said. "They just have some major problems there. It was good to go back to my hometown, but the football aspect was a totally different story."
Jackson found himself out of a job in training camp after the Bengals took left tackle Levi Jones with the 10th pick in the draft and was satisfied he could back up Richmond Webb. But in a semi-surprise, the Bengals didn't try to re-sign Jackson after Webb was lost for the year in the fourth game of the season with a shoulder injury.
After nine seasons as the Steelers' starter in 13 playoff games and three AFC championship games, Jackson left to sign, at the time, biggest contract ever for an offensive lineman before the 1998 season in San Diego. He then hooked on with the Bengals in the first few days of the 2000 training camp as a backup to Rod Jones, but ended up starting five of the last 10 games, including running back Corey Dillon's NFL record 278-yard rushing game.
Jackson had called a news conference last August to retire, but called it off when there were some teams talking about signing him, but it never materialized.
"I don't think he had it out of his system yet," Katz said.
After 203 games and 14 years, it certainly appeared that way Monday when asked if he had any interest with the Steelers prepared to watch Wayne Gandy become a free agent.
"I've played in over 200 games. I'm done. You can stick a fork in me," Jackson said. "I'll talk to (Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher) later on. But no, I'm not trying to come back unless we go play golf somewhere. That's the only thing I'm going to play."
Jackson has settled in San Diego, where his wife (also a Cincinnatian) runs a salon. He may have gone full circle, but it's a long way from being a tenth-round pick out of Eastern Kentucky in 1988.
"I thought I was going to get cut," Jackson said of that rookie season. "I remember I started two preseason games. The first one was in New York against Lawrence Taylor and then we went to New Orleans against Pat Swilling. I'm thinking they are going to cut me. I did good against Lawrence Taylor, but Pat Swilling just went to school on me. I'm thinking, 'I'm going to be looking for a job pretty soon.' I was fortunate enough to make the team and just worked my butt off."
It was probably fitting for an offensive lineman, but Jackson's announcement came as the city still buzzed about former Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw's reaching out to former coach Chuck Noll during a Hall of Fame reconciliation at the Dapper Dan dinner Sunday night.
"It's finishing what I started. I am very thankful for Mr. Rooney and the Steelers organization for letting me do this because it means a lot to me," Jackson said. "It means a lot to me to wear this championship ring. It means a lot to me being known as a Pittsburgh Steeler. I spent 10 years here and the first year wasn't that good. We got better as the years went on. I'm just grateful that the city enjoyed us and I enjoyed the city of Pittsburgh. I'm a lineman and I always keep things short, so this is pretty short."