The Bengals like Giovani Bernard's feel for the game and it turns out that their rookie running back also had a feel for them before they took him in the second round on Friday.
"I just had a feeling about this place," Bernard said of his pre-draft visit to Paul Brown Stadium a few weeks ago. "I just wanted to say 'thank you' for taking the time to sit down and talk to me and just spend time."
So Bernard did what he didn't do for the other interested NFL teams and wrote thank you notes to Bengals president Mike Brown, running backs coach Hue Jackson, and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.
When Bernard stood in the doorway of the draft room Saturday, he was able to thank them in person for a lot more than that. He gave a salute and "Thank you," and when he marched over to Brown to shake his hand, Brown said, "Thank you for your note."
"Thank you for the pick," Bernard said.
Jackson smiled as he watched Bernard own the draft room for his five-minute stop during his encore PBS tour, striking up conversations with everyone from director of player personnel Duke Tobin to defensive line coach Jay Hayes to wide receivers coach James Urban.
Until Jackson told him, "C'mon Gio, we've got to go."
Bernard himself called it at Saturday's news conference that featured the bountiful take from Friday. Along with Bernard on the podium were SMU defensive end Margus Hunt and Georgia safety Shawn Williams.
He says he brings versatility and personality and it must be plenty because with the 37th pick he was drafted before Bengals all-time leading rusher Corey Dillon (43 in 1997), single-season leader Rudi Johnson (fourth round in 2001), and Pro Bowler Harold Green (38 in 1990). In fact, the only back taken higher than Bernard since Ki-Jana Carter went No. 1 overall in 1995 is Chris Perry (26) in 2004.
"He obviously had the characteristics we're looking for," Jackson said of Bernard's elusiveness in the run game and niftiness in the pass game. "But he's an unbelievable young man. He's not only a good football player, but I think he's a good person. He brings a lot to the organization. He's confident and I'm kind of that way. I like guys that believe in themselves. This league is tough. It will bring you to your knees, but I don't think it will bring this young man to his knees."
If life hasn't done it to Bernard by now, he'll stand up in the NFL just fine. Listening to Hunt tell his story of leaving Estonia as a national celebrity and landing in America as a 25-year-old second-round pick, Bernard shook his head on the podium.
"I'm finding out a lot about this guy," Bernard said. "It's amazing."
But Bernard's story is just as riveting and good.
He lost his mother to thyroid cancer when he was seven and a few years later his father lost virtually everything else. While Bernard was growing up, his family relied on the kindness of family and friends. He has been known to have on his left wrist a tattoo of his mother's name in cursive, "Josette," along with a pair of stars.
"I lost my cars. I lost my business. I lost my house," said Yvens Bernard. "But things are much better now. Giovani is good kid. He's a smart kid."
Yvens, 53, is back on his feet. A dry cleaner by trade ever since he lasted three days in the ocean getting to the United States from his native Haiti 34 years ago, he is now running Regal Cleaners in the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., area. He says he took it over from the former owner with no down payment and he's holding it down with just himself and a cousin of Giovani's.
"He almost didn't make it back in time before I got picked," Gio said of his draft day get-together. "He had to leave work. He's always working.
"He did a great job raising me as a single father. It was hard not knowing where the next meal was coming from. And it was hard watching your dad struggle. But he's doing well now."
Naturally, Bernard's dad was working Saturday as his son made his Cincinnati debut and he politely took a call only because "it's about my son."
"I start at three in the morning and I finish at 10 p.m.," Yvens said. "Before, I was working to eat. Making $250 a week. So I know what it's like. If I can work, I'm going to work."
His son is ready to work in his new town and Yvens is glad to hear how polite he has been. He named him "Giovani" after a long-ago friend from technical school when he first came to America.
"He was very popular at the school. He had a lot of friends. Everybody liked him and I always said, 'When I have a son, I'm going to name him, 'Giovani,' " Yvens said. "He became a doctor. I've lost touch with him for 21 years."
It is looking like his namesake is going to be a pretty popular guy, too.