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Bonding on the Bayou

Andrew Whitworth

If you ever see Andrew Whitworth on his cell phone with his wife for one of those long, drawn-out calls, he's not trying to copy down the grocery list. It's just another board meeting of the Big Whit 77 Foundation.

Melissa Clark Whitworth, a former Miss Louisiana, again held the state spellbound this weekend with the second annual Big Whit Weekend near his hometown of West Monroe, La. A group of 15 Bengals joined the Whitworths to raise money for their foundation earmarked for children issues, $50,000 alone coming in an auction that featured their Paul Brown Stadium suite for the Dec. 5 Saints-Bengals game.

"That looked like it was the biggest seller. We got $6,000 for that," Whitworth reported Monday at the Squire Creek Country Club as his celebrity golf tournament swung into action. "This morning I'm just helping set up for the awards and then this afternoon I'll go out and hit a few."

Mrs. Whitworth was doing double duty Monday. She was trying to get the right celebrities out with the right groups as well as entertaining the wives and girlfriends that had accompanied the players, such as Mrs. Crocker, Mrs. Palmer, Mrs. Peko and Mrs. Williams.

She took care of her dad. He was teamed with two quarterbacks, Carson Palmer and Patrick Ramsey, who may be headed to the Saints as a backup.

"Carson and Patrick have a lot to talk about," Whitworth said. "They're both big old hunters."

Bobbie Williams, Whitworth's fellow line leader, reported he hit them hard, hit them low, "and sometimes I hit them straight." 

Whitworth's best hit came the night before at Sunday night's sold-out dinner, just as Williams was buying the next expensive item at the auction. As Williams' bid on a package of suits percolated, Palmer introduced Whitworth to the crowd.

"Wow," said Williams of Whitworth's speech. "It was special. It blew everyone away. Once you heard the message, I haven't heard too many charities trying to attack (problems) like that."

Whitworth admitted it had been an emotional speech for him, laying bare how he envisioned the foundation. There were a few wet eyes in the house. He talked about his fellow Louisianan and old teammate, the late Chris Henry, and how he had come back from bad times to make a good life and how he wanted do that for the kids that need help in his hometown with mentoring.

"When you see a guy like Chris go through the changes he did, you know you can reach them," Whitworth said.

While the Bengals were preparing for the last day of the draft and his teammates were flying in, the Whitworths held a leadership conference with the 25 Whit's Warriors from Ouachita and Lincoln Parishes that each received a $1,000 college scholarship and a free laptop with all the bells and whistles. The couple interviewed candidates from a pool of applicants and not only looked for students with a minimum grade point average of 3.0, but also those who showed the potential to be leaders. The conference had breakout sessions with a motivational speaker, a minister, and Whitworth addressing the students.

There has been so much said about how far the Bengals locker room has come the past few years, but it may have taken an offseason weekend on the Bayou to find out just how far. They had missed Monday's workout at PBS, but a lot of the guys put in an extra day last Friday. Everybody was pretty much headed back to Cincy on Monday night and a lot of them were going to be back working Tuesday.

Whitworth, an offensive captain last year with Palmer as well as the club's NFL Players Association rep, and his mates showed a few traits of leadership themselves over the weekend. He got the offense and defense involved and had a nice smattering of guys from all over the roster. There were a couple of defensive leaders in tackle Domata Peko, safety Chris Crocker, safety Chinedum Ndukwe, and WILL linebacker Keith Rivers, as well as Whitworth's center, Kyle Cook, his backup, Anthony Collins, and his nemesis from a long-ago LSU-Arkansas game, newcomer Matt Jones.

And, of course, No. 9.

"That was big getting the big guy," Whitworth said. "I know he doesn't do many of these, but it was great to have him and for all the other guys to give up their weekend to support me. I think it shows what kind of team we've got. That's a lot of guys."

Husbands and wives closed up the restaurant Sunday night. Williams called it "kind of a mini vacation. It was like a reunion." Williams said there were a lot of laughs, helped along by the presence of the two biggest pranksters on the team, Carson and Jordan Palmer.

"Can't tell you," Williams said when asked to reveal some of their tricks over the weekend.

And, yes, the husbands talked a little draft.

"We talked about it in a brief overview and everybody seemed to like it," said Williams, fresh off the course. "The tight end is big and he can catch it and drag people. (Jordan) Shipley, nice pick. Some real good selections."

Whitworth said the guys were excited about the kids, but there was also some talk about last year. Since the subject of the weekend was a good deal about character, it came up again.

"We were talking about how we wanted to keep it going next year," Whitworth said. "We had a lot of success on the field and we overcame a lot of it. In the speech I talked about how we coped with death. Chris and Mrs. (Vikki) Zimmer. I think that showed a lot of character. And we talked about trying to keep that same standard. It should be a high standard to be a Cincinnati Bengal and we want to keep that going."

It turned out to be a pretty good deal.

The Whitworths ended up hosting two leadership conferences last weekend.

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