Braham cleared

10-2-01, 9:35 p.m. Updated:
10-3-01, 1:45 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Bengals center Rich Braham has been cleared to play Sunday against the Steelers after a Cleveland doctor examined his herniated neck disc Wednesday morning at the Cleveland Clinic. Bengals trainer Paul Sparling said Dr. Gordon Bel concurred with some local doctors in determining Braham is at minimal risk.

Braham got the third opinion after after an encouraging morning-long exam Tuesday by a spine specialist.

"The number one thing you worry about with your neck is getting paralyzed," Braham said Tuesday. "I'm told I have as much chance as anybody else on the field. I don't have any numbness or tingling. It was good to get some reassurance."

They did bring in two veteran free-agent centers for tryouts Tuesday in Quentin

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Neujahr, a seven-year player who has been with three clubs, and John Romero, a sixth-round pick of the Eagles a year ago.

Braham's backup, Brock Gutierrez, says he can play despite three small bones that are broken in his back. The next option is right guard Mike Goff, who has pretty much played center only in pre-season games.

But Braham, who turns 31 next month, is optimistic he'll be able to play in Sunday's game at Pittsburgh.

"I've played with it the last two weeks and I don't think it has affected my performance," Braham said. "I hurt it in the New England game and I got it checked because it didn't get any better, but it didn't get worse, either. When you get hit 100 times a game, it's going to get stiff. But I only have to move my head a little bit."

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FOR OPENERS:** The Bengals open another building for an AFC Central foe Sunday when they play the Steelers in the first game ever at Heinz Field. The Bengals lost, 36-35, to the Titans at Adelphia Coliseum on Sept. 12, 1999, but they hope tradition holds in the Big Three Rivalry. Cleveland beat the Bengals in the Paul Brown Stadium opener last year and Pittsburgh beat Cleveland in the opener of the Browns' stadium in 1999.

TV STARS: Bengals' games have been the top-rated programs in the Cincinnati TV market for the past two weeks.

Last Sunday's 28-14 loss to the Chargers in San Diego

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drew a 24.5 rating (percentage of sets in the market tuned to a program) and a 45 share, which indicates the percentage of sets in use. So nearly half the viewers in the market watched the game that began at 4:15 p.m. The No. 2 program this past week was "Everybody Loves Raymond," with a 23.6 rating and 31 share.

For the Sept. 23 win over the Ravens at PBS in which the NFL's local blackout was listed, the Bengals led the market at an 18.8 rating and 39 Share. "Access Hollywood," was second that week at 17.9 and 35, respectively.

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