Catching nostalgia

Posted: 6:10 a.m.

It turns out that Bob Trumpy is as irreverent now as a grandfather as he was as the father of Cincinnati sports talk radio or as the godfather of the NFL's game-breaking tight ends.

The man who once dared Paul Brown's iron fist has moved on to much more dangerous heights. While treating his granddaughters to Dunkin' Donuts after their soccer games, Trumpy lets them have the right side of the menu even though their mother says, "No."

"Of course," says Trumpy with the laugh that, in the end, always seems to win you over after one of his scalding Extra Large comments to go.

Even though Trumpy is getting the Nostalgia Award at Saturday's Hamilton County Hall of Fame dinner, the laugh tells you he isn't going anywhere. Just like that first Bengals training camp 40 years ago when he arrived out of the 12th round to make Brown's first team.

For the first time since '68 and that summer of tears and tear gas and Nixon, Humphrey and Warren McVea, Trumpy won't be around the NFL. At least not traveling around the league announcing games. At 63, there are things to do at home.

"I've got a 12-year grandson who is a hell of an athlete, so I like to see him play. I've got a 16-year-old nephew that's already committed to play football at Northwestern, so my brother can get me free tickets to those Big Ten games," Trumpy says. "And I've got three grandkids in Montgomery that are all athletes. The oldest is a really good soccer player. She leads her team in scoring and she plays with a smile on her face from the time the game begins until it ends."

But you didn't think Trumpy would go quietly, right? He has had a few conversations with WLW radio about returning to do some kind of work locally when the season gets going and how can "The Big One" say no to the guy that has what WLW producer Seg Dennison calls, "The Voice of God."

It's like what Bengals president Mike Brown said last week at the team's own nostalgia night during the alumni dinner. While introducing Trumpy to the team's rookies, Brown recalled a recent observation from a WLW exec that Trumpy carried the station on his back in the '70s and '80s.

"The traveling just got too old," Trumpy says. "But I'd like to stay in it close to home."

Wait a minute.

Go back a second.

Mike Brown praising Bob Trumpy? Calling him one of the franchise greats?

"You'd have to say that the years have probably mellowed them," says Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham, Trumpy's teammate who followed him into the booth. "At least Mike. Fifteen years ago Mike never would have said that about him."

Brown picked out Trumpy and the team's first draft pick ever, Bob Johnson, to make his point to the kids. No matter how you get to the NFL, you can not only stay, but you can become a mainstay. And not only on the team, but in the community.

Of course, Brown admitted with a laugh that Trumpy never hesitated using him as fodder to help him carry the station on its back.

"Hey, I've never been a sniper; Mike knows where I am," Trumpy says. "Publicly, I've been very critical of the way he's run the franchise. In a proactive league, you can't be reactive. But privately, when I've asked him to do favors for ex-players, or whenever I've come to him with something, he's always come through."

Trumpy admits it's a bit amazing. His wife Pat has been lifelong friends with Brown's wife Nancy. In fact, the foursome of Nancy, Pat, Jane Wyche and Katie Stofa is as tight today as it was that summer when their husbands helped start the Bengals.

Maybe Mr. Irreverent isn't all that irreverent.

Trumpy lives 600 yards from the first home he ever bought in Glendale in 1972. He's thankful for the opportunity Paul Brown gave him and still remembers business manager John Murdough giving him his first game check on the flight home from San Diego.

$644.

"I thought that was pretty cool," he says.

And he thinks somewhere in someone's files is the 1970 letter Trumpy's father wrote to Paul Brown thanking him for helping turn his son into a man.

"I think that's what it said, but I never read it," Trumpy says. "Paul waved it in front of my face once, but he didn't let me read it. That's the same day we poked each other in the chest."

OK, Mr. Irreverent.

That's the day Trumpy's producer told him he would either become an ex-Bengal or a broadcaster. Trumpy, in the first year of his retirement, opted for the latter and ripped Brown on the air for the firing of head coach Tiger Johnson while charging that Johnson could never establish himself because Brown was always looking over his shoulder.

"Like I said, I'm not a sniper. I wanted to make sure Paul saw me the next day so I went to practice," Trumpy says. "And he just blistered me in front of everyone. We were pointing at each other and he was right in my face. Bo Harris, who was a linebacker at the time, said Paul won the war of gestures."

Since then, Trumpy has never turned away from any discussion with anyone in any era.

He was "The Source," inflaming the Pete Rose discussion of 20 years ago. About 10 years ago one of the Two Angry Guys, Richard Skinner, became angrier still when he threw his headset at him after Trumpy kept insisting that Chris Stynes should be the Reds leadoff hitter and what did Skinny know since he never played the game?

And just a few years ago he had a couple of celebrated walkouts with host Lance McAlister on HOMER during their weekly Bengals show.

But to this day Trumpy is one of the biggest supporters of McAlister's son Casey and his fight against leukemia, and Trumpy said he advised him last year as McAlister mulled that 6-9 p.m. Sports Talk slot on WLW that Trumpy made his own.

And Skinner says, "You won't find a nicer guy. A great guy."

He's just got an opinion on everything.

"Trump's always been the contrarian. He loves a good debate any time. He did even in the locker room," Lapham says.

What is forgotten in all the finger poking is that Trumpy had Pro Bowl hands. The first Bengals tight end still has more touchdowns (35) and yards per catch (15.4) than those that have come after him. If Paul Brown and Bill Walsh crafted the perfect offense for the '70s and '80s with the West Coast, then they had the perfect tight end.

"He was a matchup nightmare," Lapham says. "Too quick for linebackers. Too big for safeties. Tough. Reliable. And he was an underrated blocker. He was a good one."

Trumpy remembers.

He remembers how in his last season of '77 at Riverfront in a driving rain he caught a double flanker reverse pass to beat Don Shula's Dolphins and help knock them out of the playoffs.

"For 10 to 15 years after that, whenever Shula would see me, he would swear and shake his head and say, 'Trumpy, the rain and that (bleep) double pass.' "

Trumpy saw guys like Shula plenty when he was a mainstay of NBC's NFL coverage. Dennison, who got the now iconic nickname "Seg" from Trumpy because of the initials that come from what his grin eats, remembers helping Trumpy prepare for those weekly assignments.

"Say he'd be doing the Chargers and Broncos in Denver," Dennison says. "He'd say, 'I need to talk to (Broncos coach) Dan Reeves.' I'd call, ask for Reeves and say Bob Trumpy is calling. The next thing you know, they're on hold waiting for him. He's got the juice. Unbelievable. When he came over to 'LW from 'CKY, it was huge news. Bigger than big."

Trumpy, naturally, has an opinion on where sports talk has gone sine he was on the cutting edge.

"It used to be three hours a day, five days a week," he says. "Now it's 150 hours a week. It's on all the time. It can wear you out. It can become tiresome."

And to no surprise, he's no fan of the NFL Network, the establishment's station. But not because of that.

"Too much instant analysis," he says. "This is a hard game. It's Xs and Os. You can second-guess everything. You have to be smart about it."

If Trumpy was one of the best tight ends of his era, he was an even better announcer.

Highlights?

Back-to-back Super Bowls in the booth for NBC with Dick Enberg for the back-to-back Dallas blowouts of the Bills. Oscar De La Hoya's Olympic Gold in the boxing finals. Three Ryder Cups.

"No event," he says of the Ryder, "peels an athlete like an onion like that one. It turns legs into jelly."

Trumpy doesn't like where the '08 Bengals sit. He remembers how Paul Brown built the team in '68, relying on the blueprints he used to start the Cleveland Browns in the mid-1940s.

"He'd tell us where we were in relation to them; he would compare us," Trumpy says. "We might be behind in one area, or ahead in another. Generally, it was a positive look and we felt pretty good about ourselves. Yeah, it was football from 20 years ago and the game had changed. But those were also some great teams."

The reason Trumpy is concerned about this year's edition isn't so much the defense, although that's a problem, too. He says the Bengals have to surround one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

"Paul Brown always started with the offensive and defensive lines," Trumpy says. "Our smartest players were always on defense. He always had a big fullback and an accurate quarterback."

Trumpy has high praise for head coach Marvin Lewis ("Where he's taken this franchise from where it was, you can't say enough about that," he says), but Trumpy knows what everyone else knows:

"They have to win," he says.

In the meantime, he'll tell them how to do it.

Somewhere.

"The Nostalgia Award?" Trumpy asks. "Are they trying to tell me something?"

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