The '88 Bengals reunion was probably a lot like that high school bash you went to a few years back. A few bills. A few thrills. A few chills.
The uproarious stories (Cris Collinsworth's recruiting trip to USC hosted by Anthony Munoz) were spiced by emotional moments (defensive linemates Eddie Edwards and Tim Krumrie seeing each other for the first time in decades) and capped by the one person's serious reflection.
David Fulcher offered this one, recalling how head coach Sam Wyche's decision in training camp to room black with white not only brought that team together to win the AFC title but kept them close for 30 years.
"Turk Schonert and I don't look alike," said Fulcher, the game-changing African-American safety of one of those backup quarterbacks with the flowing locks that might as well be blond. "He asked me, 'Where do you get your hair cut?' I told him, 'They won't cut your hair.' … That was the turning point … We trusted each other."
But your high school graduation didn't have Reggie Williams reciting from memory "Invictus," recalling how the poem is what he remembered through the haze of 24 knee surgeries, an Aortic dissection and a stroke. Not his social security nor his kids' names. But, "In the fell clutch of circumstance/I have not winced nor cried aloud. /Under the bludgeonings of chance/My head is bloody, but unbowed."
The poem is also how Williams saw the character of the Bengals' two Super Bowl defenses and more than one '88 defender remembered during the two days how they didn't allow more than 20 points in any of those three play-off games.
"Oh my God. It's great," said Collinsworth during a break in the festivities last week that were centered around the historical re-enactment in the 34-23 Paul Brown Stadium opening win over the Ravens. "We haven't been together so long and we're telling the same stupid stories. We're just having fun."
And the same old lines.
When Rodney Holman's famous gravelly voice got up to say a few words during an event for selected season ticket holders hosted by Bengals radio voices Dan Hoard and Dave Lapham, right tackle Joe Walter couldn't resist.
"Get that frog out of your throat, Rodney," Walter joked as his mates roared with laughter. "I never understood anything you said."
But it was guys like Holman on offense and Eddie Edwards on defense that got their due during the reunion.
Celebrating the 30th reunion of the 1988 Super Bowl team with former players and coaches.
"An honorary O-lineman," is what the line said, handing Holman the ultimate compliment as the starting tackles, Walter and his Hall-of-Fame bookend Anthony Munoz, reminisced how he was the best all-round tight end in the game.
Thanks to left end Carlos Dunlap and defensive tackle Geno Atkins and their pursuit of the Bengals' all-time sack record, fans have heard the name Eddie Edwards and his 83.5 sacks that played in both Super Bowls. Before he left one of the evenings of celebration, Bengals president Mike Brown made sure he said goodbye.
"You were super," Brown told him.
Edwards, who played at about 250-255 pounds, was shocked that Dunlap weighs about 290 pounds. "He doesn't move like he's that big." But then, the lanky 6-5 Edwards, who gave a glimpse of the Dunlaps to come, showed up at the reunion at 220 pounds.
"He was good for a bucket of chicken every day," Collinsworth said. "It looks like he hasn't had one in a month … Oh yeah, he was good. If he played today he would have been more famous. Sacks were just starting to become a stat."
Or, if he was in a different defense.
"I played in a 3-4," Edwards said. "If I played in a 4-3, I would have had about 100 sacks."
"He's probably right," Collinsworth said.
Edwards and Krumrie, the cult-hero nose tackle with the intensity of a furnace, almost broke down when they saw each other. You have to remember when Krumrie broke in that '83 season, Edwards was in his seventh year.
"I had to calm him down a little bit," Edwards said. "He was always trying to bull rush. I'd tell him, 'Young Grasshopper, take a side."
Edwards has been watching Dunlap and is impressed with his size and speed. He knows records are made to be broken: "I just hope I'm not around to see it."
And it was a good reunion for the senior superlatives, too. But Collinsworth's network blazer and Munoz's Hall-of-Fame gold jacket were on hangers in a come-as-you-are gab-fest. Collinsworth made the mistake of reminding Munoz how he hosted him at USC for a visit when Munoz was a freshman and Collinsworth was a wide-eyed high school senior from Florida looking to do up Hollywood.
But he was crestfallen when Munoz made him leave a Lakers game after one quarter and brought him back to the hotel. He gave him 20 bucks and told Collinsworth, "They've got a great cheeseburger," and drove off.
"Come to find out USC had given him $200," is how Collinsworth delivered the punch line.
But Munoz counterpunched with "You've got to admit that was a good cheese burger … They didn't know what position you were going to play. Wide receiver. Quarterback. I'm used to seeing wide receivers that are 6-1, 6-2, 210 pounds. He gets in my car and he's 6-5, 145 pounds. I'm thinking I'm pocketing all this money."
Now with the laughter turned against him, Collinsworth could only smile and mutter while sitting down, "I shouldn't have said anything."
It's a good thing Ray Horton did.
Not only did that'88 team give the NFL some great announcers (Collinsworth, Boomer Esiason, Solomon Wilcots), but it launched some long NFL coaching careers for guys like Krumrie, Schonert and Horton, a smart, versatile DB on that team tailor made to coach. So Horton, who coached the Bengals defensive backs for six seasons at the turn of the century before becoming a coordinator for two other clubs, invoked the name of the best coach of them all.
After thanking the Brown family for putting the reunion together and noting that Mike's wife Nancy was one of their most devout tailgaters and supporters then and probably now, Horton told a story.
How Paul Brown took the old Cleveland Browns to Miami for a game in the '40s and when the hotel people told him black players weren't allowed but the whites were, Brown responded, "We all stay or none of us stay."
"I made sure I told that story to my players," Horton said.
Maybe it wasn't like that high-school reunion you went to a few years ago.