1-31-01, 9:15 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
NEW ORLEANS _ Dustin Cohen, the seventh-grader who had the "SWAT Team," poster of the Bengals secondary, remembers right where he watched them play in Super Bowl XXIII.
The living room in White Oak.
And he remembers exactly what he was doing after Stanford Jennings went 93 yards with a kickoff for the touchdown that gave Cincinnati that numbing but fleeting 13-6 lead over the 49ers with 15:34 left in the game.
Pounding pots and pans on his front porch.
Now it is 13 years later and there is heat in the kitchen. Cohen, a backup linebacker, becomes the first Miami of Ohio product to ever play in a Super Bowl Sunday when he mans every Rams' special team in an all-out assault on New England's dangerous Troy Brown
"Dustin is a very gifted guy and he's been tremendous for us," said Bobby April, the Rams' estimable special teams coach. "He's got a knack for diagnosing plays and having a panoramic view of the field. And he knows the game."
Cohen is looking to prevent some 12-year-old kid in Framingham, Mass., or Waldoboro, Maine, or anywhere in New England from going nuts over a Brown return for a touchdown. Such as his 55-yard punt return that blew open last week's AFC championship game for the underdog Pats in Pittsburgh.
Of course, Cohen wouldn't mind making some noise in Missouri.
"If I'm blocking for one," Cohen said. "That would be nice."
The 6-4, 240-pound Cohen will be on the front line on kick return. No. 56 will be inside on the punt teams. Kick cover?
"Can't tell you that," Cohen said with a smile of the plan for Brown's double trouble.
But he will tell you he believes he's not only the first Miami player to ever be Super, but also the first one
from Summit Country Day in suburban Cincinnati, where he scored 45 touchdowns in a dominating prep career he was all-league at quarterback, receiver and linebacker.
"I'll probably keep that title for a while," he said.
Before even playing for Summit, Cohen had an even greater NFL career in his backyard in games with his brothers and father. He and his brothers would call out the names of the Bengals they wanted to be.
On defense, Cohen was strong safety David Fulcher or nose tackle Tim Krumrie . On offense, he would be running back James Brooks and sometimes quarterback Boomer Esiason.
"My younger brother was usually Boomer because he was left-handed," Cohen said.
The younger brother is a difficult subject. A.J. Cohen died in a fire in December of 2000 during his senior year at the University of Dayton. It's clearly been an emotional subject for Cohen here this week, but he has been softly, patiently and intelligently answering the questions.
It hasn't been an easy year on the field, either. He missed nine games with a bruised knee at the end of the regular season, but the Rams opted not to put him on injured reserve because of what happened last week in the NFC championship game. They wanted him on special teams and he was healthy.
"Nothing like coming back for a big game, huh?," Cohen asked.
But Cohen, who succeeded Miami teammate and current Bengals strong safety JoJuan Armour as the MAC Defensive Player of the Year, is used to big games.
After getting cut by the Bills and Bears, Cohen signed with the Rams near the end of the 2000 season and made his NFL debut in St. Louis' Wild Card playoff loss here to the Saints.
"This is the third team I've been on and these guys are more than great players," said Cohen of playing with the Warners and Faulks. "They're great guys. We've got four receivers who could be a No. 1 receiver on any other team. And they're so unselfish."
Rams General Manager Charley Armey has high hopes for Cohen sticking around to experience more of it.
"We're very high on him," Armey said. "He's just the kind of guy we want around here. He's tough. He's smart. He's an excellent athlete. He's a very productive guy."
The assignment on stopping Brown, the NFL's leading punt returner with three touchdowns this year?
"We have to tackle," Cohen said. "And we have to make him go from side to side and not let him go up the middle."
And he hopes to help silence the seventh-graders of New England.