The only thing that doesn’t fit for Billy Price is the No. 54.
That’s the number Price wore all through high school in northeast Ohio and later through a school-record 55 straight starts at Ohio State before the Bengals made him their starting center in Thursday night’s first round of the NFL Draft.
But as the first player ever drafted by Bengals founder Paul Brown 50 years ago when Brown did the very Midwest thing and famously pronounced you can’t start the game until the ball is snapped, No. 54 went to Tennessee center Bob Johnson and no one has worn it since Johnson retired a decade later.
Price gets all that. After all, he’s a Midwest guy and that’s why he loves the fit. From Friday morning’s 4.5-hour ride from Youngstown to Paul Brown Stadium to the welcome from his boss, the ultimate Ohio guy in Mike Brown, to the familiar face in the equipment room, former Ohio State uniform czar Sam Staley.
“These are my people,” said the energetic, passionate Price after a vintage business casual news conference in which he was all business and not very casual. “It’s the best fit for me. The same mindset. We’re cut from the same cloth. You can pick out a Midwesterner in a crowd pretty easily.”
Price thought he had his new quarterback pegged for one when he met Andy Dalton in the Bengals locker room. After all, there were his two kids, Noah, 3, and Nash, 1, running around like blitzing Vontaze Burficts until wife Jordan arrived in the equipment room to save everybody in a Midwestern vignette. Almost immediately she was getting Price’s girlfriend, Taylor Reed, into the loop of the Significant Others.
The Daltons call Dallas and Houston home? That took Price by surprise.
“It’s very welcoming,” Price said. “Somebody not flashy, not rah-rah. It’s, ‘Let’s go to work.’”
Even his agents are from Ohio. IHC in Cleveland.
Take the drive down. Price and Reed left about 5:30 in the morning to make sure they made the 12:05 p.m. appointment with Bengals president Mike Brown to begin their day.
“I like to drive,” Price said. “We went to Fort Myers (Florida) last year and it took 19-and-a-half hours. I wanted a car there, so I just wanted to pay for gas. Small SUV. Thirtysomething miles a gallon. Give me a car, a truck, I’m rolling down.”
It was Price’s second meeting with Brown, the Massillon native bred in Cleveland who helped make Cincinnati a big-league town.
“I had a long conversation with him in my top 30 meeting with him,” said Price of his visit to PBS in the first week in April. “His father coached at Ohio State, Massillon, Cleveland, the whole 10 yards. You have that history, you have that lineage. It’s a respect. I’m excited to work for him.”
The joke of the day was how Price’s shaved head gave him a startling resemblance to offensive line coach Frank Pollack. The symbolism is shiny. Pollack and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor are ripping up the scheme. Another perfect fit, only this time for a rookie center.
“I think it kind of evens the playing field for the competition,” Price said. “Especially you’re trying to earn a job. It’s a situation where having everybody who is brand new in a brand new system with a new terminology, there are spots to be won.”
If the shoe fits. And it does.
“It’s what I wanted,” Price said.