CommUNITY Night set for Aug. 25

6-21-01, 6:05 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Pat DeWine, who is as old as the Bengals, grew up an hour away in a leafy chunk of Ohio in Greene County.

Even before he ever saw a game on the river with his Dad, DeWine remembers all the kids throwing around a Nerf ball and declaring they were Isaac Curtis.

Akiva Freeman, who isn't quite as old as the Bengals, never got a chance to go down to the river growing up in Avondale.

But Freeman remembers being in the crowd in third grade at the St. Mark's School Bengals' rally in Evanston that Friday before Super Bowl XVI. How the whole school was there, grades 1-8, and how the Catholic school dress code changed that day to anything orange and black.

"Growing up I liked Isaac Curtis," Freeman said, "because I liked wide receivers."

DeWine is a white guy who is a Cincinnati city councilman. Freeman is a black guy who is a manager for Duke Realty and would like to be elected to council.

They both grew up with Isaac and a city they still love. Which is about the best way to explain Thursday's news conference at Paul Brown Stadium.

In announcing CommUNITY Night for Aug. 25, the Bengals donated 5,000 tickets to their first game of the season at Paul Brown Stadium when they play the Buffalo Bills in a pre-season game.

The ticket-holder also receives a concessions voucher for a hot dog, chips and soda.

Community leaders plan to disperse the tickets to groups across the city at a later date with the emphasis on youth. It's the latest bid by the town to move beyond racial strife that gripped Cincinnati during the spring in the wake of a spate of shootings of African-Americans by police officers.

It's not the magic solution. But maybe it can help just a little on the way to magic.

"If there is an institution in this city that is an amalgamation," said Bengals President Mike Brown, "we have everybody. Black and white. Catholic

and Protestant and Muslims. We have even Democrats and Republicans.

"We all work together," Brown said. "No one here asks how do you vote, what color you are. There's only one question our people ask. ' What can you do for the team? To make the team better?' . . .It's a very American message that in our town . . .Not only does it pay to work together, I think it pays to play together."

Mike Allen is the Hamilton County prosecutor who will help decide which groups get the tickets. He's thrilled to have a hand in helping 5,000 kids make a memory who otherwise would have no shot of ever going to a NFL game.

Like Freeman, Allen was a Catholic schoolboy. Only he was on the West Side of Cincinnati prepping for Elder High School when he saw his first game during that inaugural season of 1968.

Allen was 13 that fall and about all he remembers from that day at Nippert Stadium was the cold and those weren't the Cleveland Browns out there. It was his very own team in his own city.

"I remember watching their first playoff game on TV," Allen said. "It was in Baltimore and I really liked Johnny Unitas, but I was rooting for the Bengals. Those are the kind of games you don't forget. I was a big fan of Greg Cook."

Allen is 45 and West Side. But you can have the same conversation with Col. Ronald Twitty, 50, from Avondale, and Cincinnati's assistant police chief.

Twitty was one of the 25,049 at Nippert for the first game. He was 18, took his girlfriend, and was hooked when the Baby Bengals beat the Broncos, 24-10. Twitty had been a big follower of Jimmy Brown and his Cleveland Browns. But no more.

"The thing I liked about those early teams is even though they got beat, they played hard and played good games," Twitty said. "I had followed Greg Cook when he played at (the University of) Cincinnati, throwing to Jim O'Brien. The games were never over."

Twitty also loved the fact you could bump into those players anywhere. They were a part of the community because they were in the community. Two guys he remembers seeing around his neighborhood were Speedy Thomas and Fletcher Smith.

"We're only a phone call away from each other," Twitty told the community leaders at Thursday's news conference. "We really are accessible to each other."

Also at the stadium news conference with Twitty, Allen, Freeman and DeWine were Alicia Reece, a member of city council, and Phil Cox, a Cincinnati businessman. Like the others, they had nursed along the idea and Mayor Charlie Luken made the CommUNITY Night announcement.

Details are to be announced later in the summer. But the only big sticking point left appears to be who wins the game and how.

"I remember how those Super Bowl teams brought Cincinnati together," Freeman said. "I think this can help."

Here it is the turn of the century, and Isaac is still making catches in the clutch.

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