Could have been a Lark

Barry Larkin

David Fulcher and Barry Larkin lining up as the safeties for the Bengals?

Fantasy Football and Hot Stove stuff, of course, as two of Cincinnati's most popular pro athletes of the '80s took very different routes. Larkin finishes his journey this weekend at Cooperstown, N.Y., when the faithful gathers to welcome the Cincinnati Kid into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

With an NFL asterisk.

Leading up to that 1986 NFL Draft where the Bengals plucked a future three-time Pro Bowler out of the third round in Fulcher, the club mused aloud about taking a flier on Larkin late in what was then a 12-round marathon.

They were interested enough to poke around his high school at Archbishop Moeller and his college at Michigan even though, as Tom Groeschen described in Monday's Cincinnati Enquirer, Larkin steamed legendary Wolverines head coach Bo Schembechler by not putting on the pads and playing just baseball in Ann Arbor.

"Even though he didn't play in college, we knew how well he played here locally and we checked it out," recalls Bengals president Mike Brown of a career that ended with a loss in the state championship game.

"But by then he was pretty much into baseball."

By that time, Larkin was getting ready for the Triple A jump to Denver after helping Vermont to the 1985 Eastern League title following his selection in baseball's amateur draft with the fourth pick.

"He was fast and physical. No question he could have played in the NFL," says Jim Lippincott, the former Bengals director of football operations who coached the Moeller linebackers in Larkin's senior season. "A Hall of Famer? We'll never know."

Back in 2001 Larkin told he felt like if he missed football that first year at Michigan, he could always go back and play. But he never missed it as the desire to master baseball pulled him along.

"I could hit, but that was in high school when I was a buck 80 sopping weight and hitting guys my own size," Larkin said of tackling. "I couldn't imagine playing in the NFL or college and coming up to smoke some of those babies weighing 240 pounds. If I played, I would have been on a strength program, but I don't know how long I would exist in that environment."

Yet when it comes to the 6-0, 185-pound Larkin, Brown is convinced he'd hit and hit well.

"There's no question in our mind that he would have been a good pro player at safety and one of the things we talked about that year was him," Brown says. "Athletically he had the ability. He was fast enough and well-coordinated. Obviously hand-eye coordinated. There wasn't anything he didn't have."

Brown says the Bengals saw Larkin as a free safety and while they took a strong safety in Fulcher, it turned out they picked one of the first hybrids who revolutionized the position. One of the most underrated stats in Bengals history remains the 240-pound Fulcher's 31 career interceptions, third on the team's all-time list.

"Fulcher was a tremendous player who had a very good coach here in Dick LeBeau who used him so well," Brown says. "They had different styles. (Larkin) was more of a Tommy Casanova in style."

Lippincott remembers watching batting practice late in Larkin's career and his former pupil approaching him after his swings.

"I played the wrong sport," Larkin told him with a smile.

"Yeah, $9 million later you played the wrong sport," Lippincott told him, referring to his last annual salary.

Now a decade later with Cooperstown on the horizon, Lippincott is even more convinced.

"You'd have to say," he says, "it was the right choice."

EARLY RETURNS: After single-game tickets went on sale Saturday, ticket sales manager Andrew Brown reported late Monday that several games on the home sked have drawn interest. Monday was the first day tickets were available by phone at 866-621-TDTD (8383) or in person at the Paul Brown Stadium ticket office as they are every Monday through Friday. Plus, you can purchase online here.

Brown said the Sunday night Steelers game on Oct. 21, as well as the Dec. 9 game at 1 p.m. against the Cowboys, have been the most popular in the early going. Also getting play are the intriguing 1 p.m. quarterback matchups against Oakland's Carson Palmer on Nov. 25 and Denver's Peyton Manning on Nov. 4. The 1 p.m. home opener on Sept. 16 against Cleveland is also getting hits.

NUGENT DEADLINE PASSES: Bengals kicker Mike Nugent is officially playing this season with the $2.7 million franchise tag after Monday's deadline passed without a long-term deal. Although a new deal can't be signed until after the season, the club has indicated it would like to get something done with Nugent beyond 2012.

Nugent agent Ken Harris had no comment Monday after he reached a deadline deal for Josh Scobee, the kicker franchised by Jacksonville. According to published reports, Scobee's four-year extension is worth $3.45 million per year with $4.75 million guaranteed.

Scobee, a fifth-round pick of the Jags in 2004, just turned 30 and is coming off a year he hit 92 percent of his field goals on 23 of 25 that included five of six from at least 50 yards. He's got a 78.8 percentage (167-212) during a career he has spent entirely in Jacksonville.

Nugent, a second-round pick of the Jets in 2005 who turned 30 after the season, set the Bengals single-season records with 132 points and 33 field goals in 2011 without trying one from 50 yards while also setting a personal best with 36 touchbacks. His 86.8 field-goal percentage jacked his career mark to 80.9 (127-157).

Nugent has twice had to fight back from injuries, the first a quad problem that wiped out the 2008 season in New York and led to his release and the other a torn ACL that knocked him out of half of the Bengals 2010 season.

Scobee is the third franchise kicker to get a deal within the last month. According to published reports Tampa Bay's Connor Barth, 26, got $3.3 million per year and Denver's Matt Prater, 27, $3.25 million. If the Bengals choose to franchise Nugent next year, it would be about $3.1 million.

The Jaguars signed then-Bengals kicker Shayne Graham to an offer sheet in 2004, but when Cincinnati matched and made Graham one of the top five kickers in the league Jacksonville ended up drafting Scobee a month later.

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