James Harrison wasn't too sure what the reaction would be.
But as he approached the fans in his 92 game jersey wearing a Bengals ballcap after leaving the stage at Thursday night's Bengals Pep Rally and the fans reached out their pens, mugged for pictures, and yelled "Welcome to Cincinnati" while fireworks burst into the sky and the Paul Brown Stadium scoreboards purred with the Sunday afternoon kickoff video, the Bengals new SAM linebacker had his answer in this sea of Bengaldom.
"I didn't know how I would be taken," said Harrison, once the most dreaded man of the dreaded Steelers. "I didn't know what (the reaction) would be, but it was great. I definitely felt it out there.
"Change in color, change in attitudes."
More than 7,000 fans joined in Thursday night's BengalsFest as the bandwagon that has been rolling since the Bengals emerged from the April draft with what looks to be another solid rookie class shifted into another gear just hours after the first practice of the season.
The Rusty Griswolds provided the soundtrack, all-time passing leader Ken Anderson led the contingent of alumni autograph signing tables, and right end Michael Johnson led the crowd in a cheer from his days as a Dallas County High School legend in Selma, Ala.
"PBS, what time is it?" he asked.
Then Johnson offered the season's motto of "This is our time."
Former cornerback Louis Breeden, whose 33rd and last career interception came 26 years ago and no one has passed him since in club annals, knows something about quarterbacks.
Waiting to get introduced to the crowd, he nodded at Anderson, the man in front of him in line, and said, "He's got the stats that get ignored. He was the big player in '81 when we won the AFC."
"It's all on (Andy) Dalton," is how Breeden sees this season. But the man who shares Dalton's No. 14 doesn't believe like some pundits that this year is Dalton's make-or-break season.
"I think he's just got to do better than he did last year," said Anderson, who was an NFL quarterbacks coach longer than he was a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback. "The best thing for a young quarterback is that the graph continues to go up, which I think it will."
Former wide receiver Mike Martin, the only man returning to the PBS stage Friday night when his band performs in the Macy Music Festival, thinks it's a big year for music and football.
"They should win the division," Martin said. "I really like A.J. Green and Geno Atkins. They're consistent. They do the job every single time."
But head coach Marvin Lewis called on his veterans and quarterback to say a few words to the crowd. Dalton was joined by running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis on offense and two-thirds of the Fisher Price Package on the defensive line, Johnson and left end Carlos Dunlap, spoke for the defense. Homegrown Kevin Huber, coming off the best season ever by a Bengals punter, took the snap for special teams.
"PBS, I need you," BJGE implored. "We're a team. The louder you are, the better we are."