Dalton greets Bengaldom

No Bengal, not Chad Ochocinco nor Carson Palmer, drew the kind of crowd rookie quarterback Andy Dalton did for Tuesday's autograph session with his backup Bruce Gradkowski at the Bengals Pro Shop.

Another sign of The Likeability Factor.

His scouts told Steve Wolf, the Pro Shop manager, that the first of the faithful surfaced at about 6:40 a.m., more than three hours before the 200 tickets were handed out for the noon signing. They were gone in 15 minutes, fastest ever, and the line of people that didn't get tickets, thought to be more than 100, snaked back about 50 yards to Gate C, another first Wolf said.

"To drive up and the see the whole lot filled …" Dalton said with a smile and shake of his head as he scouted some newborn Bengals outfits for a friend. "Everybody's excited. Especially this week because we're playing Pittsburgh."

Between sneaking looks at the TV replay of last Sunday's victory in Tennessee, Dalton met Bengaldom just the way they like him: on the down low. He offered a greeting of "How you doing?" and if asked the same answered, "I'm doing well," before making sure he was putting the signature in the right spot with "Anywhere specific?"

Dalton and the Bengals are so high on The Likeability Factor right now, fans wouldn't have cared if the kid signed in invisible ink.

Of course Dan Plettner, 36, a season-ticket holder from Batavia, Ohio, is quite pleased he can read the inscription Dalton put on his photo, a reprint from The Cincinnati Enquirer of a grinning Dalton slapping hands with fans in the corner of the end zone in Section 102 after last month's victory over the Colts.

"How do you spell it?" Dalton asked when told it was for his one-year-old son Johnathan, the baby Dan had in a holder next his Carlos Dunalp No. 96 jersey.

Just before that, Dan had Dalton sign one for three-year-old Andrew.

"That's him right there," Plettner showed Dalton the little boy next to him in the picture with blue headphones covering his ears trying to stick his hand down the wall.

Dalton smiled and signed and later it was Plettner's turn to shake his head.

"Truthfully, Andy missed his hand but he got mine. I wish it was Andrew's. Andy was kind enough to personalize it for him," said Dan, a professional investor who made Tuesday a family affair at PBS with wife Eileen in charge of Andrew. "It's a pretty special thing for him. He'll have this on his mantel someday."

Plettner will be the first to say that he's just as surprised as anyone about the 6-2 start and, like just about everyone else, he's been won over by Cincinnati's youthfulness and newness.

"There's great humility on this team," Plettner said. "Whether it's Dalton or A.J. Green or Carlos Dunlap. The leaders on both sides of the ball have humility, which is something you don't see very often in professional sports, much less in the NFL."

What makes the picture even nicer for Plettner is it shows how accessible and popular this team is compared to even the AFC North champs of two short years ago.

"I like that approachability," Plettner said. "There's a greater sense among the players of being more fan-friendly, I think. It almost seems like there's a lack of ego and a greater sense of humility about being ordinary people that want to work for what they earn. They're working hard and earning it. I'll be the first to admit I'm shocked. I wish I could say I called it."

Someone called it for Dalton a few hours earlier.

"I wasn't sure what it was going to be like," Dalton said. "I got a text this morning saying people had been lined up since 8 a.m. It's great. With us being 6-2, I think everybody is really excited for this Sunday."

Dalton said he can remember waiting for an autograph only once and "I was little" when he stayed after an Astros game and ended up getting signatures from Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio.

"From what I can remember," he said, "they seemed like pretty good guys."

Dan Plettner, no doubt, is going to tell his guys the same thing.

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