BY GEOFF HOBSON
TAMPA, Fla. _ This is one of the reasons Bengals Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon wanted Leigh Steinberg to be his agent.
It's Super Bowl Saturday and the bold and beautiful have gathered here at Busch Gardens, where Steinberg is having his annual bash for NFL types. The music is live and the food catered while the partygoers get a private view of giraffes and other exotic species.
"They treat their clients first class," says Dillon, smiling in shirt sleeves as he nursed a 7-Up. "Not only is he the best agent on the planet, but he takes care of his players. I'm relaxing, having a good time, kicking back, enjoying myself."
It's the party before the storm. Steinberg has yet to contact the Bengals about a new contract, but he and his client fully expect Dillon to go on the free-agent market March 2.
A couple of New England fans ogle Dillon and Steinberg greeting Patriots owner Bob Kraft and hope the men are talking deal.
"We're just saying hello," says a laughing Dillon.
Then Kraft and Steinberg bend over a railing to talk, but it's more than likely about New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe's contract.
"At this stage of my career, it's about winning and not so much about the money," Dillon says.
Dillon says he thinks the Bengals are trying to turn it around with some positive moves, but he admits he doesn't know very much about new offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski.
Told the scouting report on Bratkowski is he likes to be unpredictable and spread the defense with three- and four-receiver sets, Dillon sounds pleased.
"Anything that gets eight men out of the box is fine with me," Dillon says. "I can live with that. I guess that's why they hired him. To help the passing game. That's the best thing. Being unpredictable. That may or may not have been the problem. If he wants to mix it up, that's cool. That's real good."
Earlier this week, Dillon was to go on trial in Federal Way, Wash., on a charge of fourth-degree assault, stemming from an August incident with his wife. Dillon has always denied hitting his wife and the parties have long reconciled and are back together raising their daughter.
But authorities kept pushing the case until Dillon agreed to a stipulation of continuance that gives him the chance to have his record expunged of the incident next year if he donates money to a women's shelter and undergoes counseling.
Dillon believes the agreement doesn't expose him to a suspension from the NFL because there was no plea and he has admitted no guilt.
Dillon, who opted for the continuance because he didn't want family members to be pitted against each other in a trial, is ready to move on. The next big date in his life is Feb. 8.
That's the first day the Bengals can make him a transition free agent. He knows the Bengals have said they plan to match just about any offer another team makes in free agency.
"They've said that and that's fine," Dillon says. "They're using the rules."
Dillon plans to attend his first Super Bowl ever Sunday, but he played in one of sorts earlier this week.
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Dillon made it to the finals of the Madden Bowl, a football video game tournament held at a Tampa nightspot. Dillon beat Ricky Williams and Aaron Brooks before losing to Jacquez Green in the finals.
"The atmosphere was great," Dillon says. "The place was packed. There were a lot of cameras, a lot of cheering. It wasn't a blowout, but it wasn't good. I knew it would happen. Somebody would do something I wasn't used to.
"He put on some multiple blitzes in the first half and by the time I adjusted, it was too late. I dug myself too deep of a hole."
Dillon, the reigning champion of the Bengals players' lounge, also got surprised when he and Green were allowed to use the same Redskins team.
"That was a little more complicated, too," Dillon says. "I asked him to change teams, but it was pretty evident he wanted to be the Redskins, too."
Since he's coming off a 1,400-yard season, Dillon knows he might use a little of himself when the computer chips are down next year.
"They'll have to make me better now," he says.