2-1-2001 BY GEOFF HOBSON
One could almost hear Don Ho singing "Tiny Bubbles," Wednesday as Bengals running back Corey Dillon relaxed at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii.
But make no mistake. Dillon wants to carry the ball more than the one time he lugged it in last year's all-star game. And he wants to gain more than the minus-three yards he racked up in the AFC's 51-31 loss to the NFC.
"There's not many guys I came over here to watch play," Dillon said after the AFC practiced. "We all deserve to get some burns over here. No big deal. We all had good years and, why not? Let's split it up. Let's all get some carries. Why not?"
For the second straight year, Dillon, the Titans' Eddie George, and the Colts' Edgerrin James rotate in the backfield against the NFC. The three are now old buddies, spelling each other in practice as if they've been teammates for years.
Dillon, for one, is much more relaxed a second time around. Remember, this is the guy who just last Saturday at the Super Bowl left a conversation with Thurman Thomas shaking his head.
"You know who that is?" Dillon asked. "That's Thurman Thomas and he knows who I am. To me, stuff like that just blows me away still."
But Dillon isn't as much in awe this year at the Pro Bowl as he was last year.
"Last year, I was like a kid in a candy store," Dillon said. "I was the shy little kid not saying anything. But it's not like that this year. Everybody's on the same level and we know it."
Dillon may feel better because 1,435 yards gets you in any Pro Bowl. Plus, his record-breaking 278 yards against Denver Oct. 22 put him in a class by himself.
"A lot of the guys have come up to me and mentioned that game," Dillon said. "And it's very gratifying to be so far from home and so many people here in Hawaii know me and ask for my autograph. It seems like more people know who I am this year. I guess that game did put me on the map."
After the '99 season, Dillon vowed the Pro Bowl would be the last time he would wear a helmet with Bengals' stripes. He's a free agent again, but there is no such talk this year.
"Not even thinking about free agency," Dillon said. "It's a vacation and I'm relaxing."
LIFE OF NFL 'BRAT:'Zeke Bratkowski never really thought about it until the other night. But maybe his son Bob was born to coach.
There would be Zeke, the backup quarterback for Lombardi's Packers, watching film at Bart Starr's house. Or, the Packers' Hall-of-Fame quarterback might be at the Bratkowskis' home one of those nights after practice watching the old eight millimeters.
And there would be 12-year-old Bob stretched out on the floor, quietly watching Dad and Bart dissect the Cowboys. Or the Colts. Or the Chiefs before that first Super Bowl.
"I never talked to him much about it, but I heard him interviewed one time," Zeke said. "And he talked about how those years being around those Lombardi teams really influenced him. He saw the work ethic and what it took."
Bob Bratkowski, former ballboy for the Packers and Bears, now grown up at 45 with nine NFL seasons in him, arrived in Cincinnati Wednesday as the Bengals offensive coordinator. And Zeke Bratkowski isn't about to call his son a savior.
Still, as one former NFL offensive coordinator talking about another, he says, "He's good. Sure, I'm prejudiced. But I've also seen him coach. He's a grinder. And the reason I'm so proud of him is that he got every job he ever had on his own. Not once did he ever ask me to pick up the phone and help him get a job."
To be known as "a grinder," in this NFL assistant business is the ultimate compliment. When Vince Lombardi moved his legend from Green Bay to Washington, he wanted to take two players from his two-time Super Bowl champion Packers with him as assistant coaches.
But Packers management blocked Zeke Bratkowski and future Bengals head coach Forrest Gregg from leaving.
"I guess it was either as a quarterbacks coach or a backfield coach, but it never got that far," Zeke said. "He just told me, 'You can't come with me.'"
But after 14 years of playing, Bratkowski went on "to grind," for 26 years as an NFL assistant coach. He served as a coordinator for the Baltimore and Indianapolis Colts, the Eagles and Jets during the '80s and '90s before retiring a few years ago.
All the while, Bob soaked it up, loving it. Zeke still remembers his two sons high up in the stands watching the famed Ice Bowl in Green Bay on the last day of 1967 and Starr beating the Cowboys on a sneak in 13-below weather to put the Packers in their second straight Super Bowl.
Now Bob has to move his wife and two children from Pittsburgh, but from a young age he knew all about the best and worst of this league.
A few days before Zeke and his wife closed on their home in Los Angeles when Bob was 9 in 1963, way up in Green Bay Starr tore up his shoulder.
The day the mortgage came through, Zeke got traded from the Rams to the Packers, but they had to keep the house in L.A. It meant commuting, but the one nice thing about was after the Packers beat the Chiefs in the first Super Bowl in the Coliseum, Zeke just had to drive home for the offseason.
So his kid lived the best and worst of the NFL early on.
"Bob is still thawing out," Zeke said
of the Ice Bowl. "The cold affects people differently. Steve never really recovered from it. But Bob will be out in 40 degrees wearing shorts."
Zeke knows because he's watched Bob in action. When Bob worked in Seattle as Dennis Erickson's offensive coordinatior, Erickson invited Zeke to training camp as an informal consultant.
"I was up in the pressbox during pre-season games and I'll tell you one thing about Bob," Zeke said. "He'll get the play down there quickly. His game-day preparation is so good. I think that's one of the things I like about him as a coach. He's always prepared. Practice. Games."
Zeke said Bob already has plans drawn up for his first few days in Cincinnati. How he'll pick the brains of an offensive staff going into its combined 41st year. And how he'll turn to quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson and not spurn the former offensive coordinator.
"Knowing both of them, I would be very disappointed if Bob and Kenny couldn't get along," Zeke Bratkowski said. "I know Kenny and he's smart. He has tremendous experience playing and coaching and Bob plans to rely on that staff's experience.
"Bob's got the same view of it as I do I think," Zeke said. "The job is 'coordinator,' and that's what he does. He coordinates ideas."
Zeke sees a lot of similarities in Bob's new boss, Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau. They coached together in Green Bay for four seasons in the late '70s. That was LeBeau's first stint as a secondary coach after he broke into the league as a special teams coach in Philadelphia.
Zeke gives LeBeau the ultimate compliment.
"A grinder," he said. "I was so proud of him when he got the head job there. Here's a guy that started as a special teams coach and worked his way up, waiting to get a chance.
"Bob did the same thing," Zeke said. "In college and in the pros. He started out as a graduate assistant, then a part-timer, then a position coach. They're both grinders."
Zeke Bratkowski's scouting report on Bob Bratkowski?
"He'll be multiple, no question about that," Zeke said. "You'll see a lot of three receivers, but he'll mix it up, too. They've got a wonderful running back (Corey Dillon) and that's a big edge for them on first and second down. You can do a lot of things with a guy like that. But it's tough in this league to pound away only in the 'I' formation."
Zeke Bratkowski knows exactly how the kid stretched out on the living room floor will handle it.
"He'll discuss it, he'll analyze it, and then he'll stand up and make decisions," Zeke said. "He won't back down from that. He'll decide and he'll stand tall."
The father and the ex-NFL coach agreed on that one.