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Eifert and family bring Hoosiers script


Tyler Eifert

Updated: 6:20 p.m.

The Bengals opened their version of "Hoosiers" on Friday when they welcomed first-round pick Tyler Eifert to Paul Brown Stadium, and head coach Marvin Lewis made the Indiana native and Notre Dame product feel Midwestern comfortable by giving him one of the most famous numbers in team history when he unfurled No. 85 at the pick's introductory news conference.

"You didn't think any of these jerseys were left, did you?" Lewis asked with a smile. "Hopefully this 85 will be as productive as the last 85. That's all we can dream for."

Although a few players have come and gone since wearing it, Lewis referred to the club's all-time receiver, Chad Johnson. When Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham reminded Lewis of his teammate, the incomparable Isaac Curtis who introduced the NFL to the 21st century receiver in the '70s, Lewis said, "And the 85 before that. That's been a great number in Bengals history. He has an opportunity to set his own legacy."

The Bengals certainly think the 6-5, 250-pound Eifert can be a prolific receiving tight end in the NFL. He grew up in Fort Wayne watching one of the best in Dallas Clark of the Colts, when he discovered early he didn't like to lose.

"Losing when I was in fifth grade, I cried. It nagged at me. It bothered me," Eifert said. "I don't care what it is. Rock, paper, scissors, or racing to the car. I do what I can to win."

Eifert has won enough that he was named the nation's top tight end and rose to No. 1 at the position with remarkable hands and a knack for catching the ball at its highest point, a skill made easier by his 35-inch vertical leap.

The height, he says, comes from his father, Greg, a former Purdue basketball player. But he says the athleticism comes from mother Julie.

"She didn't play in college, but I'd go out in the driveway and she can compete," Eifert said. "I can throw a baseball (to her) and she catches it. She's athletic."

With a dress shirt open at the collar and his hair freshly shorn from the shaggy days at South Bend, Eifert looked the Heartland part. He doesn't know much about Cincinnati even though it's only four hours away, but he likes it because it is so close to all he's known.

"I haven't been too far from home my whole life," he said. "I've got huge, huge support from my family, friends. At the Notre Dame games we've had 50 to 100 friends tailgate. They love to come and support. It will be good to be here and they can come see me play."

Greg and Julie made the trip to PBS on Friday and as the parents of four children ranging from 22-year-old Tyler to his 12-year-old brother, the proximity of Cincinnati was a huge relief.

"You wonder that. As a parent, he's our first child to leave, so you had those apprehensions. Where is he going to live? Is it going to be a good city?" Julie said as they waited for Tyler to attend his first autograph session as a Bengal at the PBS Pro Shop.

"Is it far away from home? All those things that go through a parent's head when they leave. This is the perfect scenario. Driving distance on a Sunday. We have younger kids, we have to be back on Mondays. They do stuff on the weekends. It makes it wonderful that we can travel here and go back home."

Greg knows exactly how long the drive is. Cincinnati is three hours from Fort Wayne, a hot spot for his job as a manufacturer's rep in the optical business and Luxotica is one of his biggest customers

"You go through Van Wert (Ohio) on 127 and then over to 33 and down 75," Greg said of the roads he knows so well.

The Eiferts had to laugh. They were looking forward to going to New York City, where Tyler had been invited for the draft proceedings. But their son isn't a big fan of the cameras and all the hub bub. He wanted to stay home Thursday night and have family, friends, coaches and anyone else that made it possible over to the house.

"It would have been a lot cheaper to go to New York. I never thought I'd say that," Greg said, "We had over 100 people. The weather was decent, we got one of those blow-up big screens so people could be outside watching it. It made it nice."

The Eiferts also had to laugh when they heard Tyler's line about Greg's height and Julie's athleticism.

"Abused again," Greg said and Julie wasn't so sure since she never played sports in high school. But, yes, no question, she confirmed that she did play basketball in the driveway and catch baseballs.

"I was a cheerleader. But both my brothers played a couple sports all through high school," Julie said. "My younger brother played at a smaller school football. I don't think that's it.

"(But) I'm a huge sports fan. I usually know more about it than (Greg) does. But I played a lot of sports. We have four children and there is always some type of ball going somewhere. Soccer, golf ball, football, basketball."

Greg, who played under Gene Keady at Purdue, knows something about coaches. One of the reasons he was thrilled is that he heard Lewis speak about three years ago in Cincinnati.

"(Lewis) did a deal with Luxotica. They had a whole group of vendor appreciation and they brought him in," Greg said. "He did a whole talk, about three years ago, blew me away. I'm like, 'This guy is first class.' So, the fact that Ty is here is like, wow."

Talk about first impressions. Lewis's presentation still hangs with Greg.

"The one thing we kept saying is that everyone says you want to go high in the draft. And we kept saying, 'Well, we'd rather be with a good organization,' " Greg said. "To see this happen, this is a great organization. Yeah, it would have been nice to go higher. But to me a good organization I think is first and foremost to us and to him. I said, 'Ty, you have to realize, this is a job now. This is your office. You're coming in here every day. You have to like the people you're working for.' "

Since Julie is the expert, she was asked to break down the Bengals pick of her son.

"I think it's a great fit for him," she said. "It's such a great city, Midwestern, close to home, great quarterback, great playmakers, great coach, I think it's going to be a really good fit for him."

Let's see, that first tailgate should be around 5 p.m. on Aug. 17, two hours before the PBS preseason opener against the Titans.

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