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Fans get a taste of NFL


If it wasn't a match made in heaven, it was at least made on Bourbon Street when the Bengals staged the 12th annual Taste of the NFL Wednesday night at Paul Brown Stadium to benefit Cincinnati's Freestore Foodbank.

Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the New Orleans native, hosted the event with Stephen Williams, chef of Bouquet Restaurant on a night that figured to pull in about $125,000 in what is one of the Freestore's biggest annual fundraisers.

"Seafood, gumbo, cat fish, shrimp, po-boys," Green-Ellis said of his hometown fare that he was looking to pick off in the West Club Lounge. "I'm just excited and honored to be a part of a night that raises so much money for so many people."

For Sarah Cook, the Freestore's public relations specialist, The Taste is the Oscars night for her organization since all of the proceeds going to the massive effort to prepare more than 18.5 million meals for the needy this year.

Throw in the 40 Greater Cincinnati restaurants serving dinner by the bites as well as the players and coaches out in full force, and it's an evening combining biz and glitz supplied by the Bengals that gives throughout the year. The events have raised about $1 million for the Freestore down through the years.

Besides training camp, The Taste is one of the few days fans mingle with the players and coaches and where you'll see such sights as Bengals president Mike Brown signing footballs. "You get to know your players and who to root for," BJGE said.

"I think this is the one actual event where you have the entire team on board," Cook said. "You actually get to meet with them, they're signing autographs, they're taking pictures. You can just go up and chat with them and find out a little more about what being on the field means to them."

The players can hear what the fans are saying and for guys like left tackle Andrew Whitworth, that's not bad to hear.

"It's awesome. It's a great experience to see the fans before the end of minicamp and the OTAs,' Whitworth said. "It kind of creates the buzz before we head to training camp."

And from what Whitworth could sense, they just weren't buzzing about The Taste.

"They're very (excited) and they should be," he said. "They have big expectations and we have bigger ones."

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