BY GEOFF HOBSON
Make that five Pro Bowl Bengals.
It turns out that former Bengals running back Eric Ball's first Pro Bowl appearance came courtesy of the passing game.
Ball, now the club's director of player relations, got tapped by the long arm of the NFL's community relations department to help coordinate its efforts last week in Hawaii.
"A lot of work. Probably 12-14 hours a day," said Ball of his alleged vacation. "To be able to see what the league does on such a large basis showed what we're doing here is on the right track."
One of head coach Marvin Lewis' staples of his two-year tenure in Cincinnati has been the club's commitment to community involvement, where he refers to Ball as his "right-hand man."
"The league recognized his work here in Greater Cincinnati by having him go to the Pro Bowl and work with the players over there," Lewis said. "Eric has been so resourceful for us, looking into different opportunities, screening situations, and promoting it and pushing the players in the right direction. He does everything from the beginning and then following it through."
The centerpiece of the NFL's week was military. Ball estimates between the league and the NFL Players Association, players visited 35 bases. The most memorable trip turned out to be an impromptu visit to Tripler Army Medical Center, the largest military medical treatment facility in the Pacific Basin, to visit injured troops just back from Iraq.
At the last minute, Ball helped round up Hall of Famers Lem Barney, Elvin Bethea and Ted Hendricks.
"The thing that always amazes me about those visits is that the players are always in awe of the (troops) and the guys are always in awe of the players," Ball said.
Ball also toured a nuclear submarine at Pearl Harbor and was treated to the sight of Redskins linebacker Marcus Washington, a 6-3, 247-pounder, get stuck trying to roll out of one of the tiny bunks. He also accompanied Bengals cornerback Tory James, Steelers guard Alan Faneca, and Colts tackle Tarik Glenn to a training facility that featured virtual reality of warfare in urban, desert and jungle settings.
James, right tackle Willie Anderson, wide receiver Chad Johnson, and running back Rudi Johnson formed the Bengals' largest Pro Bowl contingent since 1990, Ball's second season with the club out of UCLA.