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Gio in the driver's seat again

Giovani Bernard with fiancee Chloe (left) and her mother Anita Call and the famous/infamous '02 minivan.
Giovani Bernard with fiancee Chloe (left) and her mother Anita Call and the famous/infamous '02 minivan.

As Bengals running back Giovani Bernard talked to the media about his family's latest good deed before Wednesday's practice, Dustin Hoog drove the NFL's most famous minivan this side of Marshawn Lynch to an appointment at Cincinnati's Veteran's Administration.

"What his family has done for my family, it just makes me feel appreciated," said Hoog, who now owns one of the more popular artifacts in Bengaldom. "It makes me feel there is a lot of gratitude and we're grateful."

Hoog's Marine service isn't even as old as the van. It was 13 years ago that E3 Lance Corporal Dustin Hoog came home to Saint Peter, Ind., with medals for Combat Action and the Iraq Campaign and post-traumatic stress that has left him 100 percent disabled. With one member of the family working and five children in the home ages 10-15, that '99 Buick Century just wasn't as reliable as a Marine.

Which is where Bernard's fiancée, Chloe Call, comes in. If it's not for Chloe Call, none of this happens. A resident of Union, Ky., she was dating Bernard when he just so happened to get drafted by the hometown team in that spring of 2013 HBO and NFL Films signed up the Bengals as subjects for the annual training camp docu drama Hard Knocks.

When she picked him up at the airport, well, he didn't have a car and he needed something reliable to get to practice and what better than the vehicle her mother Anita used to drive her and her siblings to soccer games, the neighborhood kids to King's Island and the Ryle High School ski club to Perfect North?

Of course, the minivan became one of the HBO storylines. It's amazing even now that a recently signed NFL second-rounder would opt for such a vehicle. But then, Bernard also lived in the Calls' basement until training camp, too, because, well, he is Everyman.

"Gio is so humble. It's why I love him," Anita said. "He wasn't going to hurry into anything. I remember him telling the interviewers, 'What's not to like? It's got AC, power windows, power doors. What's not to like?"

Of course, his teammates had a ball with that. Bernard figures Vontaze Burfict helped start make the van famous long before Hard Knocks when he thinks it was the first day of OTAs that Burfict tweeted a picture.

People were still taking pictures of the 2002 gold-shaded model pretty much until the transmission went south recently and Anita Call went shopping at Mercedes Benz of Fort Mitchell. When she found something she liked, Chloe suggested she go back to Mercedes and offer the minivan up for auction at the dealership's charitable fundraiser.

It just so happened that someone else in the dealership was on the horn with someone trying to find a vehicle to donate to the Hoog family. Anita had just put in a new timing belt, had new tires put on, and put in new brakes. But the transmission was hurting, until Mercedes jumped in to fix it before giving it to the Hoogs.

Bernard, king of the matchup on the field, has done it again, indirectly.

"I'm so happy we can do something like this, especially for someone who has served out country," Anita Call said. "I love that van. I know they'll get as many good miles out of it as we did."

It just so happens that all of the Hoog kids play football, even the lone girl Hannah, an all-star wide receiver and defensive end for the Boone County Pee-Wees. Hannah may have got the biggest kick out of Tuesday's visit to the dealership to meet Bernard and get the van.

"She was really thrilled. She loves the Bengals," Dustin Hoog said.

So now we know the van will still continue to have a relationship with football. And a lot more than that.

"We couldn't fit in all the kids," Hoog said of the Buick. "Now we don't have to always leave the two oldest at home. It means we can travel as a family."

What's not to like?

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