BY GEOFF HOBSON
New quarterback. New running back. New prime time slots. New uniforms. New optimism. So why not a new poster child for the Bengals' new-look 2004 season? Enter super model and Pro Bowl wide receiver Chad Johnson at Thursday's unveiling of the new uniforms and field re-design during a draft warmup gathering in Paul Brown Stadium's East Club Lounge.
"We're going to the playoffs," Johnson said.
OK, same old Chad. When he goes on the Bengals' 30 or so billboards May 1 to sell tickets, he'll do it under the heading "Guaranteed Fun," playing off his guarantee of a victory over the undefeated Chiefs in last season's seminal moment of head coach Marvin Lewis' turnaround season.
On Thursday night in front of 400 suite holders, club seat patrons, and sponsors in the Paul Brown Stadium East Club Lounge, it was the optimism that was guaranteed.
Lewis hosted what amounted to a New York fashion show Thursday, complete with a 30-foot long runway lined with wooden statues of life-sized tigers.
While six players modeled five of the six color combinations ("One for every mood," said defensive tackle John Thornton), the fans got the first glimpse of the second major uniform redesign in franchise history as the players emerged from a misty jungle motif
"I heard the last time we changed uniforms around here, we went to the Super Bowl," said linebacker Brian Simmons, wearing the orange jersey with black pants.
What the fans saw were:
And they liked them enough to buy about 100 of them Thursday night in an hour. They go on sale 9 a.m. Friday at the Pro Shop with Chad's No. 85 (the eighth best-selling jersey in the NFL), running back Rudi Johnson's No. 32, quarterback Carson Palmer's No. 9, and wide receiver Peter Warrick's No. 80 on the hangers.
Dave Lapham, the Bengals' radio analyst who was a member of that 1981 Super Bowl team, approved.
"I like the look. It's not shocking, but its subtle changes, upgraded changes," Lapham said. "The movement in the stripes. When it gets in motion, things are going to look pretty good. . . I like the movement in the stripes. A little bit of that swoosh action. I like that."
Running back Rudi Johnson, also dressed in orange, tucked a football under his arm and walked down the runway for his first official carry in Cincinnati since Monday's Corey Dillon trade made him what everybody knew since he pummeled Houston on 43 carries last November.
The Man also added to the optimism of the day by saying he would be here for next month's voluntary minicamp. As a restricted free agent, he doesn't have to sign his one-year tender of $1.8 million until June 1, when the team can cut his salary by more than 100 percent if he doesn't sign.
He figures to sign before then, but either way, "I'll be there," for the May camp. "I can't fall behind."
After asking how the new uniforms looked, Johnson agent Peter Schaffer said Thursday night that he and the Bengals look to talk about a long-term deal after this weekend's draft. Johnson wouldn't mind wearing these clothes for a few years.
"It's more modern. It's new stuff. It's going to look more up to date," Johnson said. "There's more variety, more to choose from. I definitely like the black cleats. (The orange jersey) is my favorite one. It's different. I like the orange and the black pants."
The orange jersey can be used to replace the traditional black home jersey up to twice a year and is considered a dark jersey, so the Bengals can't go with orange when the other team is in dark colors. Chad Johnson is pushing to wear orange for the prime-timers at PBS, Sunday night, Sept. 19 against Miami and Monday night, Oct. 25. < p=""> "They wanted change, now they've got it," Chad Johnson said. "We changed it on the field. Now the new uniforms."
More change? Johnson's Reebok billboard in the new uniform is going up around Cincinnati Friday with the pronouncement, "The Future is Here." Then the Bengals' "Guaranteed Fun," with Johnson goes up after the draft for the ticket push.
"I don't think about that," said Johnson of picking up the face of the franchise torch from Dillon and Lewis. "I'm just worried about playing football."
The first man out of the jungle and down the runway was defensive end Justin Smith and his black No. 90 with white pants to the Guns 'N Roses song "Welcome to the Jungle," that opens every PBS game.
"I don't think I like this combo," Smith said.
"They didn't want to put you in a good one," teased Simmons.
"Hey, they knew who to call to pull it off," said Smith, who is a fan of the black on black.
Chad Johnson went black on black, Palmer displayed the white on white, and Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson cut a white on black swath down the runway to the song, "Bad to the Bone."
"I know this," Lapham said. "We didn't have anything like this in 1981. I don't think most of the players knew it was going on. . .This is well executed. Well orchestrated."
Lapham does remember how his teammates were insulted those first few games in the striped helmets that have become one of the most distinct in the NFL.
"We were the laughingstock of the league, just poking fun at the helmet , the rest of the uniform," Lapham said. "You'd hear, 'It's not Halloween yet. What are you guys wearing? Trick or treat.' It ticked guys off. I'm not saying it's the reason we won games. It was almost like you got embarrassed into playing well."
Lapham doesn't think that will happen here. The shaded, thinner numbers give it a feel of the Ravens' 21st century look.
"I don't think so," said Lapham of a bad reaction. "They just refined the color scheme.
Thornton has his suspicions that Chad Johnson was deep in the planning process because of the Oregon State similarities. Actually, the design came out of Reebok and the NFL.
Thornton said it might take some people awhile to get used to the colors and combos, but, "It's just new. In another year people will be used to it."
Also Thursday, the team revealed the markings for the new FieldTurf. The field continues to feature the "leaping tiger" logo at midfield, while the orange end zones are tiger-striped with BENGALS in the team's new official type font.