Helping foot

9-26-02, 4:55 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals are getting creamed by critics left and right these days, but Bob Ernst can't wait to come to next month's Pittsburgh game to thank some of the guys.

Ernst, a cerebral palsy patient who has been the subject of news this week when his wheelchair came up missing at Monday night's softball game at Cinergy Field, is getting a new one courtesy of the Bengals defensive line.

After seeing Ernst's story on Channel 5 Wednesday night, kicker Neil Rackers showed up at work Thursday morning looking for donations for Ernst and the defensive line told him they'd take care of it.

"Neil mentioned it to us and we talked it over as a group," said defensive lineman Bernard Whittington. "There are things bigger than football and the guy needed help. To be in a position to be help is to be blessed, really."

Ernst's wheelchair has been found, but his friend, Lisa Bammerlin,

said it was in pretty bad shape. And after being in use for seven years, it had a lot of wear, anyway. Because of restrictions, he couldn't pay for it with the help of Medicare or Medicaid and needed help. He's a big Reds and Bengals fan who gets to Paul Brown Stadium twice a year or so, and this experience has done nothing to deter his loyalty. He's already got tickets for the Oct. 13 game against the Steelers.

"People are saying bad things about them because of the way they're playing ball," Ernst said. "But I really, really, want to thank them for what they've done for me. It's very nice. "

Bammerlin said the cost of the chair is $1,532. That comes out to a little less than $200 each from each of the eight linemen, and she hopes the guys will be there when he gets the chair, which is on order.

"It's the right thing to do," Whittington said. "If you can help, you should."

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