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Hobson's Choice: We like Ike

Q: I just wanted to know who you think is the greatest wideout in Bengals history. On this site I saw they had a poll and Chad Johnson had close to 80 percent of the votes. I have been a Bengals fan since '92 and I think that only shows how many fans have just came out since we turned it around. Look at the record books. Carl Pickens is everywhere. Chad might be down the road the best, but for now isn't it Pick?
--John W., Manchester, KY

JOHN: Go back another 20 years and four presidents and you'll find, as Howard Cosell once bellowed across the Riverfront, "My man, No. 85, Isaac Curtis." Chad is the Bengals receiver for the ages, but the man they call "Ike" is a pioneer and is there anything greater than that?

As his quarterback Kenny Anderson once said, "Isaac was Jerry Rice before Jerry Rice."

The fact that Curtis is also all over the Bengals record book, too, is amazing because they just didn't throw the ball as much in his era.

The argument should end here: When Johnson passes Curtis' franchise-record for receiving yards at 7,101 sometime this September, ending Curtis' 23-year reign, remember that Curtis never caught more than 47 passes in a season.

When Curtis caught 10 touchdowns in 1974, he only caught 30 passes all year for a staggering 21.1 yards per catch. When Carl Pickens set the Bengals record with 17 touchdown receptions 21 years later, he caught 99 balls, but averaged just 12.5 yards per catch.

If he was Jerry Rice before Jerry Rice, then Curtis was certainly Chris Henry before Chris Henry. If you think Henry is in a league of his own in his first two seasons in which he has scored a touchdown every 4.5 catches, then look at Curtis in his first two seasons when he scored one TD LESS THAN EVERY FOUR CATCHES.

For his career, Curtis scored every 7.5 catches, Johnson is at a TD every 11.4, T.J. Houshmandzadeh one every 14.4, Pickens every 8.4, Eddie Brown every 8.9, and Cris Collinsworth every 11.6.

Don't get me wrong. There was nobody better in the red zone than Pickens. There was nobody tougher or more physical or competitively fiercer going for the ball than Pickens. But Johnson, like Curtis before him, can do it from anywhere on the field at any time against anybody because of speed and getting separation.

Talk about speed. Here was Curtis, after he nearly made the '72 Olympic sprint team, coming at you as a pure football player. His hands were Velcro before Velcro, and you just don't see that combination of world class speed sticking to Pro Bowl hands very often.

His numbers are positively mythic and legend is that Curtis' first head coach, Paul Brown, a long-time member of the NFL Competition Committee, got the "Isaac Curtis Rule" passed with No. 85 clearly in mind after that rookie year of 1973:

"Roll blocking and cutting of wide receivers was eliminated and the extent of downfield contact a defender could have with an eligible receiver was restricted."

That's good enough for me.

Yes, Chad is going to officially and statistically be the greatest Bengals wide receiver of all time. But what Isaac Curtis brought to the position and game made him a pioneer, so if Paul Brown is on Bengaldom's $1 bill, then Curtis must be on the $10 bill.

Which has the makings of a Lance McAlister segment one afternoon off the beaten track on Homer 1530-AM.

(Ken Anderson on the $5 bill, Anthony Muñoz on the $20, Carson Palmer on the $50, Chad on the $100, and Marvin Lewis on the "In Marvin We Trust," quarter, right)?

Q: Why isn't Kenny Watson getting any respect? He has proven himself in running and catching the ball. I can't believe people think a guy who couldn't play flag football without getting injured will have more yards than Watson. I don't think he got enough snaps last year and I hope he gets a lot of them this year. How do you feel about No. 33?
--Tim M., Alger, OH

TIM: You should ask Carson Palmer, who lobbied for the club to re-sign Watson as the smoke from the stink bomb against Pittsburgh still hung in the air. That's respect.

Watson has proven his impeccable reliability time and time again as a third-down back and special teams player. He has averaged nearly six yards per his 51 Bengals carries in becoming one of the NFL's leading role players.

There is probably some concern about Watson's durability since he missed basically the entire 2005 season with a biceps injury acquired covering a kick in the opener, but those are the only games he's missed in his three years here.

I'm not sure you want a third-down back getting much more than 25-26 carries. Rudi Johnson, the No. 1 back, had been averaging 349 carries a season before he had 341 last year so they didn't seem to be out of whack there.

I guess you could argue that the 6-0, 218-pound Watson has skills to be an every-down back like Chris Perry and Kenny Irons, but he's been so productive the way they use him, why tweak it?

The big question is what happens if Perry is healthy and/or Irons is the real deal and they need to get one of those guys more than 100-150 carries? You'd think he's so valuable they would still use Watson on third down.

There's no lack of respect for Watson for where it counts; in the locker room and the huddle. Just ask No. 9.

Q: Many changes have taken place on offense and defense that I am eager to see. My highlights include a healthy linebacker corps and a huge offensive line. I see an even bigger advantage for the '07 season being the schedule. Dueling with the NFC West and having two early home Monday Night games is big. Let's be honest. Marvin Lewis is gone if we don't make the playoffs this year or am I cutting him short?
--Jonas, Port Richey, Fla.

JONAS: There couldn't a more false statement in the NFL offseason than that one. This isn't Washington, New York, or even Jacksonville. Its home of one of the most loyal owners in sports and from that standpoint Lewis is safer than the proverbial church mouse.

Mike Brown doesn't want to go 8-8 again and he wants the defense to get better. But he also likes Lewis as a person and as a coach. He also likes stability. No, make that cherishes stability.

He believes it's an absolute must in order to win, and he's got that stability in a solid coach with a winning record on the field and a great presence in the community.

The scuttlebutt that Brown is going to hold Lewis responsible for the off-field problems is laughable. Knowing Brown, he's taking as much responsibility for that, and probably even more because he's the one who has the final say in the draft room. The bet here is that Brown is totally with Lewis on that because it gets back to loyalty.

We can only guess because Brown doesn't talk publicly.

But he certainly gave loyalty to Dave Shula's .268 winning percentage in 71 games and Bruce Coslet's .350 in 60 games. Add that up and it's .618, so Lewis' .538 in 65 games has plenty of loyalty left.

Plus, Lewis has three years left on his deal and what owner would be left with that much on the hook? Especially a club like the Bengals that abhors dead money. He gave Lewis a five-year deal for a reason after the '05 division title. He wants Lewis here for a long time because of his tireless energy, his ability to relate to players, and his track record of putting a team on the field that fills seats and contends for the Super Bowl.

And look back in Bengals history. If a coach has won (i.e. Forrest Gregg, Sam Wyche) he doesn't get fired. Gregg moved on and Wyche, claims Brown, didn't get fired after he went 3-13 in 1991 but resigned over philosophical differences. Wyche says he did get fired, but you get the idea.

Brown is committed to Lewis. In Jacksonville, they're covering seats. In Washington, they're covering butts. In San Diego, they're covering for a front-office split. In Cincinnati, a coach with a career winning record isn't on the hot seat because there is no cover on the old school.

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