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Hope encroaches

Posted: 10:30 p.m.

Tracie Metzger wore a pink Carson Palmer jersey and a stadium-lights smile, but also a steely glint in the eye when she showed up for her first Marvin Lewis Football 101.

"I know football better than most men. How many girls know what encroachment is?" asked Metzger, who blew breast cancer off the ball seven years ago.

But everyone loves the most popular Girls Night Out on the Cincinnati calendar. Lewis's football clinic that is part Oprah and part NFL Network, had another one of its annual sellout crowds of 450 Thursday night at Paul Brown Stadium.

No one throws a party like Lewis and while the last time he raised his voice down here on Monday night it was to scold his team, this time he did it to raise awareness.

Before Lewis opened the Bengals locker room, meeting rooms, and field for the night of instruction, there was Metzger. Lewis's community fund and National City double-teamed the event and he presented his Pink Football Award to Metzger, the breast cancer survivor of the year.

Metzger arrived in a limo with her Bridgetown neighbor Kelly Jennings, another crazed Bengals fan attending her third 101 clinic in a sun hat dotted with autographs.

"Ricky will remember the hat I think," said Jennings of one of her favorite Bengals assistant coaches, Ricky Hunley. "I like being on the field the best and getting to carry the ball, and we have our picture taken on the big tiger. How many people get to do that?

"I like Eric Ball, too," she said of the Bengals director of player relations. "But Marvin is my favorite. Before he came, nobody ever did this stuff. This is such a great thing for the community every year."

Before getting the award and as NFL Network's Solomon Wilcots regaled the crowd with his Bengals playing days, Metzger remembered exactly how this drive began.

When she was 30, her eight-month-old daughter Grace stopped breastfeeding and when Metzger did a self exam she felt a lump. Days later her doctor was holding her hand and telling her it was malignant.

Now she is holding hands. Metzger, as outgoing as a zone blitz, did it as recently as Tuesday in her home.

"I showed her my double mastectomy," Metzger said. "She's recently divorced and she was worried about having a mastectomy and what she would look like and 'Is a man ever going to want to see me?'

"I showed her and I said, 'Plastic surgeons are fantastic. You'll look like a woman and breasts don't define you.' That's what I do."

The woman is one of more than 300 Pink Ribbon Girls, the support group for young women with the disease Metzger co-founded in the grim days of chemotherapy, surgery and menopause on an island.

"All the women I knew with breast cancer were my mother's age," she said. "I felt isolated. I had two little children. I was looking for people that I could relate with. I wanted to talk to somebody about things like trying to lift a baby out of a crib with a double mastectomy."

She lifted more babies than that. Two years later she received the first "Patients of Courage Award" from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, and is about to embark on a book signing for her work "The Voices of Breast Cancer, The Healing Companion: Stories of Courage, Comfort and Strength."

The tall man in the NFL polo shirt shook his head. He's why Metzger knows all about encroachment.

"No. 87. He's been (an official) in the league for 22 years," Metzger said of her father, head linesman Paul Weidner, and he could recall the start of the drive, too.

"When we got it, we were devastated," Weidner said. "But it's like she always does. She turned lemons into lemonade."

They weren't exactly drinking lemonade Thursday night but nobody got hurt. Although Lewis had to warn the winner of the celebration contest not to hurt the evening's special guest, running back Rudi Johnson, during the end zone dance.

"No one wants to do my drill," shrugged defensive line coach Jay Hayes, standing with the stick that has the football at the end of it that he uses to get his guys off the ball. "They say it's too hot. Too much running. They all want to be a kicker."

But there was plenty of inside stuff. Jennings, who has a football card that someone gave her of the Seattle cornerback by the same name, got in trouble indoors at one of these things. During the film session in the meeting room, her cell phone went off as she tried to get her babysitting situation straightened out.

"Ricky put me in timeout," Jennings said. "He grabbed the phone, slammed it shut, made me sit in the front row and told me to sit down and shut up."

Weidner won't do that. Each member of his crew has donated $100 each to breast cancer research ever since his daughter got sick and he was so inspired by Thursday's event that he told Lewis he'll donate his time next year to an officials segment of the program.

"Marvin said he liked the idea," Weidner said.

Any day an NFL head coach could jaw with a referee over charity instead of clipping had to be a good day encroaching.

"I've had two children since," Metzger says. "Now I have four. After all that. It is unbelievable. One of the youngest is named 'Hope.' "

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