Is Dave Lapham the Bengals' answer to the Reds' Joe Nuxhall? Lapham says he's heard his name mentioned in that sense before, but the Bengals radio analyst isn't sure he fully qualifies.
"I know the love people have for Joe Nuxhall," Lapham says, "and if I'm getting even a sniff of that from Bengals fans, I consider that an honor."
But Lapham's modesty aside, the comparison is apt. Both he and Nuxhall are former players as well as radio broadcasters for their teams. Both love their jobs because they love the game, and it shows in their on-air work. Both love to tell and hear a good story, and both have a real rapport with fans.
Granted, Nuxhall has been around a lot longer and gets a lot more air time. He's in his 50th season with the Reds, 15 as a player and 35 as a broadcaster, and he's on the air 162 games a year.
But Lapham has time to catch up, at least in years if not in games. At age 47, he's 25 years younger than Nuxhall. He's heading into his 26th year with the Bengals, 10 as a player and 16 as a broadcaster. That's 26 of the 34 seasons the team has been in business.
"Let's not look too far down the road," Lapham says,
"but it's come to the point where I could see myself becoming a 25-year broadcaster for this franchise. Combined with my time as a player (1974-83 as a guard, mostly as a starter), that would be some pretty fair longevity."
Lapham has worked since 1986 with all five of the Bengals' play-by-play broadcasters – Phil Samp, Ken Broo, Paul Keels, Pete Arbogast and Brad Johansen.
Though he hasn't been an actual Bengals employee for almost 20 years (since his playing days ended), Lapham has managed to consistently be a strong information source for Bengals fans. He has maintained an insider's relationship with the club, largely because in any given year, several members of the coaching staff have been Lapham's former Bengals teammates, or were coaches while he was a player.
On the current coaching staff, Ken Anderson, Tim Krumrie, Ray Horton and Rodney Holman all played with Lapham. (Anderson and Lapham were roommates on road trips for eight seasons). Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau and strength coach Kim Wood were both on the staff during parts of Lapham's playing career.
"It's important as a broadcaster to establish a trust level with the people in the organization," Lapham says, "and when you've been a teammate with somebody, you're definitely a few steps ahead in getting that."
While Nuxhall has earned his place as a "color man" in baseball's broadcasting tradition, Lapham's appeal to listeners includes a more technical aspect. He mixes his enthusiastic broadcasting style with a gift for analysis of a complex game. It's an analysis that's detailed, but that the football layperson can understand.
"I'm a football junkie," Lapham says. "I enjoy the mental gymnastics of trying to guess along during the course of a game with what the coaches are doing. I even still like going to practice and seeing what's going on."
Indeed, Lapham is such an intent observer at Bengals practices, other media people often seek him out for his insights.
"I know I would have liked to be a coach myself," Lapham says. "But when you have a love for the game and you get done playing, you can do one of two things to stay in it. The second thing is broadcasting, and I'm very happy with what that choice has brought me."
Lapham says he is "a big fan" of the Bengals.
"When you've been a part of a team, it's just like your college alma mater. You always hope your team does well. There's a lot of that in me. I'd like the Bengals to be in the playoffs every year."
But the Bengals haven't been to the playoffs since 1990, and in a broadcast career that has included periodic talk-show roles, Lapham has been pointedly critical of the franchise at times.
"You've got to have credibility as a broadcaster," Lapham says. "You can't say the sky is blue when it's really green. I've had some times when the organization wasn't real happy with me, but on balance I think everything's in good form right now. There's a respect level between both parties, and that's important."
Lapham continues to mix in other broadcasting roles while he extends his Bengals broadcasting tenure. He'll be the analyst for Sporting News Radio on its World Bowl broadcast from Amsterdam, and in the fall he'll do Big 12 college football on TV for Fox Sports Net, as well as doing the Cotton Bowl in January for the main Fox network.