10-16-01, 11:15 p.m.
There are signs "The Jungle," mentality is starting to get bushier.
Maybe not as overgrown and wild as in the late '80s. But you can hear the rustling of the leaves and the bang of the distant drums getting closer here in Bengaland.
The Bengals' ticket office had its busiest days of the season Monday and Tuesday, flush off the 24-14 win over Cleveland before the biggest crowd in the 11-game history of Paul Brown Stadium.
The club thinks it has a shot at selling out the 12th game by this Sunday's 1 p.m. kickoff against the Bears. But it is making a drive to get it before Thursday at 1 p.m. so it can go on local TV. The next home game, Nov. 18 against Tennessee, has a great shot at being sold out.
At a PBS outpost Tuesday, a scouting party saw left tackle Richmond Webb sign about 100 autographs at noon in the Bengals Pro Shop.
Webb may play one of the more anonymous positions in the game, and it may have been a downtown lunch hour, and it may have been a miserable and wet 45 degrees. But the hard cores were out and why not?
The hard cores deserve this. The hard cores deserve a 3-2 record. A 3-0 start at home. All for the first time since Richmond Jewel Webb Jr.'s rookie year of 1990.
"It's been hard to be a Bengals' fan the last 10 years," said Jimmy Olding after getting Webb to sign both a Bengals' and Dolphins' mini helmet. "There were weeks I'd turn on the game and say, 'If they don't win today, that's it.' Then next week would come around and I'd be watching again. You have to stick with it, because eventually it's going to come around."
Larry Brinkmeyer, a season ticket-holder from Coy (Bacon) to Corey (Dillon), asked Webb to sign the Bengals-Browns' program cover he shared with right tackle Willie Anderson.
"It's for my son. He's 13 today," said Brinkmeyer, taking a break from his job at the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority.
"I've been a season ticket holder for 23 years. Through thick and thin. I've
got the stuff all over the house. My wife yells at me to put the stuff away. I just love football and this is my hometown team. I go to the UC games. My kids play. It's hard to get the kids interested when they're not winning. Maybe now."
Jimmy Henzerling, 36, of Mount Healthy, who runs a forklift for Gateway Concrete, was on his lunch break from helping build the parking garages at the Freedom Center. He got in line twice. Once so Webb could sign his "Bengals Fan," hard hat and once so Webb could sign his boss' hard hat.
Henzerling has been coming to these weekly signings since they started last season
"I like him," he said, nodding to the big man signing at a table under a TV replay of the latest victory. "He protects the passer. He protected the slowest quarterback in the NFL in Miami in Dan Marino and now we've got him and he's doing it for us."
Brinkmeyer doesn't mind talking about third down anymore.
"Everybody is high fiving in the stands," Brinkmeyer said. "It's not as negative. On third-and-10, nobody is saying, 'Here we go again. Is it going to be a sack or an interception? What bad is going to happen?'"
Webb, of course, is a big reason why third down has been so nice. The former Dolphins' Pro Bowler has been as solid as Don Shula's jaw while the Bengals are on pace to allow a team-record 22 sacks.
Quarterback Jon Kitna has been sacked seven times and offensive line coach Paul Alexander can find only one instance where the line got beat.
"You can't beat veterans when it comes to pass protection," Alexander said. "They know rush moves and can anticipate quickly. And with (Bob Bratkowski's new offense), it's hard for defenses to stunt and scheme because the protections are so unpredictable."
Third down has been just as good on the other side of the ball. In fact, the Bengals are on pace to finish the season with a plus-20 differential in sacks (42) and sacks allowed (22), which would beat the 1973 record of plus-19 (43-24) in a 14-game season. The last time the Bengals were plus, (17 in 1995), they won seven games.
"You know what was one of the most frustrating things the last 10 years?" asked Brinkmeyer after taking a few minutes to think about the question. "Whenever it was third and long, they could never seem to stop it. Third-and-17 and they would get 18. Third-and-12. They would get 13."
This is where the fans come in. Right tackle Willie Anderson's worst nightmares have been about facing Jevon Kearse in the NFL's loudest stadium at the Titans' Adelphia Coliseum.
On Monday, Anderson hoped for a sellout this Sunday because, "the crowd helped pull us through that (Browns' win)," but he also thinks the PBS crowd is still learning how to cheer success.
"Once they realize teams that win a lot (in) stadiums that know when to get loud," Anderson said, "once our crowd gets excited, you'll see Justin Smith get about six, seven sacks at home because he's so quick and tackles can't hear. As loud as 'The Jungle,' gets, we'll be a better team."
Brinkmeyer wondered what Webb thought about Sunday's crowd.
"It was mixed. I was surprised there were so many Browns' fans," Webb said. "In Miami when we played the Jets and Buffalo, it was kind of like that because of so many people from New York in Miami."
"Wait until the Steelers come here," Brinkmeyer said.
"Next year," Webb said, "there won't be as many (Browns' fans). After we win this season, they'll sell more season tickets next year and there'll be more Bengals fans."
Webb signed Brinkmeyer's program, "Todd, Happy Birthday."
Just a couple of signs that "The Jungle," is rustling.