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Just give me some lovin'

5-4-01, 11:20 p.m.

Dick LeBeau wanted to set a tone Friday night when the Bengals opened minicamp.

But not the same, tired tone of 4-12, 3-13, 4-12. Or maybe a 7-9 if the cards fall right.

It had to be something different when he faced them Friday night for the first time as head coach in his own right.

Something memorable.

Something him.

Something purely LeBeau to let his team know it's just not going to be the same thing around here.

Why not Elvis? Why not, from a guy who was a NFL rookie cornerback in '59 and Elvis was The King?

So at 6:03 p.m. in front of an auditorium of anxious veterans and rookies, video director Travis Brammer cranked the '60s tune "Give Me Some Lovin," by the Spencer Davis Group as Charles Richard LeBeau strolled in wearing a 1970ish Elvis getup.

There was a red sash, a cape, the bellbottoms, and dancing with Saturday Night fever.

For about a minute, the players and coaches, at first stunned, started cheering. Then clapping. Then clapping to the beat.

"I had more fun," LeBeau said later, "thinking about it than doing it."

The getup?

"I got it at some costume shop," he said. "I can't believe it fit me."

LeBeau had plotted

for a few weeks. Only Brammer knew about it. He seemed to think it was actually one of former coach Bruce Coslet's CDs, and LeBeau liked the beat. Not even defensive coordinator Mark Duffner, LeBeau's lunch partner, had an inkling of the plan.

He stopped dancing because he wanted to have enough breath to tell them what it all meant.

I don't put myself above anybody else and I don't expect you to was the basic message. We're all in this together. We're going to have some fun tonight, but tomorrow all the hard stuff, like committing, caring and loving starts.

He liked the words of the song that said, "So glad we made it," because he had told them back last year in the dark days of 0-3 and 74-7 when he took over that they would make it together to get to this night.

And that there was no one on the planet who wanted to coach them as badly as he did.

"For guys who have been around here for a long time, it was a breath of fresh air," said right tackle Willie Anderson. "It wasn't like, 'Here we go again.' I think something like that was needed."

Or, as one veteran said, "It wasn't any of that Dave-Shula-we're-a-contender crap."

Anderson said, "I was looking at the guys who don't really know him, and their eyes were bugging out."

Another Bengals' vet mused, "It was different, but you can't help but like the guy and believe in him. It's like what those free agents said when they visited. Even if they didn't sign, they still said they enjoyed LeBeau."

Richmond Webb, the newest Bengal and former Pro Bowler drafted by Don Shula and honed by Jimmy Johnson, didn't know what hit him.

"I never had any coach do that anywhere," Webb said. "The guys who were here last year didn't even expect it. He relaxed everybody. It broke the tension."

Kevin Henry, the former Steeler defensive end who played for LeBeau in Pittsburgh, was surprised. But not that much.

"He's always been a hilarious guy," Henry said. "He's cool. He's not an uptight coach."

And that was a lot of it, too. LeBeau seemed to be looking to loosen up a team that always seems to play tighter than a household budget.

He spoke for about five minutes, hitched up his cape, and left the rest to his coordinators.

"I think he wanted to let people know things are going to be different and he sure did that," said defensive captain Takeo Spikes. "He was looking to get guys' attention because somebody has to do that. It was cool, man."

The message?

"Just trying to let them know it's going to be a little different," LeBeau said.

Like LeBeau told them.

"We're all in this together," he said. "Just give me some lovin'. Just give me some lovin'."

Spikes, who has played in 11 victories in three years, had been laughing and clapping. But he was listening, too.

"They heard him," Spikes said. "He got his message across."

Elvis will be glad to know, where ever he is, he gave another good show for an audience that badly needed one.

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