Posted: 10:30 p.m.
... it's just my opinion.
One thing about John Thornton. If he's going out, he's not going out like Nixon.
If you admire him for his 92 Bengals games of professional service the past six seasons or hope he gets out of Cincinnati quicker than small pox as some toxic cyberspace messages would have you think, you'll still have him to kick around.
Whether he's a Bengal or somebody else or just Joe The Blogger, he plans to take his popular AllProBlogger.com web site (with the motto "... it's just my opinion") to new heights Saturday with a dry run of what he calls a "hard core football" Internet show he hopes eventually catches on nationwide radio.
Since Thornton still thinks he can play in the NFL, he's going to start out a little slow with podcasts and video to complement his burgeoning blogging as he waits for calls starting Feb. 27 and free agency. That way he can do a show any time in his home and post it any time.
Thornton is famously not down on the Bengals. When he blogged a few weeks back that he thinks they can make the playoffs next season, he got headlines and sound bites.
"There are enough good players that are here and hungry to do better after a tough season. Mainly because of injury," he says. "Carson (Palmer) has to be the main guy. People are saying, 'Who's better? Him? Or Ben (Steelers quarterback Roethlisberger)?' You know how competitive that is going to get Carson. Guys like (defensive ends) Robert Geathers and Antwan Odom. (Cornerback) Johnathan Joseph is big.
"If you look at it, the division is there to be had. Cleveland has a new coach. Baltimore has a new defensive coordinator and is going to have some new players on that side. The year after Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl (in '05), they went 8-8 and they've got a lot of free agents."
It is Tuesday before the NFL scouting combine and Thornton is eating soup in one of his haunts, the Montgomery Road Panera. Wireless, of course, befitting one of the more recognizable Cincinnati cyber figures since he arrived from the Titans in 2003 as one of head coach Marvin Lewis' first free agent signings in a six-year deal that netted a big-time $5M at the time to sign.
This is Thornton's neighborhood for awhile. Wife Allison has decided that the Cincinnati suburb of Indian Hill is where they are going to settle with their two children. One of the more active Bengals in the community (his annual bowling tournament has provided an identity and revenue for the Greater Cincinnati Autism Society), he plans to stay that way no matter where his career goes.
But Thornton is branching out from his vast cyber social networking and old vanilla JT97.com days by offering not only his thoughts on all sports but by tracking down some of the combine's hot prospects for Q&As. That's how he can go from A-Rod to Eric Wood, the Louisville center he interviewed the other day as he gets ready for Indianapolis.
Thornton likes to listen to the radio shows of Jim Rome and Howard Stern because of their ability to interview. That's why he likes to go on the air because "I love talking sports," he said. "I like to talk to people and find out about things that aren't the normal stuff."
Note this question to Wood.
APB: What is the first thing you notice about a DL when you are watching him on film?
EW: How hard he comes off the ball. I need to see if my landmarks will have to change. Some guys get off the ball so fast that I have to change how I set on him. I also see if he takes plays off. That will tell me if I'm in for a long day or not.
But for such an All Pro Blogger, Thornton is strangely silent when it comes to returning to the Bengals. Word is that they are interested in having him back for another year in the role he ended last season with some of his finest play in backing up both rookie defensive tackle Pat Sims and the ends.
But Thornton says he hasn't heard from the team and the only time he has heard from his agent, the Orange County, Calif.,-based David Dunn, is when he called to see if his client was OK.
In fact, the only reason Thornton has called Dunn's office is to set up interviews with his rookie clients, like Wood and Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji.
But that's not to say Thornton is out of this thing at age 32 after 10 seasons. He still wants to play.
"I know I can still play," he says. "But I don't know what other teams think. I'm not going to be one of these guys that hangs around until training camp to see if somebody signs me. Who knows? I could be somewhere else the first weekend of free agency or I could be retired, or who knows?
"But I do know I can still play. I've been through free agency before. The last time was to set up my family. Now I guess they'll be more involved (in the decision). I don't want to be away from them, so it would have to be a place I would want to take them for the season."
"I haven't heard from them so I don't want to talk about it if they're not talking about it," he says.
He's serious enough about staying on the field that he's putting one of his future ventures on hold. He's convinced he'd be a good coach but couldn't take the hours. So he wants to do the next best thing and run defensive line camps for high schoolers going to college and collegians going to the pros.
Thornton's view of the Bengals is symbolic of the approach he takes on the blog and plans to take on the Internet show with partner Chuck Fisher, the former Bengals cornerback who is the Seahawks Northeast scout.
Rational. Reasoned. Calm.
Thornton grew up listening to the rough-and-tumble world of Philadelphia sports on Howard Eskin's WIP ("Nothing close to that here. Nobody rips like they do in Philly," Thornton says) and while he doesn't go for the jugular, he likes the unvarnished talk. It's why one of his favorites is a Sirius Football show with Pat Kirwan and Tim Ryan.
"Just the facts," Thornton says, "and you've got a former front office guy (Kirwan) and a former D-lineman."
He also follows certain NFL writers and enjoys the fact he was one of the earliest to interview the creator of ProFootballTalk.com, the relentless Mike Florio who has gone from interloper to insider with his ever expanding product.
"I knew Mike before he went big time," Thornton says. "He's done a great job with that site."
Thornton is one of the few that agree with the Bengals franchising kicker Shayne Graham (in fact he predicted it) in favor of wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and he is one of the even fewer that thinks they should keep wide receiver Chad Ocho Cinco.
"I don't know what is going on inside the Bengals, but I know the personalities," he says. "I respect the team. I think (president) Mike Brown is smarter than people think. I'm not going to badmouth them after I leave because I've got nothing bad to say about them."
He thinks tagging an 86.5 percent kicker in Graham is OK.
"I'm trying to look at it from a football standpoint. It made the most sense. Shayne doesn't have a backup. If T.J.'s gone, you have to rely on your draft."
Which is one of the reasons Thornton's next prediction is the Bengals will draft Missouri wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. If it is an offensive tackle, he envisions a monstrous holdout because of the money at No. 6 and that would render the rookie year useless. He doesn't see a defensive player worthy at No. 6 because they aren't pass rushers, although he does like Raji's humility and eagerness to learn, and sees a bright future.
"If you take Maclin," he says, "you've got a guy that can absolutely fly and get down the field in a hurry. And if he's not ready, you at least have him returning kicks for you."
Thornton hears the argument that after eight tumultuous seasons the Bengals should blow up the wide receiver position and not only let Houshmandzadeh go, but trade The Ocho. He doesn't agree.
"He affects too many people in that locker room if he's going to be unhappy. He's a leader without knowing it. People follow you. Just because you have a 'captain' on your jersey, that doesn't mean people are going to follow you. More people followed him than me. I've never seen him as a distraction. Even when there was that circus at minicamp (back in June), he was fine. If it was me, I wouldn't trade him."
There is some modesty there when it comes to leadership. Talk to defensive linemen like Domata Peko and Pat Sims and they swear by Thornton. When the Bengals were 0-8, it was Thornton that went to defensive line coach Jay Hayes and urged the club to take him out of the starting lineup and play Sims while he backed up end and tackle. When Sims started playing in the sixth game against the Jets, the Bengals came into New Jersey giving up an average of 4.5 yards per rush. In the last 11 games, it was 3.5.
Thornton just has to talk a little sports to get his perspective on what it means to play it the right way. Get him going on "my juiced-up Yankees," and he's still offended A-Rod ripped teammate Derek Jeter in a long-ago Esquire story with "Jeter's been blessed with great talent around him" and "he's never had to lead."
"Can you imagine saying that about somebody you had as a friend and at the same time you're taking steroids?" Thornton asks. "That destroyed his credibility. Derek Jeter is class. I once looked up 'Derek Jeter and off-field trouble," and the only thing that came up was a tax question with a house in Florida. He plays the best position on the best team in baseball and never bad mouths anybody."
So it's not a surprising post when Bengals.com asks the All Pro Sports Blogger to sum up John Thornton's six seasons in Cincinnati. Naturally, it all comes back to a radio show, his first in Cincinnati in March 2003, when Lance McAlister asked him to describe himself as a player.
Thornton still remembers driving around looking for a house and pulling into a Gold Star Chili to do the interview.
"I told Lance, 'I can have a good game and you probably wouldn't know it. I do things that don't show up in the stat column,' " he recalls.
"I think I played better than people thought," he says. "My first season I led the team with six sacks (only Richard Seymour had more among AFC tackles), and people were saying we needed a pass-rushing tackle. I've never got a lot of credit in my career, but it doesn't matter to me. I still had a job and I'm proud of the fact I played out my contract. It's something I didn't think I'd do because that's just not how I think. Even as soon as '05, I thought it was going to be my last year."
One thing the anti-Thornton bloggers have never been able to get their arms around is that Lewis, on his first day of free agency as a head coach, wanted Thornton because he sought locker room intangibles nearly as much as the talents of a 26-year-old veteran of three playoff runs in an effort to change the culture.
It's why Thornton stunned the Bengals equipment managers when he asked to take back to Nashville a bag of Bengals wear to show the flag of his new team, something guys never did in early 2003.
"The whole thing was to help turn it around. That's why Marvin brought me here," he says. "We almost turned back the clock. I still think they can get there. It's not where it was in '02. There are people here who have had success and know what it's like and there are some good hungry players. I think we did turn it, but there is still a long way to go."
The interviewer doesn't even have to ask the interviewer this one:
"If my son was going to wear a jersey," he says, "it would be Derek Jeter's."
But No. 97 would do, too.
Even if it might only be on the radio dial in Cincinnati.