BY GEOFF HOBSON
Curtis Keaton the elder did what Dads do.
Curtis Keaton the younger, a month removed from college graduation, took today to get settled at his new job and try to find a place to live. So his father took the day off, drove down from Columbus, and spent time helping. Hunting for that first house. Talking in the hotel room. Just being there at the moments lives change.
That's what Dads do. Even if the son is a rookie running back about to sign an NFL contract with the hometown Cincinnati Bengals.
The younger Keaton didn't sign a three-year deal today as his agent and the Bengals wriggled through some contract language. But Keaton told the club he planned to sign Friday or Monday. Running backs coach Jim Anderson is keeping an eye on that because he has heard starter Corey Dillon say he'll sit the season's first 10 games. And if anyone knows Dillon is serious, it's Anderson.
"Knowing him, if he says he's going to do something, a lot of times he means what he says," Anderson said. "It's a jump ball, as they say. It's one of those things if everything works right in the contract negotiations, I think he'll be here. If things don't work right in extending his contract, there's a strong chance he might not."
About the only certainty in the Bengal backfield these days is what Keaton is going to do once he cashes the check. He WON'T drop any money on ear rings. His father and agent joked the other day that he might be the only player in the NFL who isn't pierced or tattooed.
"To each their own. What's best for the next man," Keaton the younger said. "I just don't think that stuff is necessary. That's not me."
Wesley Spencer, the agent, wondered if the father might not let him back in the house if he got pierced or stamped.
"I think he got that from me. I'm not real expressive," Keaton the elder said. "It's hard enough trying to learn your (own) person."
Keaton the elder played two years of college ball at Division III John Carroll before returning to his hometown, where he is the assistant director of human services at the Columbus Metropolitan Area Community Action Organization. His son played for the city's northern most public high school, Beechcroft.
The father sat in a Spinney Field locker today, an eternity from that day in 1996 when he carried his limp son's body out of a University of West Virginia dorm. He rushed Curtis to the hospital, where they discovered meningitis. He came back the next day, "and had to wash him up like he was two years old again. It was very traumatic.
"Today is a culmination," the father said. "It's very rewarding. The Bengals are showing a big commitment to him. He knows he's got an opportunity."
Keaton the younger has never had the chance to meet Dillon. He wishes him well and hopes he gets what he wants. He has met the Bengals offense and both he and Anderson think he's a fit even though he brings the reputation of a cut-back runner out of the fourth round and James Madison. A big-time runner looking to make big plays on a not-so big level.
But even though this isn't a cut-back offense, there have been some pretty good running backs who could cut back. James Brooks. Ickey Woods.
"They got it flowing so much, it appeared they were cutting back," Anderson said. "It was an illusion that they were cutting back, but they were actually cutting it up inside because if you saw where the ball ended up on the field, it was down the field. They just stretched their defense and found a crease. This guy can do that."
Anderson says this guy, Keaton, can adjust to hitting the hole right away: "He's tough enough to do it. He has the physical ability to do it. He can stretch it and cut it back. He can do what we do. As long as you run with your eyes and you don't cut back in the darkness."
The 5-10, 215-pound Keaton hears Anderson. He says he's going to, "rely mainly on my eyes. The first option is to take it up the alley, the second one is to bounce it outside. The third one is to get two or three." Keaton prides himself on being a playmaker, so if he can find some room, he'll cut back to daylight and not in the dark.
"(Bengals President) Mike Brown isn't paying me to be a pile driver," Keaton said. "I'm looking to go long."
If Dillon is in Seattle next month, that means it's Keaton competing with veterans Michael Basnight, Sedrick Shaw and Brandon Bennett. All he'll say is, "Curtis' name has to be mentioned in there. But I'm not worried about it. I want to show them I can be productive."
"I've been telling him, 'Just be yourself,' " Keaton the elder said. " 'And the rest will speak for itself.' "
Which is what Dads do.