When the Bengals open the season Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) at Paycor Stadium against the Steelers, punter Kevin Huber closes the book on one of the franchise's oldest records when he breaks Ken Riley's 39-year-old mark for games played.
But his 208th game is no doubt going to start like all the rest. Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons is going to run the stadium steps during pregame and after that he'll go to Huber and discuss the weather.
There's a 24-percent chance of rain at kickoff and 37 percent by 2 p.m., according to weather.com
"I don't know if it's going to be wet because it's raining or because I'm (sweating)," Simmons said.
Simmons, the superstitious Type A Kansas farmer, has run the stadium steps every pregame but two in his 25 seasons of NFL coaching. Fourteen of those seasons have been with Huber and long-snapper Clark Harris, the unpredictable East Coaster in his 202nd Bengals game, fourth on the list.
If it sounds like they are the odd trio, they are because the laid-back Cincinnatian Huber doesn't exactly fit. Which perfectly suits his pressure roles as holder for kicker Evan McPherson and bail out for the offense.
"He's unflappable. Happy-go-lucky," Simmons said after Friday's practice. "It's a good trait for his position. You have to have bad short-term memory. You have to forget a good punt as well as a bad one. You're only as good as your last punt."
For the first time since linebacker Reggie Williams had three tackles in the 1989 opener in Chicago, the Bengals have players in their 14th seasons with the team. Huber and Harris trail only Riley (15) and quarterback Ken Anderson (16).
"What derails people's careers, especially with specialists, is not that they get old, but they lose their effectiveness. They fail at their jobs more so than their bodies fail," Simmons said. "I give credit to Kevin that he's been able to stay not only physically consistent but mentally strong. Dealing with me and Clark is probably a bit challenging."
The three of them give it to each pretty good. Although Simmons' massive superstitions are famous, he insists the other two have some, too. They won't kid him about running the steps but they will get on him that he runs them slower now.
"We're different. We feed off each other that way. We butt heads, but in a good way," Simmons said. "But it doesn't mean I don't admire and appreciate what he's done over time. He's a friend."
Huber, 37, is planning nothing special. He'll play No. 208 and maybe take the wife out to dinner. This may as well be 20 years ago at McNicholas High School in nearby Anderson Township.
"It's a business. He's got a job to do and that's what he's thinking about. I think that's a reason he's been around this long," said dad Ed Huber.
There always seem to be about 10 family members in the stadium, although he never knows the exact count because some of them have season tickets. His wife goes when she can. Ed and mom Kathy go to every home game. At some point during warmups, Ed, the retired car salesman and basketball coach who knows everyone, scouts a spot along the railing in front of the stands behind the Bengals bench. He's been doing that every home game for the last 13 years and before that at the University of Cincinnati and before that at McNick.
"He's made friends with the security guys and he'll hold court," Kevin Huber says. "Then he'll come down and get a look."
Kevin Huber calls it "a cool milestone," but he thinks it's not going to hit him for at least a few years.
"There's so much going on. You're getting ready for a game. You're trying to win the game," Huber said. "I think it's a big picture thing. Something where you step back and realize how cool it is."
Maybe at the 20th reunion of the 2021 AFC champs, he was asked.
Huber saw Simmons walking down the hall.
"Darrin will still be here," Huber joked as he caught his eye.
Business as usual.
SLANTS AND SCREENS: A little perspective:
When Huber punted in his first Bengals game back on Sept. 13, 2009 at Paycor in the Demolition Deflection Derby loss to Josh McDaniels' Broncos in the final 11 seconds, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor was a graduate assistant at Texas A&M, Joe Burrow was in junior high and his kicker, Evan McPherson, was all of ten …
It was not lost on Taylor that there were three fumbles in Thursday night's opener in Los Angeles. Or that there were 14 missed tackles, eight by a Rams team that had a pretty similar preseason to his club when it came to keeping starters out of games.
"I didn't see it. I'm aware of it," Taylor said after Friday's practice. "The coaches have talked about it. We've stressed it all week. Our guys didn't play in the preseason. They haven't done a lot of tackling. We've prepared for that. We've gone over that. We can't go over it anymore because we've done so much. Now it's just for them to take care of the football and get the ball out." …
REWIND DEPT.: It will be recalled in last year's opener here against the Vikings, Taylor wanted his team to develop a killer instinct. And so with 3:20 left in the third quarter and leading 21-7, he went for it on fourth-and-one from his own 30 and running back Joe Mixon got stoned by old friend Nick Vigil. The Vikes used the new life to force the Bengals to win it on the last snap of OT, outscoring them, 17-6, the rest of the way.
"I had my reasons for doing it and I understand why it happened," Taylor said. "If I was in that exact situation a year ago against the Minnesota Vikings I'd punt that ball." …
Now he knows exactly what he's got when it comes to the makeup of his team's mindset and it doesn't have to be revealed in an opener.
"There is a huge chunk of this team returning. The core personality of the team is back," Taylor said. "As a staff we have a good feel for the personalities this year. That's not to say every year is going to be that way, but this is one of those years." …
The cold-blooded-killer-cerebral Burrow sets the tone on offense, but Taylor feels like the three new starting offensive linemen (right tackle La'el Collins, right guard Alex Cappa, center Ted Karras) are going to let their personas shine.
"Those new guys have injected some energy into that room," Taylor said. "They've got their own personality in that room. I think it meshes really well with Joe. I think there's a good bond. It's all good stuff, but I definitely think that O-line room and those new guys have added a different element there." ….
Taylor said punt returner Trent Taylor (hamstring) was much better Friday, but he was listed as questionable after going limited. Tight end Mitchell Wilcox (ankle) went full Friday and was listed as questionable