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Let me do something special

Next week she celebrates her XXth birthday. But it will be as laid back as the day after she was born.

"It's on Wednesday so I'll be going to class," she says from the campus of Furman University.

She is the rest of the story. She is the flip side. She is the back story. She is one of the warmest memories of the best of times and worst of times of Bengaldom.

If Kelsey Amanda Jennings is going to be 20 on Jan. 21., that means the next day is the 20th anniversary of the Bengals heartbreak loss in Super Bowl XXIII and Stanford Jennings's heart-lifting kick return for a touchdown while his first baby slept and Bengaldom roared with a 13-6 lead and 15:34 away from the trophy.

"I had just got off the phone with my mother and we looked up at the TV and Stanford was running," Kathy Jennings says. "She was lying on the bed sleeping, but she had a smile on her face. When he called later, I told him, 'It was like she knew what you were doing.' "

Kelsey Jennings has to admit she didnt figure it out until a few years later. Her little brother, Jamie, 13, has for a long time.

"He says, 'Daddy, what did you do on my birthday?' " Kelsey says. "We just tell him, 'You weren't here yet.' "

Jennings takes off on his 93-yard kick return in Super Bowl XXIII (Wireimage photo)
She wasn't supposed to arrive until Jan. 25. Wouldn't you know it? A Wednesday. The Wednesday after the Bengals played the 49ers and the doctor assured her parents that Stanford would be back in plenty of time for the birth. The story now, of course, is that Kelsey didn't want to miss the game.

"The first time I saw her," Stanford says, "was right before the team meeting the night before the game. Channel 5 had sent down a video and they showed it up on the screen of her and Kathy in the hospital. Yeah. Like we were watching film. I saw her for the first time with the rest of my teammates."

But not one of his fellow running backs.

While Stanford was on the phone with Kathy from his Miami hotel room coaxing her through birth that Saturday afternoon in Cincinnati's Christ Hospital, fullback Stanley Wilson was about to make a life-changing decision. Wilson never made it downstairs to the meeting. He was found later that night in a cocaine-induced stupor, the first in a series of events that led to jail for most of the last 20 years.

"That was just hard to believe," Stanford says. "Stanley Wilson went AWOL. We didn't know what happened then.

"But for me to see my wife and daughter like that on the video, that was pretty cool."

They are the other side of the coin. No scandal. No controversy. Kelsey may be a Super Baby but she grew up exceedingly normal.

She went to junior high school in Cincinnati and after her dad got a new job she moved to Atlanta where she got A's in high school and then decided to attend his alma mater in South Carolina.

A great school where she was comfortable and only about a two-and-a-half hour drive home.

"A double major," she says. "Communications and Spanish. I don't really know what I want to do. I want to keep my options open."

That's what her dad did. Stanford often heard Bengals founder Paul Brown tell his players about getting on with their life's work.

"Paul Brown called football a steppingstone and he was right," Jennings says. "You can only play it for so long and you've got so much of the rest of your life left. Yeah, that made an impression on a young kid. But football gave me a head start. There is the name recognition."

Especially if you're the Midwest Regional sales manager for New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc. More often than not in his travels through airports and hotels and stores his name stirs a memory.

"Every year around this time I usually see it because they're showing Super Bowl highlights," he says. "Sometimes I'll see it when I'm channel surfing. People do remember and it's nice."

Before he got on with his life's work, Paul Brown took Jennings out of Furman in the third round of the 1984 draft, the same year he hired a Furman grad named Sam Wyche to coach his team.

It was Wyche who went to Brown all those years ago, when Wyche was a rookie quarterback and Brown was the Bengals head coach, and asked him if he was good enough or if he should get on with his life's work.

It turned out that Jennings was the same kind of smart, solid guy. For the Internet kids, think Kenny Watson. Jennings played seven years in Cincinnati as a special-teams staple for two playoff teams. A valued pro that supplied glue in an offensive juggernaut as a third-down back and in the locker room as a calm leader during a tumultuous time of strike talks and salary disputes.

Remember when quarterback Carson Palmer lobbied publicly a few years back for the Bengals to re-sign Watson? Jennings's biggest supporter was quarterback Boomer Esiason and they were the only offensive roommates in the 1988 training camp when Wyche decided to bring his team closer by rooming blacks with whites and offense with defense.

When the Bengals released Jennings in the last cut of the 1991 preseason, Wyche disagreed, went for a walk, and nearly quit.

But it took only a year for them to reunite. Wyche left the Bengals after the season and brought Jennings to Tampa Bay for one more run in 1992 that turned out to be his last year.

Throw in the final eight games of the '91 season in New Orleans and it was a nice nine-year career. Jennings is in the Bengals top 20 all-time rushing (1,225 yards) and top 30 all-time receiving (107), but he's in the top three in the all-time 40 Great Moments with that 93-yard kick return with 34 seconds left in the third quarter of the Super Bowl 20 years ago.

The man who had just tied the game at six with a 32-yard field goal, San Francisco's Mike Cofer , kicked it to him and Jennings admits now he doesn't remember too much beyond that. A yellowed Cincinnati Enquier says the Bengals changed their blocking scheme late in the season that resulted in his 98-yard touchdown against Kansas City behind drive blocking that was more effective than their wedge.

Against the Niners, Jennings broke loose at about his own 20 behind the line of of tight end Jim Riggs, linebacker Leo Barker, tackle David Douglas and offensive lineman Jim Rourke. The Niners' Terry Greer grabbed him at the 5, but Jennings sprawled into the end zone with him.

"The guy who caught me had world-class speed," says Jennings with a laugh. "That's my story and I'm sticking to it. I got behind a wall of my big guys and they stayed on their blocks."

What Jennings does remember distinctly is the night before the game going to sleep with a prayer.

"Please let me do something special tomorrow," he recalls.

The other side of the coin is what has become a part of Bengals lore is also one family's heirloom.

"We were talking about it not too long ago," Kathy Jennings says. "He was telling me that he was on the sidelines just before that praying that he could run it for a touchdown so he could do something big for her."

Kelsey might have slept through it, but she always had some of her friends ask her about it when she started going to school in Montgomery. And every now and then one of her college friends might ask her about it after a Google search, her dad says.

But the Super Baby didn't become a sports freak. She likes to watch football and she played some softball in high school. But she admits, "I was never super into sports."

"She likes fashion. She likes clothes like a lot of the kids," Kathy says. "Whenever she works it always seems like she gets a job at a store and she comes home and can tell you everything about it."

"I get that from my mom; she's my buddy," says Kelsey, who did get something from her dad.

"We were working out in the gym the other day with the trainer and he was saying what a natural athlete she is," Kathy says.

She also now shares a Furman education with her dad.

"We used to go to functions there, so I was comfortable," she says. "And it's close. I can get home fast."

The athlete, it turns out, is Jamie, the seventh-grader. Wrestling and track. "He had a nice surprise for Stanford Christmas morning," Kathy says, "and told him he was a captain for the wrestling team."

Jamie might not have been around for the Super Bowl, but Kelsey wasn't supposed to be, either. Even though the doctors assured them the baby wouldn't come until after the game, they talked about what would happen if she did and Stanford was already in Miami practicing.

"There was really just no way," said Kathy, who waited until the last possible instant Saturday morning to tell him.

"I was up at 4 a.m., but I didn't want to call. I knew they had practice that day. So I waited until 6," she says. "He knew when I called. He asked me, 'What are you doing up so early? You're not going to have this baby, are you?' "

Kelsey arrived about 2 p.m. and it's not like she was born in a log cabin, but this was an old school birth. Think of it. No cell phones and they didn't know if it was a boy or a girl.

"When I got into the delivery room, he was pretty much on the phone with me the whole time. He couldn't help me breathe or anything like that, but it was good to hear his voice," Kathy says. "It's funny now because when he would call, he would have to keep going through the switchboard."

Bengals babies just can't stay away from the big game. When Cincinnati clinched the AFC North in 2005 in Detroit, linebacker Brian Simmons couldn't get back for the birth of his son and was on the cell phone with his wife in the victorious locker room.

After the Super Bowl and the 20-16 loss, Jennings could only fight back tears and offered, "This one is for Kelsey." While most of the team descended on Fountain Square for the welcome back after the team landed in Cincinnati the next day, Jennings got a lift from a friend and went straight home.

"They were back from the hospital," Jennings says. "It was time to meet my daughter."

She is a symbol of what has become known as "The Lost Generation," that group of young Bengals fans that hasn't been able to know another moment like it.

But she still believes.

She says her favorite players are "Chad Johnson and T.O.," and she says she always watches the Super Bowl.

"I can't wait for my Bengals to get back," she says.

You know she'll be on time.

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