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Man for all reasons

Posted: 10:55 p.m.

Once known as the NFL's "Renaissance Man," Dhani Jones, who has taken a class from Al Gore and ribbing from Stephen Colbert, has opted for a more pedestrian role in Cincinnati as he tries to rewrite the book on himself.

He's become one of those invisible yet invaluable 9-to-5 handymen plucked from the NFL yellow pages known as the waiver wire and charged with helping plug the leaks of a roster spewing injury. Sleeping in a hotel but living at Paul Brown Stadium, spurning his car for a Fixie, eschewing the mike to get to know the mike backer, Jones has immersed himself in football and little else since arriving from the San Diego beaches 55 days ago.

Yet on Tuesday, Jones briefly left the team auditorium, where he has discovered that listening to his music in stereo makes watching tape much more enjoyable.

He took a rare spin in the community, leading 300 students in calisthenics at Kenton Elementary School in the morning and in the afternoon joining several teammates as celebrity waiters at a luncheon to raise money for the fight against cystic fibrosis.

In between, he pondered what he calls this "extra year" of his eight in the NFL.



"When I was in New York or Philadelphia, I didn't stay in the building that much," he said. "In some respects people saw a knock on me as someone that didn't understand or pay attention or involve himself too much in the game of football.

"Yeah, I think that was a misunderstanding. But if that's what people thought they saw, then maybe there was some truth to it. You self-scout and you try to make yourself better."

Darrin Simmons, the Bengals special teams coach, never met that guy. The linebacker that played on Super Bowl teams with the Giants and Eagles while going network on ESPN and the NFL channel, leading the Philadelphia Pops once as a guest conductor, and playing the wash bucket bass in the New York subways.

All Simmons knows is that Jones, still hurting from the release by the Saints, showed up five days before the third game of the season and stabilized the special teams with such maturity and moxie that it took him just three weeks to be named captain.

This past Sunday in Baltimore, Jones volunteered to again play on all four kicking teams even though the backer roulette continued and he was forced to start on the weak side.

"I took him off a couple and still kept him covering punts and kicks but he told me he needed his own personal water boy," Simmons said. "That was just a huge effort. He's been the exact opposite (of the knock). He's been attentive to detail. He's always asking questions trying to get better. He's been active, he's been vocal. We feel fortunate to have him."

So did Pat Goetz and Ed Clark. Goetz, the principal at Kenton in Independence Ky., and Clark, the dad of fourth-grader Ian Clark, each hosted Jones on Tuesday as part of the NFL's "Take a Player to School" program.

Jones showed up at Ian's home on Independence Road in a limo and gratefully accepted a Gatorade from Ed that the NFL people suggested might be part of a breakfast that would make the player feel a little more comfortable.

But Jones didn't need that to feel at home. Here's a guy who in 2002 was the Giants nominee for NFL Man of the Year and in 2004 was the Eagles Community Hero.

Within minutes he was in Ian's room getting the tour of the nerf basketball hoop and signing autographs for some of Ian's buddies before they had had to run, sharing Ed's sausage and eggs on the ride to school.

"A little hectic. There's only one artery to the school and there's a lot of traffic," said Ed Clark, who took the day off from his job in quality control at Carl Zeiss Vision in Hebron, Ky. "The guy is tremendous. Pleasant, friendly. I was glad back when we did sign him."

That is no throwaway line because the Clarks are serious Bengals fans. They went to training camp this year and while his son showed up Tuesday draped in a life-sized Jones 57 jersey, Dad arrived wearing the No. 91 of linebacker Robert Geathers instead of your basic offensive 9s, 85s, 32s and 84s.

Everyone was wearing orange Tuesday, including Goetz, still shaking her head after saying goodbye to Jones and getting the school ready for lunch. She watched Jones direct all the kids out of the bleachers so they could line up for cals as part of the lesson in getting exercise for an hour.

"I thought it was," said Goetz when asked if she thought it was impressive. "When he said, 'I could be principal, too,' I was saying, 'Yeah buddy, you could.'

"We've had a lot of speakers come in. Our firemen do a great presentation every year. He's probably the most engaging speaker we've had."

In between cracking several jokes on how his alma mater of Michigan is going to beat Ohio State this Saturday, Jones led them in 10 jumping jacks, 10 toe touches ("All The Way Back"), five tuck jumps and 12 situps.

Then after making sure he got all of Ian's family in the pictures, motioning his step parents into the frame, he left to do his own exercises at the stadium.

On Mondays, he's there from 11 to 4.

On Tuesdays, noon to 3 and then 6-8:30 or 9 at night.

On Wednesdays and Thursday, 7:15 a.m.-8 p.m.

On Friday, it's 8-3 p.m.

"What a great sound system in a theater setting," said Jones, who once broke up a nightly video session by watching "Top Gun." "What better way to watch film? Some guys don't watch film because there's no background noise. They don't like studying because there's nothing to go along with it."

And since Jones' passion for music is as varied as an NFL playbook, he may end up studying stunts to Sam Cooke or routes to reggae (Morgan Heritage is his current favorite) or fire zones to the Jackson Five.

"I'm killing three birds with one stone," Jones said. "I'm getting my music, my film study and I'm defeating through a non-aggressive style the knock that maybe I'm not into football as much as I should be."

It's not that Jones has given up his gigs. He'll eventually go back to playing the alto saxophone and wash bucket bass as well as dabble with the piano. And while he does do a spot on Tuesdays with Fox Radio, he's staying away from his old haunts of ESPN and the NFL Network.

"I just don't want do it right now. I'm trying to catch up to what all these guys were doing the offseason and training camp," Jones said.

"I just got here. Why would you try to impress yourself on a city that doesn't know you? They don't even know if you can play football. So why not show them that you can play football and see how they respond to you?"

But Jones doesn't exactly get out enough to commission a focus group poll. He's content to ride his fixed-gear bicycle around town, a freewheeling contraption that once dominated racing at velodromes, and he'll think nothing about hanging out at the University of Cincinnati's bike shop, or riding across the People Bridge, or stopping by Newport on the Levee, or heading to what he calls the waterfront.

"I miss San Diego," said Jones, who has a beach home there as well as what he calls a one-room shack on the New Jersey Shore. "But Cincinnati has a nice waterfront."

And Jones notices such things. He is a member of The Climate Project, and was invited to Nashville, Tenn., to be trained by Gore in what has been described as "an intensive tutorial about issues surrounding global warming."

"He taught the class and I had lunch and dinner with him," Jones said. "Good guy. Smart guy. A guy ahead of the curve on a lot of things. It was a great opportunity to learn from a guy that has been a pioneer on the issue. I've got to finish the course up over the offseason so I can go and give my five presentations (to various organizations).

"Something is wrong when it's almost 60, 70 degrees in December," Jones said. "And 115 in August."

It's still too early for Jones to think about next year, although there are signs the Bengals would like him back. He's planning for one future event, though. He bid on and won two items during the CF luncheon, one of which was a stay at an Arizona resort during Super Bowl week.

"If we're in it, then it will be for my family," Jones said. "It's a win-win."

Which, at the moment, seems to be what the Bengals are doing with Jones.

Whether he's The Renaissance Man or Handyman.

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