Mates, coaches, fans rally to Weathersby

4-14-04, 5:45 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

While University Hospital offered no updates on his condition Wednesday, Dennis Weathersby's teammates are staying upbeat as he remains hospitalized with a serious head injury.

For once, their focus is not on the game as the off-season workouts hit the home stretch in preparation for the May 7-9 minicamp. Strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton ended Tuesday's session with a prayer meeting.

"I want him to play again because I know how much football means to him," said wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Weathersby's teammate at Oregon State. "But in this situation, football is really, really secondary. You don't even think about that. You just want him to be OK."

The Bengals are saying nothing about the head injury and what it means for his future. Weathersby was found unconscious early Monday evening when his car slid off a rainy highway exit ramp in Springdale and slid into a utility pole.

Head coach Marvin Lewis did release a statement Wednesday that said, "As an organization, our thoughts and prayers are with Dennis and his family We are offering all the support we can while hoping for his full recovery."

Bengals defensive tackle John Thornton's web site has been busy with get-well wishes for Weathersby. Thornton, who runs bengalscentral.com, said early Wednesday afternoon there have been at least 100 posting by fans, and he has received about 50 private e-mail messages.

"Something like this just makes you realize how quickly things can change," Thornton said. "I saw him Monday morning here, and he's working out, and he's fine, and then you walk in Tuesday and hear what happened and it's just hard to believe."

Houshmandzadeh and another former Oregon State teammate, fellow cornerback Terrell Roberts, have visited him every day and have tried to comfort the family after it arrived from California. Weathersby has had a steady stream of teammates and coaches at his side.

"They want to keep him pretty quiet, so they've got him pretty sedated. We get up and out of there quietly" Houshmandzadeh said. "As someone who has known his mom and known his family, this is just sad. It's really tough. But I'm going to pray. I'm a positive person and I know he's going to get through this. That's what I have to believe."

Like everyone else, Houshmandzadeh just can't believe Weathersby's run of events. The accident came about a week shy of the one-year anniversary he was shot near his hometown of Duarte, Calif.

"Then he comes back from that to have this happen," Houshmandzadeh said. "But I'm sure that has made him stronger."

Thornton noticed how Weathersby had been more outgoing this year compared to last year, and how it seemed like he was having an excellent offseason. But the severity of the accident prevented Thornton from putting it into football terms as he thought about the trade for Broncos cornerback Deltha O'Neal that was completed 72 hours before the accident.

"You can't even wonder what would have happened if we didn't make that trade," Thornton said. "All you want him to do is to be all right and get up and around again. Never mind about football."

The accident occurred about 7 p.m. Monday. Houshmandzadeh said Weathersby was going to pick him up at the airport at 4 p.m., but the plans changed when Houshmandzadeh ended up taking a later flight. He thought he might hook up with Weathersby when he got into town, but instead he got a call from Roberts and they ended up going to the hospital.

"It's hard," Houshmandzadeh said. "You just have to pray."

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