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Mitch Wilcox And His Just-Do-Your-Part Bengals Savor A Hometown Win And Lesson

Mitchell Wilcox went home to score his first NFL touchdown.
Mitchell Wilcox went home to score his first NFL touchdown.

Just as Monday turned into afternoon, Chuck Wilcox's voice still sounded a little hoarse and a little dreamy after watching son Mitchell have a homecoming like no other in the national CBS window that caught the red-hot Bengals spoiling another Tom Brady playoff run in Sunday's 34-23 win at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium.

"Storybook," Chuck Wilcox called it. "My phone blew up with about 150 texts. I'm down to about 118 (left to answer). I'm working on it."

Mitchell Wilcox, the Bengals' unheralded and undrafted backup tight end who grew up 21 miles from Raymond James, came out of it with a game ball and his first NFL touchdown in the same end zone he scored a touchdown in his first game in the building for the University of South Florida.

"He scored it on the right side last night. A few years ago it was on the left side," said Chuck Wilcox, who should know because he keeps his binoculars trained on him every play. "Every NFL player has a story and Mitchell is no different. All the things you go through to get to that point."

It's been a three-year journey since signing with the Bengals that's more typical in the league than the Burrows and the Chases and the Hayden Hursts (calf), the No. 1 tight end he has replaced in the last three games beginning with the first quarter in the win over Kansas City.

From the disappointment of not getting called the last day of the draft to grinding on and off the practice squad to that rocky opener a few months ago when he was pressed into service as the long snapper and delivered one good enough to win it but it got blocked.

To this, walking to midfield with former Bucs guard Alex Cappa Sunday as head coach Zac Taylor's appointed game captains and standing across from the Bucs great linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White.

"That was pretty cool. To come home and walk out there," Mitch Wilcox said. "It was kind of funny. When we got out there they said to him, "Welcome home, Cap."

Welcome home to Wilcox, the son of a retired Coast Guard commander, grandson of a Parris Island Marine and nephew and cousin of Columbus, Ohio police officers who knows something about doing his job. He came into the game with eight catches for 70 yards this season and left with three for 39 and that first touchdown, a 12-yard flip from rolling quarterback Joe Burrow that finished the scoring as the Bucs bit on Wilcox's run block fake on the perimeter.

Chuck Wilcox watched it again back at the house about 20 minutes away. Some of the 60 or so family members and friends that came to the game visited Wilcox briefly at the gate following the win and then stuck around to savor it a little bit more after the buses pulled away. Chuck figures he turned off the game about 1 a.m.

"We watch it two ways," he said of his wife Carole. "We watch Mitchell when we go to the game and then we watch it later in total."

And they travel. Usually they sit where they did Sunday. Way up there in section 300 in the last couple of rows. But this was their "home," game they circled when the schedule came out in May.

Then again, this is a hometown story because it begins in Ohio. Both of Wilcox's parents were born in Sandusky. They've known each other so long that they were both delivered by Carole's father. Chuck went undergrad to Ohio State as he embarked on a four-decade military career. Seven of those years were in the Ohio Air National Guard attached to a helicopter unit and the rest was in the port security arm of the Coast Guard. After 9/11, he went from Boston to Bahrain and everywhere in between eight deployments as the couple settled in Florida.

Mitchell Wilcox didn't go military, but Chuck Wilcox thinks maybe he did.

"You play as a team. It's not about you. It's what you do to help facilitate the goals of the team," Chuck said. "Standing side-by-side, arms locked together with your brother on the front line. Whether it's the line of scrimmage or somewhere else."

That's the way it looked when head coach Zac Taylor tossed him the game ball to the delight of his cheering teammates and told him to lead them in the Who Dey chant that celebrates each win.

"We were kind of making fun of him, talking about what he was going to do when he scored," said Burrow, Sunday's commander. "We had talked about it all week, how that was going to come up in a big-time spot and it was an exciting moment."