10-23-02, 7:15 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Fullback Lorenzo Neal didn't want the cat out of the bag.
But the idea of a kitty scampered out during Jon Kitna's weekly news conference Wednesday in which he was asked about Neal's idea of the Bengals putting up money this week and then donating it to charity if the team falls to 0-7 against Tennessee Sunday.
"I think it's great," Kitna said. "Anything that can add a little extra motivation for us is a positive thing. I hope guys buy into it. I'm in. I told him as soon as he asked me that I'm in."
Defensive end Glen Steele is ready to go in, too.
"Maybe we have to put something down on the table, I don't know," Steele said, "It's something. We've tried everything. We've got all the talent in the world, it just isn't coming together. We have to all get on one cylinder and go."
With the media in full throttle on the issue by the end of Wednesday's practice, Neal wasn't so sure he wanted to go through with it because he wanted to keep it internal. Stunned at the national media barrage aimed at a team being outscored each week by an average of three touchdowns, Neal is simply looking for something to make things better.
"The New York Times," is in town to dissect why the Bengals are
currently the worst team in the NFL and ESPN shines its news feature spotlight on the team Thursday.
It figures Neal is out in front during Titans' week. A prominent member of Tennessee's 26-6 run in 1990 and 2000, Neal hasn't forgotten they made him a salary-cap casualty before the 2001 season.
"They know what's up," Neal said. "They know they let the best in the game get away. They signed a nice guy. They gave him my money, so I can show them why they should have given me that much."
The working number in the kitty plan is $2,000 per man, but it was clearly a work in progress by the end of practice.
"I don't think it's worth talking about to the media," Neal said. "Guys got together and just talked. Just hypothetically speaking. We'll see what happens."
But there is no hypothetical about it. Neal, who called last week's loss to Pittsburgh, "an absolute disgrace," can't take much more. Anything to make it better.
"Just trying to get this win, get this show on the right road, turn this season around," Neal said. "It's time to work. Time to get serious. Time to make some believers, give somebody something to cheer about. Give our fans, our families, you guys, something to write about that's good."
The bad thing about the bye is the Bengals had to sit around for two weeks and hear their coast-to-coast, 24-hour hammering.
"I'm tired of getting all of this press," Neal said. "It's, like, amazing. We get more press for losing than we do winning. I've never seen so much attention turned on to a losing team."
The Titans tried to replace Neal last year with a $500,000 fullback in William Floyd and it didn't work. This past offseason, they signed former Giant Greg Comella to a multi-year deal believed to be paying him about $700-800,000 this season, about the amount they didn't want to give Neal in '01.
"All I want to do," said Neal as he downplayed the kitty idea, "is to go out here, hit somebody in the mouth, knock them out, and make them call my name, 'Daddy.'"
He knows that means bringing home nothing less than a win. No matter the cost.