New shade of X-Mas in Cincy


Andy Dalton at Tuesday's Shop with a Jock event. (McDaniel's Photography)

Cade Morgan did what everybody around the NFL and Cincinnati has been trying to do ever since A.J. Green became a Bengal earlier this year.

He opened up a little bit Tuesday and tucked away his usual reserve while catching the wonder and excitement of Christmas that only a seven-year-old can throw.

"I didn't know they were going to talk that much. I thought they were going to be shy. They kept me on my toes," said Green, a shy guy himself, looking back at the table where he and Cade's group were eating pasta. "I had no choice."

The Bengals brought their own Christmas colors to the Marvin Lewis Community Fund's Shop With a Jock party at Dick's Sporting Goods in Kenwood. There was Green and Red (Andy Dalton) and Frostee (Rucker), along with the man who carries the goods (Cedric Benson), while a group of Ben-Gals shopped with the girls.

They fanned out with 25 needy children from public schools in Cincinnati and Covington, Ky., as well as from the youth centers of the Cincinnati Recreation Commission. Each of the kids had $120 to spend and a Bengal to give them advice.

The little kids were with Green. The kids a little older were with Dalton. Green and Dalton. Dalton and Green.

They have become Cincinnati's newest team 1-2 punch, the biggest big-play combo since cheese and chili and about as flashy. Dalton had Christmas in a teeming Houston suburb while Green celebrated in sleepy rural South Carolina, and Cincinnati has embraced them both as symbols of the new-look and new-sound Bengals. Neither of them says more than a few sentences at a time when the mikes are out and are known only for their better-than-expected exploits on the field during riveting rookie seasons.

Dalton got dropped off by his wife headed for a shopping trip of her own to Kenwood Mall and when he got to Dick's wearing a sweater, jeans and sneakers, he walked past life-sized posters of Cam Newton, one of his chief rivals for NFL Rookie of the Year, pretty much unnoticed.

If it is not Green.

"I wanted them to have what they wanted. I was just trying to help out with the colors or whatever," said Dalton, ever the signal-caller. "You have to look good. Give my two cents."

Cade gave his $120 worth. He goes to director Tonaruse Witherspoon's CRC center in Price Hill and earned the trip because he's helpful and diligent in the facility and on Tuesday he got hooked up with Green like one of those jump balls from Dalton.

"I want some Jordan shoes," Cade immediately announced to Green upon meeting him and Green, wearing his White Sox ballcap and sweats, smiled, shrugged, and led the way to the shoes.

They couldn't find any, but Green kept on the lookout for clothing and when they were checking out with shirts and shorts and a football, among other items, Cade wanted to know all kinds of things about Green.

"I'm from South Carolina," Green told him.

"Did you get traded here?" Cade asked him.

"No, they drafted me," Green said.

"What's drafted?" asked Cade, beating Raiders coach Hue Jackson to the punch.

Green could only shake with laughter when Cade leaned into a TV camera and asked, "Are you Carson Palmer?"

"Cade really needed this," said a lady who works for CRC. "We had to twist his arm to get into the limo. He didn't want to come. He didn't want to leave. Now look at him. It's good for him."

As usual, Lewis's foundation does things in style. The kids were surprised at the last minute with the trip and a limousine ferried each group to Dick's. One of them may even live in a car. Or nowhere at all.

Pam Thomas, who rode with her nine children, has seen it all as director of Project Connect for Cincinnati Public Schools. One of her responsibilities is to make it easier for homeless children to attend school.

"They could live in a shelter, a car, or they could be couch-surfing, or doubled up with another family, or have lost their apartment or home. It could be numerous reasons (they are homeless)," Thomas said after getting her photo snapped with Dalton by her friend Dawn Grady, manager of marketing and community relations for CPS.

Thomas may have wanted her photo with Dalton ("I think he's great for the Cincinnati Bengals. He's a quiet guy, but he performs," she said), but her kids needed a photo with him. She knows how enormous this day would be in their lives.

This is the kind of day where a kid walked through the cashier line holding a box under one arm and a bag in another and said to no one in particular, "This is the most amazeness day of my life."

"We have one child who lost his mother recently," Thomas said, "and when they played the Steelers he said, 'I know my mom's in heaven watching.' That was a week ago. And he had no idea until (about an hour ago) that he was coming to this. He's wearing a Bengals jersey."

Cade was looking for a No. 18 Green jersey, but there weren't any in children's sizes and Green pulled a tiny long-sleeved T-shirt off a rack and said, "How about this? Thirty bucks."

"I know a lot of them come from pretty rough backgrounds," Green said. "But you wouldn't know. They all have smiles on their faces."

Cade bumped into Dalton with his group looking at shoes before he moved on. Dalton was running that end of the store like a two-minute drill, guiding kids and shoes and making sure the clerks had the right kid lined up with the right shoe size.

"Shoes seemed to be the most popular thing," said Dalton, who also shedded his usual reserve around the kids. "I have a passion for this kind of stuff. Giving back to kids in need. Underprivileged kids. Especially this time of year."

Giving back has been drummed into Dalton because his parents raised him and his older sister and younger brother in the church. While he played in the praise band, he was also a part of clothing and food drives.

"Things that get passed on to families," he said.

Dalton laughed when someone mentioned that the picture of the day would have been him standing next to the cardboard cutout of Newton.

"He's got UnderArmour. He's got the endorsement deal. He's the poster child," said Dalton, who says he doesn't care if he has a poster or if he ever will. "Cam has played well. He's a lot of fun to watch. He's already set a record for rushing touchdowns. He's doing a lot of good things."

Dalton says he hasn't thought about Rookie of the Year and while it's never been his focus, it certainly isn't now with the Bengals playoff hopes hanging precariously at 7-6.

"I'm just trying to do everything I can to help this team win," he said.

"Andy," said a kid as he gave him a Bengals team picture, "can you sign this?"

"Sure, you know my number?" Dalton asked.

"14."

"You know where I am in here?"

"Right here," the kid said.

They may be uncomfortable in the media spotlight, but Green and Dalton know what to do around the kids. Maybe because they're kids themselves. Dalton just turned 24. Green is only 23.

"That's the crazy thing about it," said Green, knowing the kids are looking to him like he looked to Randy Moss not very long ago.

"There's a lot of kids that look up to us and I'm just trying to set a great example for the kids and show them a good time," Green said. "Being an only child, a lot of people back home look up to me, so I'm always trying to set a great example for the kids and give them hope they can make it."

And there was Cade.

"He's a handful, but its fun," Green said.

It turned out Cade put too many things in his bag and went over the $120. Green waved off the cashier and said he'd take care of the extra, which is how Cade got two new sweaters.

As the party broke up, after Green sat next to Cade and they shared some soda and pasta, another one of Witherspoon's kids approached him and proudly showed him a $100 Dick's gift certificate.

"Look what Andy gave me," he said and Witherspoon joked, "You're going to donate some to me, right?"

Meanwhile, Dalton approached Green. He needed to get over to the mall to meet his wife.

"You taking off?" Dalton asked. "Can you give me a ride?"

Dalton and Green.

Green and Red.

Christmas colors all year now in Cincy.

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