The day after the Bengals moved on when their most accurate kicker ever moved on, Doug Pelfrey took a step back.
"The sobering reality about the NFL," Pelfrey said Friday, "is when you really think you're good, you're running events at Paul Brown Stadium."
This one was Kroger's Celebrity Gridiron Challenge, a flag football extravaganza pitting corporate teams quarterbacked by Bengals. Pelfrey's business, Propel Sports, ran the event for the non-profit Athletes United Foundation with all $50-60,000 raised going to the Locker Program that teaches children community service while also supplying needy families with necessities.
As usual, Pelfrey was all over it like one of his late field goals cutting through the black hole of the '90s. His six last-play field goals in seven seasons is a nice legacy, but he is still building on his reputation as one of the Bengals' most tireless contributors in the community. His Kicks for Kids has become one of the Tri-State's most recognizable and popular non-profits. Propel is in the business of seeing Pelfrey's passion for community service through pro athletes becoming involved in their towns.
Friday was between-the-uprights good.
The weather was hot but great and there was plenty of food and drink and smiling volunteers. His point men for the event, Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth and linebacker Rey Maualuga, supplied 23 other teammates. Backup quarterback Jordan Palmer defended his title with a hard fought finals win over offensive lineman Dan Santucci. Cornerback Adam Jones drew plays in the palm of his hand as he took the snap. Right guard Bobbie Williams quarterbacked more teams than Kurt Warner. Defensive tackle Domata Peko mastered the goal-line flip.
"When you think about it," said Whitworth, a 6-7 Doug Flutie with his sidearm serves, "that's really a great turnout for a Friday. It's an off day for us. A lot of guys travel for the weekend. But it was the same thing when I had my (foundation fundraiser) in Louisiana last month. Nearly 20 guys came down to that. I knew it wouldn't be a problem getting guys for this because we've got good guys."
Pelfrey turns 40 this year, his last NFL field goal struck 11 years ago in Riverfront Stadium's last game. But he is very relevant on this day after Shayne Graham became a Baltimore Raven and Mike Nugent and Dave Rayner are in a battle to become the next Bengals kicker in line after Pelfrey, Neil Rackers, Graham…
"They'll save money and those guys will probably do just as well as Shayne did," Pelfrey said. "They replaced me and I thought I was pretty good."
The fans detest Graham because of his short list of crucial misses. But from 1994-96, Pelfrey ended one third of the Bengals' 18 victories with a walk-off field goal. While Graham had trouble in the last few seconds, Pelfrey once kicked a tying field goal and winning field goal in a game's final three seconds.
At the end of '96, Pelfrey was the NFL's most accurate kicker. In the next three years, he lost his snapper, holder and job.
Graham got a taste of it this offseason. The fourth most accurate kicker of all time and the Bengals' only Pro Bowl kicker, Graham couldn't get that magic $3 million per year deal. Or $2 million per year for that matter. With no salary cap this year and possibly no football next year, it wasn't a good year for free agents. Especially kickers. Especially kickers who missed two short ones in the playoffs.
"It can happen in a hurry and that's something that Shayne and everybody else out here has to realize," said Pelfrey, nodding at the Bengals on the field. "They can get cut in this training camp and be out of football. The good thing is I've been able to build a business. I've learned a lot about business and going through this I have more respect for (Bengals president) Mike Brown and what he's doing trying to run a business than I did when I played. I've got a different perspective."
But Pelfrey's perspective on Graham is the same as the two protagonists.
"Both sides had to move on," Pelfrey said. "It would have been hard to go back into that locker room the way it ended last season. At the same time, Shayne's been a great kicker here. He's still getting paid at a high level so obviously he's still held in high regard and for the Bengals' sake they need to move on.
"Shayne should be commended for the records he set and just for all the kicks that he made. But he still leaves here with the stigma that he didn't make the big one. He has a new lease on life and he can go to Baltimore and show them who he is. And the Bengals can move on. It would have been really tenuous here in the locker room with these guys and the fans."
Pelfrey knows kickers are made not born. He's an eighth-round draft pick who would have been a free agent today. Although Nugent and Rayner are recycled, he knows that means nothing. He also thinks Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons means something.
"Most college and NFL kicking coaches don't know kicking; Darrin knows it," Pelfrey said. "They have the luxury of having a guy like Dallas used to have (Steve Hoffman). They were able to find the next guy and Darrin can find the next guy. He's probably comfortable with what they have now and if he can find somebody better, he'll bring him in."
Pelfrey grew up here (Scott High School in Northern Kentucky) and went to college at Kentucky, so he's intrigued by Ohio State's Nugent.
"Nugent was just incredible coming out of college," Pelfrey said. "He needed to come here. I don't know who is going to make the team. I don't know if it is Nugent, Rayner, or a free agent, but this should be an ideal place for Nugent. Either here or Cleveland because it brings him back to a setting where he had so much success. People will love him before he even kicks a ball. And for Rayner, he's getting another shot."
Graham also left his mark in the city as one of the Bengals' most community-minded players and he was basically the most recent face of Kicks for Kids. Look for that to become punter Kevin Huber now, another local guy with Pelfrey good-guy popularity.
It is the NFL. One face fades away as another emerges.
Pelfrey has been watching Whitworth and kind of sees himself. Unafraid to approach his teammates and get them organized out in the community.
"He probably is going to take this as a huge slap in the face because I was a kicker," Pelfrey said. "But he seems to be kind of a ringleader. He's got a great perspective. He and his wife Melissa seem like very grounded people who are very engaged in the community."
Another kicker is in the wings. For this kid, he's interested to see this kick.
"It's a cycle and you learn it and you play it and you live it," Pelfrey said. "And sometimes you win and sometimes you lose."