Posted: 7:40 a.m.
The Bears have said all week that they know that Cedric Benson had this game circled on his calendar. What they don't know is that his mother, Jacqueline, did too.
"Yes, this is the first game we've been to in Cincinnati," she said Saturday. "I've got a 10-year-old son, so it's hard to get away. But, yes, I wanted to make sure I saw this one."
Behind every date is a stack of years that came before and that's where she comes from. She comes from their home in Austin, the capital of Texas, the state where football rules and her son was once king. Jacqueline and 10-year-old Deondric had one thing in mind when they arrived at their downtown hotel.
"Go buy Cedric's jersey," she said. "His brother looks up to him. He wants to follow in his footsteps. Everything is about Cedric."
Deondric should fit right in at Sunday's 4:15 p.m. game against the Bears, a nationally-televised grudge match the Bengals need to win and Benson hopes to will to win.
With the 4-2 Bengals looking at a bye week and the 3-2 Bears staring at .500 and the undefeated Vikings, it looms as the proverbial swing game for both. But because this is the early 2st century and gossip and controversy have become as much a part of sports as the stats, Benson's first game against the team that jettisoned him makes this league-wide stuff since he has been one of the NFL rushing leaders ever since the season started.
"I talked to him yesterday and he's excited but he's treating it like any other game," Jacqueline said. "He doesn't feel there's any difference. Cedric worked really hard this past summer and it's been showing up this season and I think it's going to show up in this game."
It would not be a stretch to say the eyes of Texas are upon Benson in this one. Jacqueline just got her copy of The Bible, Dave Campbell's Texas Football magazine that is celebrating its 50th year by rating the state's most memorable 50 high school players in that stretch and Cedric and Adrian Peterson are in the rarefied air of first-team running backs.
If that doesn't say how good No. 32 was in high school, check out John Parchman flipping channels back home Sunday.
"I want to get that one, but I usually have to look pretty hard to get the Bengals," Parchman said last week. "I hope we get that one. I don't know if Cedric knows this or not, but he's got a lot of friends down here. I'm talking about the average people. The butcher. Just people around town. In the grocery store. He was respected. Because he was nice to them."
Parchman is Benson's high school coach at Lee in Midland, Texas, the man he helped to a legendary three straight 5A state titles, a legacy as big as Texas itself. But he's a lot more than that.
"He's family. I consider him a father figure," Benson said.
Benson, always the Texas straight shooter when it comes to a question, said he needed one growing up. With Jacqueline single and trying to raise him while she worked as a bookkeeper, Benson said he knew early he couldn't give her grief.
"I knew she didn't need me giving her trouble; I figured it out early," he said. "I think it's because of her I've got a soft heart."
Texas is deep in that heart. It's where people who know him best, like Jacqueline and Deondric and Parchman and the lady stuck on the busy highway in Austin. It's where Texas football first saw the passion and physicality he's brought to the Bengals.
"You've got a lot of associates," Benson said last week, "but you don't have a lot of time to make as many friends."
Parchman is thrilled with Benson's comeback in Cincinnati. He always thought the Bears "misread" him in Chicago, going right back to the moment the Bears picked him fourth in the 2005 draft.
"He broke down and cried," Parchman said. "They said it was because he didn't want to go to Chicago. That was wrong. He was just happy to be going anywhere. It was tears because he was happy."
Jacqueline still can't believe she is going to see her son play in an NFL game. Despite the high school legend that grew into all those yards in Austin at the University of Texas, she says, "I never dreamed in a million years we would be doing this. I mean, some people said when he was in the sixth grade he was going to make it and that's when we first thought about it. But to have it still happen…"
To make it twice, actually.
After the Bears cut him following two alcohol-related run-ins with police in Texas in the spring of 2008, Benson was on the street until the Bengals signed him Sept. 30. That came a few days after a grand jury failed to indict him in the incidents, but they took a huge chunk out of his career.
"He stayed optimistic," Jacqueline said. "I think we knew he was going to get another chance. It was the type of thing where we prayed and after we prayed we put it in God's hands and waited."
Benson has since said that he's changed some things in his life since that summer, but last week he also challenged the notion that he's a changed man from his Chicago days. After all, he asked, he'd only been out of there a year-and-a-half. How different could he be?
Jacqueline's scouting report: "He's very nice, a charming guy who's very giving and willing to help."
"I've coached a lot of players in 37 years. I coached junior college, too," Parchman said. "And Cedric is a good guy. When that stuff happened down here last summer, we were thinking that he was going to get that resolved, that he would be cleared. I think he may have been thinking, 'OK, guys have done a lot worse than that. I stubbed my toe. I'm ready to move on.' And he has."
This where Benson has the homefield advantage.
Parchman, whose wife taught math at Midland, is certainly a reference call on the resume. He was over the house so much in high school that he considers Benson a son. Parchman's two daughters, about the same age, had a brother-like figure that once sprayed shaving cream in a pair of tennis shoes.
"I think that was my oldest daughter," Parchman said with a laugh. "They turned green and I don't think she talked to Cedric for a year."
Benson wanted to learn how to cook like Parchman and so one day they cooked some catfish and the coach realized that he was doing all the cooking and Benson was doing all the watching of the baseball game that was on TV.
"You'd get mad at him like he was one of your children," he said. "My wife texts him after every game, congratulating him or asking what the heck happened, and then a lot of times we'll get a call when they're at the airport coming home or two or three days later."
There won't be any cooking after this game. The family will go out to eat in Benson's adopted home and Jacqueline thinks it will be a good capper to a nice day.
"I'm really excited to see how the fans are here," she said. "To see if they cheer as loud as they do in Texas. Yes, I've heard (how much Ohio loves football)."
Like Parchman, Jacqueline doesn't really know what happened in Chicago. She doesn't think the people disliked her son, but she thinks it may have come from some teammates. All she knows is what she heard last year about the lady on the Austin highway.
"She was on the side of the road and she looked lost or something was wrong," Jacqueline said. "And Cedric pulled over to help and that's a very busy highway."
And all she knows is that he sounds like he likes it here.
"To know that he's happy, that he likes it here and that he's enjoying it, it's a great feeling," she said.
So this one seemed like a good one to circle.