BY GEOFF HOBSON
Even before Shayne Graham started to attack their kicking records percentage point by decimal point, Jim Breech pulled aside Doug Pelfrey and told him something comforting.
"Doug," the Bengals' all-time leading scorer told the Bengals' most accurate kicker in their history, "you'll like him. He's just like us."
Breech meant good-guy humble. But as Graham heads into his 28th game as a Bengal, Pelfrey knows it also means steel-belted consistent.
"Before he's done," Pelfrey said earlier this week, "he should have all of our records and I'm happy for him."
Graham's next field goal gives him 14 straight, breaking the record held by both Breech in 1990, and Pelfrey in 1993 and 1995. It would also make him 23 of 25 this season, even better than last year's 22 of 25 that broke Pelfrey's season accuracy record he set in 1994.
"I really like his form. It's very smooth and it always seems like it's the same all the time," Pelfrey said. "You know, we were on the same field back in the summer. I was working with a kid at Cincinnati Christian Hills Academy and I looked out in the distance and I saw him kicking. I thought I was looking at myself for a minute."
Graham has an easy relationship of respect with the two best kickers in his team's history. He has worked on some community projects with the always active Pelfrey and has always heard encouraging words from Breech, the ultimate sports fan.
"To hear they're in my corner," Graham says," is absolutely no surprise. Two class acts. And look at all the things they have done here."
They feel that way about Graham. Pelfrey, who still remains as serious about his work with kids as his conviction that he should still be kicking in the NFL, loves Graham's demeanor.
"It always seems like there are two kinds of kickers," Pelfrey said. "There are the good guys, good athletes, humble guys looking to help the team and looking to get getter. And then there are the cocky guys that always want to make tackles on kickoffs, or something like that."
You know where these three guys stand. And if Pelfrey stood on the side of resentment, who could really blame him? He went from being the NFL's all-time accurate kicker at the beginning of the 1997 season to the Bengals cutting him at the beginning of the 2000 season, and no one can tell you why an NFL team never picked him up.
"I felt I was made a scapegoat," Pelfrey said of the decision to keep fourth-round pick Neil Rackers. "I told you guys that at the draft. You could see what was happening.
"But, who knows?" Pelfrey said. "Maybe they were right. Nobody picked me up."
It's a reason you never really see Pelfrey around Paul Brown Stadium. Breech hasn't been around much since Graham arrived on the waiver wire at the beginning of last season because he usually only shows when things aren't going so hot, and maybe people could use his help.
"To me, that's tremendous," Breech said. "To have a guy like Darrin Simmons who has done it working with these guys is a big edge. And you can tell by how much Kyle (Larson) has progressed this season (as a rookie punter)."
But Breech has been where no one else has been. When Graham secured a five-year contract for $6.5 million back in March, he was one of the first guys on the phone congratulating him.
"It's got to be a great feeling for him not having to keep moving around," Breech said. "I know that meant a lot to me when I finally got settled."
And Breech showed up last week in the locker room after doing some shopping in the Pro Shop to wish the kickers well. And maybe just a thoughtful show of the foot as silent support in a week of a possible record.
The man who was MVP of Super Bowl XXIII until the time it took Joe Montana to pass for 92 yards also made sure he talked to long snapper Brad St. Louis because he knows how important his job is.
"You guys can be here for a long time," Breech told Graham and Larson, which is also the holding-and-kicking team. "It's great to have the same operation. The last time there was any kind of continuity was when it was Doug and (punter) Lee (Johnson)."
The firing of Johnson after a few choice words about management near the end of the 1998 season following a miserable loss meant the beginning of the end for Pelfrey.
No more would Bengaldom take for granted a long snapper and a holder. It started a parade of five snappers and three holders (or was it three snappers and five holders?) as Pelfrey's accuracy plummeted through the chaos.
So, Pelfrey is more likely to show up at his alma mater of the University of Kentucky rather than the Bengals.
"I don't know. There's just a better feeling going down to UK," Pelfrey said. "There's something about getting cut by a team. Getting cut by your hometown team when you really didn't think you deserved it. I don't know if that will ever go away."
But be clear. Pelfrey wants it clear. He's not bitter or resentful. He's still a man driven by his family and faith first.
He is what he has always been when you grow up in Northern Kentucky. A huge Bengals' fan. He's a big admirer of head coach Marvin Lewis, and, in fact, has adopted some of Lewis' techniques in his burgeoning business ventures.
"I love what Marvin Lewis doing. He's a great organizer who keeps everything positive and tries to get everyone involved and feel a part of it," Pelfrey said. "I wish I could have played for him. I never really felt I was in professional football when I was there for seven years, and Marvin has brought that. I like to think if he was there, when I was there, I'd still be kicking. I give Mike Brown and the Blackburns a great deal of credit for hiring him."
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Things are good. His 4 1/2-year-old daughter, his oldest, recently underwent open heart surgery and is getting better all the time. A NFL winning kick is nice, but listen to Pelfrey talk about his family getting through that, and numbers are just numbers.
"Records," Pelfrey said, "are made for other people to break. It's nice to have had them in the first place."
Ten years later, Graham is also following Pelfrey in at least one tradition. In 1994, the Bengals won three games, all on the last play with a Pelfrey kick against teams that fired their coaches either the day after or at the end of the season. Graham's one last-snap winning field goal in 27 Bengals games came against the Dolphins in the second game of this season, and we know what happened to Dave Wannstedt.
Against Baltimore eight years ago, the scoreboard clock read 0:00 for Pelfrey.
"Not a better feeling," Breech told Graham. "How did Miami feel?"
Probably as nice as having the two all-timers right behind him.