BY GEOFF HOBSON
Bengals nose tackle Oliver Gibson reported to his new place of business
this morning, leaned back in his locker and looked up at the spot where there will be one of of several TVs in the sprawling home locker room and said, "out of excuses."
Defensive end John Copeland, one of the Bengals who used to hang his clothes in Spinney Field's infamous chicken wire lockers, smiled at the roomy top shelf of his new locker.
"No more excuses," he said.
June 26, 2000. It's the Bengals' version of July 4, 1776. When they moved into their gleaming practice facility in the bowels of Paul Brown Stadium, they declared independence from the tired, old Spinney stereotype that they lose big because they don't care about little things like player amenities.
"The people of Cincinnati, the Bengals, they really went all out on this one," Gibson said. "We've got to bring home a winner. . .It's first class. We don't have to listen to other guys from other teams saying, 'We have this. . .' Really, I don't want to say anything. I just want to play. Everyone's gone all out for us."
Across the room, which is really across a room when it's 11,000 square feet, tight end Marco Battaglia, couldn't wipe the smile off his face.
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"I feel like I just got traded to the Cincinnati Bengals downtown. Spinney was the suburbs," Battaglia said. "This is definitely high rise. That's what i was telling people. I feel like I'm going to a new job. It's a fresh start."
Asked if he had just been traded to a contender, Battaglia said, "With this team, we always have a chance. We just have to put it together. . . If we don't win, we're in deep trouble. We better win. We have to thank the fans, the taxpayers, in some way. They definitely outdid themselves."
Copeland knows. He's one of the four players left from the '93 team (tight end Tony McGee, free safety Darryl Williams, kicker Doug Pelfrey) who worked in the "old," Spinney before it was rehabbed during the '94 season. Copeland, a defensive end, recalled twisting his shoulder pads into a ball so they could fit on top of a locker held together by metal wire.
"Like a cage,' Copeland said, looking at his new, massive wood locker. "Not one shelf. But two shelves. You can lay the shoulder pads right on the top one, You've even got a (rack) to put your shoes right here at the bottom.
"I knew it was going to be nice, but this is more than I ever thought,"
Copeland said. "There's an attitude just walking into this place. You want to win when you see this. Man, you have to win. A lot of guys won't see this until we get back from training camp, but it's going to carry over into an attitude. We'll come back from Georgetown and the feeling will be multiplied by 10."
Coach Bruce Coslet, who dressed on Paul Brown's concrete floor when Spinney was young, shook his head as he walked up and down the locker room. He greeted Copeland with, "You've come a long way baby."
Coslet is as pragmatic as they come. He has saved every game plan he's ever been associated with, and was about to unpack '97, '98 and '99. The '92-96 seasons are now down in the basement at home, along with the Bill Walsh diagrams from 1980.
So it's hard to awe a hard-boiled realist like Coslet. But that's why he thinks this will all help.
"The reactions of the players don't surprise me," Coslet said. "As corporations all over are finding out, having a work space and a nice environment is so important these days and that's why I feel it will help us. It hits you right in the face. 'Oh my goodness.'
"Oh, we have a sauna and a steam room?" asked Coslet as he imitated a player running through the checklist. "There's three (extra large) whirlpools instead of two? We have a weight room and an aerobics room? Oh, that's nice. We have a taping area, a rehab area and a treatment area in the training room."
Gibson already lookiedahead to next offseason.
"The building blocks began last year when we started the offseason program," Gibson said. "Now, this is going to keep guys around all year. They'll want to come down here all the time and the more we're together, the more likely we'll become better."
Gibson took a look around before going into the shower room that is as nearly as big as the '93 Spinney locker room.
"I know I'm not leaving until training camp," he said.
Coslet knew what he was talking about as he thought about the old days.
"Try walking out of the shower on concrete," he said. "In November."