Posted: 7:20 p.m.
Dave Lapham, who has seen 33 of the Bengals' 41 seasons as either an offensive lineman or their radio analyst, didn't even have to see the ballot.
He rattled off his first nine votes for the Bengals.com Virtual Hall of Fame in the time it takes him to plug the Heinz Red Zone.
Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason. Forrest Gregg and Sam Wyche. Tim Krumrie. Isaac Curtis. Cris Collinsworth. Ken Riley. Lemar Parrish.
Then it gets tough.
"I mean, there's a dozen, maybe 15 in my mind," Lapham said of that last vote. "(Guard) Max Montoya was a great one. The Breecher (Jim Breech) kicked so many clutch field goals. James Brooks. There's Trump (Bob Trumpy). Just look at the tight ends. Danny (Ross) caught so many balls and Rodney Holman was probably the most complete tight end ever here. Man, it's tough."
The first four are simply no-brainers. Lapham played with Anderson and for Gregg and covered Esiason and Wyche.
"Kenny and Boomer were both NFL MVPs; that's enough said right there and they led their teams to the Super Bowl," Lapham said. "And Forrest and Sam coached the two best teams. For me, the Super Bowl carries a lot of significance."
Lapham, one of eight offensive linemen who played double-digit seasons with the Bengals, lined up at all five positions from 1974-83 and is heading into his 24th straight season as the Bengals analyst.
And Houshmandzadeh agrees.
"I don't think they will because it won't be the best thing for the team," he said Thursday from Los Angeles. "But if they do it, they would probably wait until the last day."
The last day teams can designate their free agents is two weeks from Thursday on Feb. 19, eight days before free agency begins. If the Bengals were to franchise Houshmandzadeh, they would have to tender him a one-year deal for $9.88 million, the average salary of the NFL's top five paid wide receivers.
Obviously, Houshmandzadeh doesn't want to be franchised because it would restrict his mobility to pretty much only the Bengals because a team would have to give Cincinnati two first-round picks if it signed him and the Bengals didn't match.
On Wednesday he made news in Philadelphia by saying on an ESPN radio affiliate that he'd like to play for the Eagles. Much like Seattle and San Francisco made news earlier in the month when it was reported they were interested in the Bengals' third all-time leading receiver.
In fact, the 49ers looked to have first dibs on Houshmandzadeh when they were on the verge of hiring former Bengals receivers coach Hue Jackson as offensive coordinator after a second interview. Niners head coach Mike Singletary went a different direction at the last instant, but San Francisco still could be a destination spot because Houshmandzadeh is a self-described West Coast guy.
The only thing in Philadelphia that comes close to California is the Eagles West Coast offense that Houshmandzadeh admires, but he says he's keeping all options open and that includes the Bengals.
He admitted Thursday that he feels like he can show more of his wares in another system. Houshmandzadeh has never hid his opinion that he feels he's been "pigeon-holed" as a possession receiver and doesn't think the Bengals have thrown the ball enough to him down the field.
"Obviously they think of me as one type of player," Houshmandzadeh said, "and I think I'm a different type of player. If I leave Cincinnati, everybody will see what I'm talking about."
That said, he insists he doesn't mind playing in the slot, where the bulk of his 507 career catches have come.
"When the other receivers are Chad (Ocho Cinco) and Chris Henry, I can understand that," he said. "I'm the only one that can play in the slot. The other two can't. I understand that. I like playing in the slot. I like getting the ball. I like the matchups. But all the time? My thing is just let me run down the field once every blue moon."
But, as he did with the Eagles and everyone else, Houshmandzadeh continues not to rule out Cincinnati and says if the Bengals are competitive in the market he'll listen.
He said after meeting with the coaches and going over several snaps from the season that the number was more like 4.5 sacks.
"Nine? That's crazy," he said.
What did gall him is that three of the sacks came in what he called "garbage time," the last few minutes of a game the Bengals were trailing by more than a score and the defense knew they were passing every down. He understands what he has to do.
"My thing now is," he said, "you can't slack off at any time even if you are losing. I know we had a down season, but you've got to just keep pounding."
He is adamant on one stat.
"With the game on the line," he said, "you're not getting by me."