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On the Ball: A conversation

Former running back Eric Ball, the club's new director of player development and community relations, talks about his days as a Bengal. Past and future with's Geoff Hobson.

HOBSON: It seems like yesterday you were catching that long touchdown pass from Boomer to beat Cleveland in the last game of '90 to make the playoffs.

BALL: No. That was the next week in the playoffs. Against Houston. A 48-yarder.

HOBSON: Are you sure? It was 48, but I could have sworn it was Cleveland.

BALL: It was against the Oilers. A "Will," route. Ran into the flat and took the route up the left sideline and when I got behind a guy, Boomer threw it.

HOBSON: What have you been doing?

BALL: Carolina took me in the expansion draft in '95. (After getting cut, he played for the Raiders in '95) I agreed to a contract in Oakland in '96, but Al Davis didn't approve it and I retired. I took a job with a bank here in retail management and stayed there for two and a half years. Then I went into a partnership for property investments.

HOBSON: Can you keep a hand in that?

BALL: Whatever I have to do, I can do by phone. This is full-time, so this is what I'm putting my energy into and it's going to take all my time.

HOBSON: How do you see the job?

BALL: There are four areas. Financial and family planning. Second careers. Community work. My goal is to expose (the players) to things beyond the field, but not be overbearing. I'm not going to be a babysitter. That's not my job. We have to know and trust each other as men. You've got to earn your credibility with these guys. They have to know you're not flakey, that you're not just taking up space. I'm just going to be myself. I'm a well-rounded person. I like to be around people. I'm outgoing.

I almost took this same job in Detroit two years ago. Larry Lee (the Lions vice president of football administration) is a fellow UCLA alum and he approached me. But they decided to hire from within.

HOBSON: The Bengals have been criticized for not responding well in the area of player development. How did you find it here as a player?

BALL: I took advantage of it. I did some internships in the business community that really helped me. The opportunities were here, but you had to ask about it. Now I'm going to be telling the players about it.

HOBSON: (Running backs coach) Jim Anderson said you're the perfect guy for this job. He remembers the first thing you did here as a rookie was buy a house.

BALL: I'm still in the same one. I remember Coach Anderson talking to me about that. Buying a house and being a member of the community. Originally, I wanted to go back to San Diego because it had the same amenities as Los Angeles (Ball played in college at UCLA), but back then it wasn't as crowded. But I grew up in Cleveland and moved to Michigan (Ypsilanti) when I was 8. My wife didn't want to have that much distance between family.

HOBSON: You had to be surprised when the Bengals drafted you, considering Ickey Woods was coming off that 1,000-yard rookie season.

BALL: I was, but after seeing how things are done I can understand it. At that point they're looking for athletes instead of maybe the need at that position.

HOBSON: All running backs want to be the bell cow. You ended up not running the ball much.

BALL: I was looking at my stats not long ago and one year I carried something like 10 times (in 1991) and 16 the next year.

HOBSON: You probably did that in the first half in the Rose Bowl (when Ball was the player of the game in 1986 after rushing for 227 yards and four touchdowns in the Bruins' 48-28 victory over Iowa).

BALL: That may be right. But we had quite a few talented guys at running back. James Brooks. Ickey Woods. And we only had one ball. I adjusted and started two years at fullback and played a lot on special teams (where he was a long-time captain). You had to protect the quarterback and block for the half back. I could play both spots. It was a good career. Seven years.

HOBSON: Now that we're talking, I'm pretty sure you caught that pass against Cleveland.

BALL: Houston. I'm telling you.

HOBSON: That wasn't very long ago, but I guess the players are a lot different with different problems.

BALL: It's the money. Now, first round-draft picks are getting $5 to $10 million to sign. Even the second-rounders are getting a million.

HOBSON: What was your signing bonus?

BALL: $250,000.

HOBSON: How will that affect the job?

BALL: This is a work in progress. I know I'm going to be traveling a lot to see what other teams are doing, how they're communicating with their guys, and then take it back here and fit it into this team and this town.

HOBSON: How tough of a decision was it to take the job?

BALL: Not really. I liked what I was doing. I had the freedom of coming and going as I please. But this is football. I still have a love for the game. And to be able to make a difference in a guy's life. That's special.

HOBSON: I just looked it up. It was against Cleveland. You scored with 8:40 left in the game to break a 14-14 tie and you guys won, 21-14. Houston won a night game and that put you guys in the playoffs.

BALL: Get out of here. I knew it had something to do with Houston.

HOBSON: Maybe you coming back means something. That's the last time the Bengals went to the playoffs.

BALL: Let's hope so.

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