Last week after practice at Georgetown College, tight end Tony McGee took a stroll with Geoff Hobson of bengals.com and talked about being the offense's elder statesman at age 29.
HOBSON: How come you don't like it when I call you "The Dean," of the offense?
MCGEE: No. I've just been here for the longest. If you say "The Dean," that means you're getting 50 to 60 catches a year.
HOBSON: There was a time you were getting numbers like that. (McGee caught 139 passes in his first three seasons, 120 in the past four). What happened?
MCGEE: I don't know, man. I guess just not getting as many balls thrown. If you look, we've had, what? Jeff (Blake), Boomer (Esiason), Neil (O'Donnel) and Akili (Smith). I think you go through that many quarterbacks in the course of four, five years, it changes everyone's numbers. There was a time Pick (wide receiver Carl Pickens) getting 100 catches and when he left last year (57 catches) he wasn't getting as many.
HOBSON: So a lack of continuity?
MCGEE: Just a different face in there, a different quarterback to learn while you're still learning you. I've been here, what? eight years and I'm the only one (on offense) that's been here that long. The team changes. But I'm past the point of sitting around counting balls.
HOBSON: Does it look like the tight ends are going to get some balls this year?
MCGEE: We said that the last two years and we got a lot of balls in camp. But for one reason or another, it didn't quite work out that way.
HOBSON: Did the quarterback not see you, were the plays called. . .?
MCGEE: It's pointless to sit around and point fingers. There's a lot of things that go into that. Let me think about that for a second because it's kind of a delicate situation. To pinpoint one specific thing. The coaches may say we're not getting open. We may think we're open. A lot of it has to come together. I work on catching every day. Before practice, after practice. No matter what happens, if you run a bad route, or do this, that, and the other, if you catch the ball, you're all right. The quarterback is going to be happy. The coaches are going to be happy. The fans are going to be happy. That's what I work on because in the end, if you make the catch, that's what counts.
HOBSON: With Darnay out for the year, you may get more work now.
MCGEE: We've got a lot of young receivers and I've been around and the other tight ends, Marco (Battaglia) and (Steve) Bush have been here for awhile and we work hard. I say, "Go ahead, put the offense on our back. Let us carry it." We can run two tight end sets and do a lot of things that Tennessee did. Me, looking at it, that's the way I would go. You want guys who are dedicated and work hard and know what they're doing. But unfortunately I can't make that call. All we can do is execute the plays they call and try to make it happen.
HOBSON: I think there was a time you did count catches.
MCGEE: Probably every player goes through something like that when they sit around and count. The biggest thing for me is just to get wins. If that means catching a lot of balls, if it takes a lot of blocking, then that's what it takes. I just want to win at this point.
HOBSON: At what point did that stop being important?
MCGEE: I'm not saying it's not important. What I'm saying is when you look at it, you can catch 10 balls and lose the game and you still don't feel good. So it gets to the point you just want to win. I've been around here for a lot of the negative stuff and bad stuff and now they're starting to change it with the new stadium. A lot of new young guys with fresh attitudes in here. Those are things you look for.
HOBSON: Safe to say you've seen everything since you've been here?
MCGEE: No, not everything. There were a few bad years before I got here. I've seen a lot of players come and go and seen a lot of negative things in the last couple of years. I just want to see some positive things.
HOBSON: One way you seem to have dealt with the hard times is keeping an arm's length from the media. Which is funny, because you're in the media (as a contributor to ESPN The Magazine), but you've never really embraced it.
MCGEE: I wouldn't say I didn't embrace the media. Sometimes, it just goes back to if you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all. When you've lost eight, nine, ten games, I don't have anything nice to say. So I try to reserve my comments. There's a lot of frustration and I don't think it's really good to talk to the media when you're frustrated or uspet because many times when you say things, they come back to haunt you.
My first three years I was really good with the media and I granted everything. And I got burned once and I just turned sour.
HOBSON: That was over a newspaper story about four, five years ago. What happened?
MCGEE: It was so long ago, I can't remember. Once you get burned, you get gun shy from the standpoint that what I say now to the media is very guarded.
HOBSON: Let's face it, the locker room has not been good for the past several years. That corner you dressed in, a couple of lockers down from Pickens, that place had a lot of nicknames with the media. Like "Toxic Alley."
MCGEE: I never heard that one.
HOBSON: Was Pickens that bad in the locker room?
MCGEE: No. I like Pick. I'm happy to see him in a place where he's happy. I think he'll do well in Tennessee. He's from there. I never had a problem with him. The Pick I know is probably a different guy than what you guys know.
HOBSON: So you don't think he infected the team?
MCGEE: If anything, he uplifted the team because you see how hard he played. That guy played through pain. He worked hard. It's unfortunate things got a little ugly. But hey, that's life. He's moved on and we have to move on. We're happy for him.
HOBSON: Are a lot of the negative things of the past few years gone?
MCGEE: I would say that. Some guys that didn't want to be here aren't here. It's worked out. Dan (Wilkinson) has gone on doing other things. A lot of the new guys, Spikes, Simmons, Akili, they're all good guys, man. You like coming to work when you play with good guys. A lot of the guys now have families and stuff like that, so it's a good atmosphere. The thing about it is, you can have a nice atmosphere with the facilities plushed out, but the only thing that matters is winning.
HOBSON: You could have knocked over the media with a feather last season when not only did you not use an agent, but you signed another long-term deal when we thought you were real unhappy with the losing. (McGee is getting an average of $1.8 million per year).
MCGEE: If I'd had 60 balls, I probably would have tested the market. But when you look at the market for a tight end, the only guy to change teams and do well was Shannon Sharpe and he was coming off something like six Pro Bowls. No one else changed teams. I just didn't feel like (leaving) as opposed to going to a new offense and I've got a family. Once you consider all things, at that time, it was the right thing. Maybe a year from now, who knows? You make decisions and you go on. I felt they dealt fair with me and that's all you can ask.
HOBSON: How's your gig going with ESPN?
MCGEE: I started writing for them two years ago. I did a little television for them this offseason. We're working on a pliot show that will go for the offseason. I do some consulting. They call me and ask me about ideas. Sometimes a writer can't tell you what we think and that's basically what they want to know.
HOBSON: I guess that's what I'm trying to do now.
MCGEE: They want to know what a player thinks and it's hard to get it out and so I guess the fact that I can write my thoughts down and without having them edited by you or anybody else. Mostly I do it during the offseason. I don't like to do much else during the season.
HOBSON: Are you going to go into the media full-time when you retire?
MCGEE: I just want to give myself some options. I figure I've got a few years before I have to make that decision. I just want to make sure when I'm finished I can bring something to the table and not just go to an employer and ask, "Will you hire me?" I'll have some kind of resume to put together.
HOBSON: Don't scoop me.