PBS on World Cup list

6-3-03, 6:30 p.m. Updated:
6-4-03, 4:20 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals find out in the next week to 10 days if Paul Brown Stadium is to be one of the venues for the FIFA Women's World Cup tournament in late September or early October for two double-headers that are to include the team from the United States.

Hamilton County Commission President John Dowlin announced Wednesday that Cincinnati is one of more than a dozen cities under consideration by the U.S. Soccer Federation for four of the early-round games.

The three possible dates are Sept. 24-25, Sept. 27-28, and Oct. 1-2, with a double-header on each day. The Bengals host the Steelers Sunday, Sept. 21, but play at Cleveland on Sunday, Sept. 28, and at Buffalo on Sunday, Oct. 5.

"The planets seem to be lined up the right way with the Bengals on the road or not playing on those dates," said Bengals consultant Bob Bedinghaus. "It's a tremendous opportunity and a chance to show the stadium's ability to stage all kinds of events for the community. It would certainly be a big feather in the cap of Cincinnati."

The tourney has been recently moved from China because of the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and now is to be played in anywhere from four to seven stadiums across the United States.

"This is the type of major event we had in mind in trying to get the stadium built," said Bedinghaus, the political architect for the stadium when he was commission president in the late '90s.

PBS has also hosted several regular-season and tournament high school football games, as well as the 2002 Riverfront Classic college football game, national champion Ohio State's victory over the University of Cincinnati last season, and last summer's four-day Billy Graham Mission.

BOOMER LIKES QB SETUP: The last time the Bengals were so set at quarterback this early in the season, Boomer Esiason was heading into his 14th and final NFL season. But Esiason began 1997 as a backup and ended it with arguably the best five-game stretch of his career.

Which is why Esiason had a gentle reminder Tuesday for Carson Palmer, the NFL's No. 1 draft pick and the Bengals quarterback of a yet to be determined future.

"With all the things that are going on, Carson is big future project, but I don't think that's the main thrust right now," Esiason said. "The main thrust is to get this team back to respectability. But if he has to play, he's got to grow up and he has to play. You never know what situation is going to unfold."

But Esiason does know the situation for Palmer is a lot better than it was for Akili Smith and David Klingler, top 10 quarterbacks who were supposed to replace him as the franchise quarterback but failed. Esiason swung through Cincinnati Tuesday as part of his national fundraising tour for cystic fibrosis and talked about a much different Paul Brown Stadium.

"I walked through the door and the first five people I saw were smiling," Esiason said. "You have to give Marvin Lewis tremendous credit. That's a big deal that the halls are filled with positive feeling as opposed to here we go again. You have to cut ties with the past and don't let it infect you. I don't know if it's going to translate into wins, but the positive feeling Marvin has brought is more important than just football. The city really needed somebody who was dynamic in this position because the head football coach is an important person in a community like this,"

As he surveys the club's quarterback situation, Esiason, one of the hosts of CBS' "NFL Today," show likes the stability. He applauds Tuesday's release of Smith

as an effort to jettison any kind of negativity surrounding Palmer, acknowledges Jon Kitna's emergence as the unquestioned starter, and sees the Shane Matthews signing as a way to protect the prized rookie.

"Jon Kitna has to feel good about not trying to be replaced," Esiason said. "You want that stability and you want a guy who obviously has the ear of the players in the locker room and Jon certainly has that. But the bottom line is that it didn't work for Akili and Klingler. It's a major, major, major investment and you want to be careful. You've got to make sure (Palmer) has every opportunity to succeed."

Esiason started the 1992 season as the Bengals' starter and then gave way to the rookie Klingler before watching the disaster up close. A weak offensive line allowed Klingler to get sacked 18 times despite just 98 pass attempts. How devastating was it? When Esiason threw 102 passes as a rookie, he got sacked just five times.

Esiason saw the same karma at work while watching Smith fail.

"Lack of support, the negativity around, the defense wasn't great, he had young receivers, he didn't take it seriously enough," Esiason said. "There's always a list why a player doesn't make it. And I would probably tell you that list starts with the player himself. After you look at all the ingredients around a player, it always comes down to the guy. Whether he wants to be a success. You've got to work at it man. It's not an easy thing. The NFL is the most stressed, pressure-filled sport out there. You only play 16 games. That's not many, and you have very little room for error."

No matter what he does, Smith is tethered to the past. "He goes back to Jeff Blake and the negativity there, and you can't keep that around your locker room," Esiason said. "You have to weed those guys out. You couldn't have him in the same room with Akili."

Esiason isn't saying that Palmer shouldn't play at all this year. In a similar situation during Esiason's rookie year of 1984, he played enough to throw for three touchdowns, three interceptions , and 530 yards in a season the Bengals went 8-8. He thinks Palmer will play some, but he stresses he has to be ready.

"Be careful, that's all," he said.

**

BLITZES AND BOMBS:** Being the second-round pick for a team that drafted a quarterback with the first pick overall is never an enviable position because that first pick takes up more than half the rookie pool and Carson Palmer probably took a good 60-percent chunk out of the Bengals' estimated $4.5 million.

But the Bengals are fortuitously matched with an agent who has been there and done that. Jack Bechta, who represents Iowa guard Eric Steinbach, also represented Penn State offensive lineman Todd Rucci as the second of three players the Patriots drafted in the second round behind Drew Bledose in 1993.

And then last year, Bechta represented San Diego State tackle Chester Pitts, one of two second-rounders taken by the Texans after they chose David Carr No. 1.

Pitts, the 50th player chosen, got in on time. Rucci, the 51st player taken, had a 17-day holdout. It's still too early to make a call on Steinbach, the 33rd pick, but Bechta is encouraged after a series of face-to-face meetings late last week with Bengals vice president Paul Brown in La Jolla, Calif., where the Brown family has a home and Bechta is based.

"Things were proposed and considered and there is no agreement," Bechta said. "But I'm very excited about working with the Bengals under Marvin Lewis and I've enjoyed working with Paul."

Bechta compares the '03 Bengals to where Bledsoe's Pats were in 1993. They had just hired a charismatic defensive head coach named Bill Parcells who put his chips on a quarterback with the first pick in the draft.

"I sense a similar kind of optimism and energy from talking to Paul," Bechta said. "The Patriots had an excellent draft and it turned out to be the year where it turned around for them."

Bechta figures the difficulty of the negotiations is going to fall somewhere between Rucci and Pitts, but he's hoping the early meetings have spawned a solid dialogue and the deal gets wrapped up before training camp. . .

Kennard McGuire, the agent for Akili Smith, said Tuesday that five teams have contacted him in the 24 hours after his release from the Bengals. McGuire wouldn't name them, but he said Smith wants to find a team that can tutor him and he won't make a quick decision.

Possibilities? Carolina can use quarterbacks, Bills director of football operations Tom Modrak loved Smith coming out of college, and the Bears have some people who compiled exhaustive notes on Smith early in his career. But it's not clear who the interested five are.

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