Priceless on the plaza

Posted: 2:35 p.m.

Into the valley of Bengaldom rode The Ocho 600.

As their all-night vigil crept to a close Saturday morning out there on the Paul Brown Stadium plaza, the fans waiting for 1,200 free tickets let go with an occasional longing "Who-Dey," a long pass during a game of catch, and a long-ball prediction.

"We get to 6-1 at the bye and we'll be good to go," said Kimarland Finnell, who came right from his job Friday night at the Fountain Square North parking garage. "If we've got one loss, or two or three, me and my boys will make that drive to Minnesota."

Ever since Friday's announcement that wide receiver Chad Ochocinco's other quarterback, Motorola, had bought the tickets to help get the Bengals to a sellout that lifted the TV blackout and that The Ocho wanted them given away, they began arriving.

With tents, lawn chairs, blankets, Bengals tiger stocking caps, and Bengals block B jackets and, if you were Mary Lopes of Western Hills, you huddled in an orange-and-black blanket you made for your five-year-old son because he's a Bengals fan and wears an Ochocinco jersey.

The cookies the team delivered to the faithful are also now a Bengaldom landmark. Busken Bakery gave so many boxes of heart-shaped cookies to the Bengals in honor of Vikki Zimmer, the late wife of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer well known for baking indescribable treats for his players, that equipment manager Jeff Brickner suggested the extras go to the fans.

The Ocho 600 were finalized about 2 a.m., when the fans were given wristbands a good nine and a half hours before the giveaway. If you were Luther Combs of Franklin, Ohio, and wearing an old school Chad Johnson No. 85 under the jean jacket and sweatshirt, you celebrated your wristbands with a 4 a.m. hot chocolate and taco at Taco Bell.

But at 11:30 a.m., they got more than the tickets.

They got The Ocho himself, shivering a bit and just off the practice field in a black sweatsuit. After doing the corporate bit of signing a football and getting a photo taken in front of the Motorola logo with the first two people in line, he greeted the fans up front with high fives and then surveyed the line snaking about a quarter of a mile around the plaza.

"I can't do that," he said as he squinted to the end of the line, but then he broke into a high-five jog along the gate, stopping briefly to hug two men without their shirts and the occasional lady with shirts.

When he got to the end, he hugged the last two guys as the chants of "Ocho, Ocho" made you think you've seen it just about all now.

"Might as well," Ochocinco said, "shake every hand that's out there. They were waiting for a long time. It's the least I could do. It's probably the longest (run) I've had in awhile."

When he was trying to get the thing together Friday in the locker room and talking about "Oprah who?" and Carson Palmer shaking his hand while he told him there would be a full house, Ochocinco innocently asked, "If I get a sellout, does that mean I get another signing bonus?"

It certainly got him some free good will. But then, he and the Bengals already seemed to have that out here.

If you were Raechelle Spears, you were wearing a No. 85 jersey over a bunch of sweatshirts and throwing a football to people you had just met.

A single mother from Sharonville, Ohio with what she calls three little boys, Spears was recently let go by a pharmaceutical company. Her kids love football, love the Bengals, love The Ocho, but she can never afford to get them to a game. She got an e-mail from a friend at 7 p.m. about the giveaway and after she grabbed some chairs and "a couple of neighbor girls," she was there by 9 p.m.

"I put a sleeping bag up over me and sat in a chair against the wall, but I didn't sleep," she said. "I've got three little boys and it's all for them. Even with all the controversy last year, my 10-year-old still stayed very involved with Chad."

Say what you want about The Ocho. He has never been one to shy away from publicity and this is a mega gig he's got going with Motorola. But sometimes the glare blinds. He has helped people along the way, particularly the group Feed The Children, but what he's known for among the Bengaldom faithful are random acts of kindness in airports, hotels, and at high school and college football games.

"Not very many times I get a chance to help this many people at one time," he said. "With the help of Motorola I really jumped at the opportunity to do this. This is just the beginning. One of the few things we're going to do to help this team and this organization and help make it better."

The landscape on the PBS plaza was a melting pot of Bengaldom. Single moms. Unemployed IT guys and hot sauce manufacturers. Guys like Donald Combs, a factory foreman who lives down the road from the Dayton Mall in Franklin, Ohio, and Zak Kirchner, a transplanted Cincinnatian who lives in Los Angeles and is a market research analyst in the video games and film industries.

Actually, Kirchner, 24, is attempting to move back as his mother Pam goes through another round of chemotherapy, which is why he doesn't have a lot of spare cash these days. You know what first and last rent is in L.A.?

"My company has been great about letting me come back and be with my mom," said Kirchner, who has watched her beat breast cancer twice and is now facing ovarian cancer. It meant something to him that Chad went all pink in Cleveland and Baltimore. 

"I do most of my work on the computer, so I'm about five feet from my bed," he said. "I heard about it last night around 9 p.m. and I asked some of my friends but none of them were crazy enough. So I finished up work and came down."

Kirchner zipped in from Mount Lookout and had a little more success sleeping on a chair. But Texans receiver Andre Johnson isn't giving him much rest.

"I think our defense has played really well, but it scares me we've given up more plays of 20 yards than anyone in the league," he said. "But I think if we can limit Andre Johnson we should be OK."

Kirchner also had an old school Chad jersey, not to mention a couple of layers and a couple of scarves. He doesn't need free tickets to be a Chad fan.

"I've got only one jersey," Kirchner said. "He made it fun to be a Bengals fan when there weren't a whole lot of reasons to be one. Even when he was being a jerk last year, I didn't want to give up on him. This is big right here. Just to organize it and get it done, that says something."

What Saturday says is that the Bengals still tug at the city and the economy is lousy. How bad? Luther Combs, the IT guy, has been laid off from not only his computer job but also his job delivering pizzas.

But now he's going to his first Bengals game in two years and that won't get him a job, but it makes things just a little better.

"Playoffs, playoffs," said Finnell in a pretty good imitation of Jim Mora Jr.'s father.

Finnell, 23, mused about the 11-hour ride to Minnesota for the Dec. 13 game against the Favre Vikings but he hadn't any sleep Saturday, either, and he was going back to the garage to work at 4 p.m.

"Times are rough out here," Finnell said. "It's tough to afford 90 bucks for game. That's what these tickets are going for (from the brokers). The last game I was at Cleveland two weeks ago, the tickets were only about 30 bucks."

But along with the economy, there are also some wins to talk about. If there is doom and gloom, there is also the NFL sack leader (Antwan Odom) and rushing leader (Cedric Benson).

"I love that," he said of the defense's intensity under Zimmer. "I knew the defense would be better, but I didn't think the running game would be this good."

The Ocho, standing in the valley, can feel the electricity that gets generated with a four-game winning streak early in the season.

"It's a great feeling to be able to come into work and not have your coaches on you really heavy," Ochocinco said. "To have them in good spirits and good attitude, it's a good feeling. Especially the fans. You can feel the energy throughout the entire city. Come out here and see the look on everybody's faces. It's priceless, man."

Which was what The Ocho 600 paid out here on the plaza.

"Thanks for the tickets, Chad," said a guy in a Bengals jacket.

"Enjoy it," The Ocho said.

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