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Pride still matters for Zeitler

Kevin Zeitler

They like to give Kevin Zeitler a hard time. Because he's hard not to like.

"Hey Zeitler," offensive line coach Paul Alexander started one day this week. "Try not to cheer if they get a big play."

The Bengals are playing Zeitler's hometown Packers in his new hometown at Paul Brown Stadium this Thursday at 7 p.m. (11:35 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) and Zeitler is no different than any other son or daughter that spent his first 22 years growing up on the outskirts of Milwaukee in Waukesha, Wis.

Right down to the Brett Favre picture in his bedroom and the Vince Lombardi book that sparked his zeal to read about successful people in sports.

"I grew up a humungous Packers fan," Zeitler admitted this week. "I was six when they won the Super Bowl and I couldn't figure out how to pronounce Favre. That's a funny story. I would say, "Brett Favr-eee. I couldn't understand how it was Brett Favre. To be a little kid and they won the Super Bowl, it didn't get any better than that."

But eager and intense, Zeitler quickly added, "That loyalty has obviously been set aside. It's all about Cincinnati now."

Zeitler has already done that with his youth, enthusiasm, and 315 pounds that were placed immediately at right guard when the Bengals took him out of the University of Wisconsin on the first night of the NFL Draft with the 27th pick.

"He cares. He really wants to be good. It's infectious," Alexander said. "I thought he was outstanding in the last game. I see him play now and I've gone beyond feeling like he's going to be good. He's showing enough where I think he is good."

Zeitler will have to be good Thursday. In the rock-solid Packers 3-4 front he'll be faced with two formidable players that jump around in there: another Big 10 product, Ohio State left end Ryan Pickett, and nose tackle B.J. Raji.

It will be the first time Zeitler has ever seen Pickett and Raji in person because in all of those 22 years, Zeitler never saw the Packers play live. After all those years watching on TV. And that included celebrating the Super Bowl title a few years ago watching pretty much this same bunch.

But he's not going to run down Aaron Rodgers during pregame and ask him to do the championship belt thing. Maybe he would like to meet some of those guys, but it can wait.

"Maybe in the offseason," Zeitler said. "But this is business."

Zeitler thinks he's visited the shrine twice. He's been to the Pro Shop once and one year the stadium hosted Wisconsin's all-state high school team.

But Lambeau Field has been a big part of his life.

"That's just the way it is in Wisconsin," he said. "It's the culture."

It all began, of course, with Lombardi and the five NFL titles he coached in the seven glorious years from 1961-67 that ended with victories in the first two Super Bowls. Born 20 years after Lombardi's death, Zeitler met him in David Maraniss's brilliant biography, When Pride Still Mattered, written when Zeitler was in grade school.

"I love that book," Zeitler said. "It started my reading binge for books about coaching, motivation and inspiration. I like reading about what makes people successful."

The Lombardi book sparked an avalanche of other coaching stories. Zeitler figures he's read about 30 of them, ranging from Urban Meyer and Pete Carroll to his latest read, All In: What It Takes to Be The Best by Auburn's Gene Chizik.

Zeitler's not sure he wants to get into coaching, but he likes reading about football and other related topics and as left tackle Andrew Whitworth says, "This guy is all about football."

In the end, Lombardi appeals to Zeitler because he has the same kind of outlook.

"He just took care of his business. Always has. He didn't do anything flashy," Zeitler said. "He just worked hard and that's what I've always tried to do: work hard, take care of everything, not have any outside distractions. Just improve."

Alexander sees it every day. Zeitler is in the weight room early or staying late to watch film or just standing off to the side between drills working on technique.

"He's not like some first-rounders," Alexander said, "and when there's a break he's going over to check his stock portfolio. He's just watching football."

Whitworth is amazed by his intensity.

"He almost gets too charged up. You'd like to see him relax a little bit and enjoy it," Whitworth said. "So, yeah, we'll kid around with him and try to loosen him up some."

Like at the pep rally before camp when each player was introduced.

"They made me flex," Zeitler said.

It sounds like he's ready to do a lot more than that.

"My first Packers game," Zeitler said. "But it's another chance to play together and help make our team better."

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