Andy Dalton addresses the crowd at Thursday's pep rally.
Two familiar local institutions, Mother Nature and Ickey Woods, combined with two new kids on the block to get the NFL season underway Thursday night in thunderous fashion at Paul Brown Stadium.
After the pep rally for season-ticket holders was delayed by a thunderstorm, A.J. Green and Andy Dalton drew the loudest ovations from the crowd of about 3,000 during the player introductions on stage. And, as he always does, Woods, complete with "The Ickey Shuffle," received the loudest crackle for an alumni gathering that included Jim Breech, Louis Breeden, Tim McGee and Bob Johnson, the first Bengals draft pick, among others.
And earlier in the day during his annual training camp message to the team, club president Mike Brown gave his players an idea why they are playing in a stadium named after Paul Brown on the memorable first day of the Bengals' marriage with downtown Cincinnati for training camp that combined a little bit of something new and a little bit of something old in staging their first event of this kind.
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth was so taken by Brown's speech detailing the highlights of his father's football career that he told him so after the players completed their conditioning tests in preparation for Friday's first practice at 3 p.m., the first workout of a 23-day camp sponsored by Fifth Third Bank.
"It was awesome. It gives the respect for playing in this stadium. Now guys know what it means," Whitworth said. "It's a neat way to learn the story about the family tradition."
Despite the storm that delayed the event for about a half hour and the rain that came down in the second half of it, fans rocked to the band DV8 that performed on a stage that this weekend is reserved for the Macy's Music Festival, as well as a raucous 25-minute display that was the biggest fireworks show in PBS's 12 years. In typical hardcore Bengaldom fashion, there looked to be very few no-shows with about 3,100 tickets sold and included a solid walkup despite the dire forecast.
"Everybody I talked to seem to enjoy it," said Breech, the club's all-time leading scorer. "When we were signing autographs, some of the fans were talking about how great it was. The weather was kind of tough, but it was a nice way to get camp going."
Head coach Marvin Lewis greeted the crowd and may have given a sneak preview of his captains when he called up Whitworth, Dalton, defensive tackle Domata Peko and linebacker Thomas Howard to speak briefly.
Howard said, "We're talking world's championship," and Peko offered, "Join us on our journey to New Orleans," site of the Super Bowl.
As Mike Brown quietly watched the proceedings by himself near the runway to the Bengals locker room, he said he thought now was a good time to tell his team about his father since it is such a young group.
"He impacted their lives," Brown said. "If it wasn't for him, the Bengals wouldn't be here. They'd be playing football, but it wouldn't be in Cincinnati. He plowed the field for all of us."
Whitworth heard something he didn't know. That Paul Brown coached the nation's first high school football dynasty in Massillon, Ohio, before coaching Ohio State to a national title. Brown's last year at Massillon, the points for and against were something like several hundred to six.
Mike Brown apparently spared no details. Paul Brown brought to pro football the playbook, the draw play, the facemask, and the very classroom setting his son used to highlight his career Thursday.
And, Paul Brown was fired in Cleveland by Art Modell and Mike Brown didn't have to say that's why a win over the Browns is still nice.
"As a guy who has had success in high school and college and is looking for the same kind of success in the NFL, I thought that was really interesting," Whitworth said. "I can't tell you how many guys stopped me after the speech. They were asking me if that's why they're named the Cleveland Browns."
Safety Taylor Mays, 24, born three years before Paul Brown died, admitted, "I had no idea."
"Can you imagine not playing without a facemask?" Mays asked. "I had no idea that's why it's the Cleveland Browns. It gives you an idea of how significant it is."
Thanks to Sports Illustrated's Peter King unveiling Paul Brown's 1973 training camp address to the Bengals, Brown is getting a good national run 21 years since his death. Bob Johnson, the center from Tennessee who went No. 2 overall in the 1968 draft, is glad to see it.
"Coach Brown was fabulous. Getting drafted by him was the most fabulous thing that could happen to a 21-year-old," Johnson said as he signed autographs for fans not born when he retired following the 1979 season. "I remember every word. I heard that speech 12 times.
"What I remember the most—and it was the truth—he didn't care where we came from," Johnson said of the speech. "He didn't care what color we were or where we went to school. He didn't care except about what we did on the field. In a lot of jobs, that's not the way it is. It's political in a lot of ways. Not Coach Brown."
Johnson is the living embodiment of what Brown talked about in his speech. Leading successful lives after they played. Moving on to their life's work, which was not football. Johnson started an adhesive company, sold it, and later purchased some of it back. Now he occasionally works for his daughter, who is running the business.
"I'm almost 66. There's not many people here my age," Johnson said. "But what's great is that a lot of people that are 52, 53 years old have come up and told me they've been going to games since their father took them to Nippert (Stadium). That's great to hear."
Something old. Something new.
"Thank y'all for coming out," Dalton told them. "Come down to camp and watch us."