9-27-01, 11:45 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Before the season, Darnay Scott figured he would play out the last two years of his contract and that would be it.
Retire at 30 and that would be about right for an NFL speed receiver who lives off his quickness and quadriceps.
But that was before two wins. That was before a game ball from the Opening Day victory. That was before an AFC-leading 18.6 yards per catch among those with more than four balls during the first two weeks of the season. That was before 186 yards on 10 catches, which computes to 1,488 and the club record for receiving yards in a season.
"The way I feel now, I'm playing longer," Scott said this week. "Winning takes a whole lot off my back. If we keep playing like this, I'll be back (after the contract). This is fun."
And what about this? After a decade of players griping about playing in Cincinnati, Scott made this pronouncement.
"If I can't be here, I don't want to play anymore," Scott said. "I'm here. Everybody always says, 'Bengal for life,' and all that stuff about me. It's true. I'm here."
Scott, who feels comfortable enough in Cincinnati to be one of the team leaders in charitable donations, has new resolve to go with the old speed after returning from the broken left leg that wiped out all last season.
Before catching five balls for 82 yards that could have easily been a young man's 126 yards if his toe didn't hit the sideline chalk on Sunday, Scott spent the
morning in receivers coach Steve Mooshagian's office watching the Ravens' defense on tape.
"That's a great advertisement for having your practice facility at your stadium," Mooshagian said. "It also shows you the way Darnay is providing some leadership for the younger guys. He knows he's got a role to play."
Cornerback Artrell Hawkins says Scott is better than he was when he had a Pro Bowl-type year in 1999 with 1,022 yards.
"His hands got a lot better and he's still running away from people," Hawkins said after watching Scott's speed blister the Ravens for 41 yards before he stepped out-of-bounds. "It's his first year playing without (Carl Pickens) and you can tell he's the man now. He's out from Pick's shadow."
But how would you know? Scott doesn't seek the spotlight or stats, so people don't know all that much about him even though he's been here since he came out of San Diego State in 1994.
Oh, they probably heard about some of the griping back in May when Scott didn't show up to most of the voluntary workouts. But they don't know he's probably the most generous Bengal when it comes to giving to charities.
Scott doesn't want to talk dollar amounts. He got some ink from Boomer Esiason when he donated $25,000 to Esiason's cystic fibrosis foundation after signing his five-year, $15 million deal after the 1997 season and following Esiason's retirement.
So figure about the same for the United Way and Cincinnati's Underground Railroad Museum. Like other Bengals, he also wrote out a multi $1,000 check to the Red Cross for the Sept. 11 attacks.
Scott considers St. Louis home and he lives there in the offseason now. But Sunday he returns to San Diego, a city where he had some hard times as an adolescent.
"When I was growing up, there wasn't anybody there for us," Scott said of his family. "We had to go to United Way sometimes to get help. It's giving back.
"We would need some of those things," Scott said. "It was hard, but we made it through. Just trying to help out the next family."
Scott said Pickens influenced him on the giving front. But he wouldn't mind taking away Pickens' Bengals career record of 530 catches. With 339, Scott probably has to play beyond 2002 to get it. He's 192 catches shy, which means he needs to average 64 catches over the next three seasons. He came in averaging 55 in his previous six, but it is his first year as the No. 1 receiver. In his eight seasons as No. 1, Pickens averaged 66 catches per year.
Scott thinks the Bengals' decision to go to a lot of three-receiver sets, as well as run Corey Dillon behind that formation, has helped give him more space and room to get open. Plus, the presence of Peter Warrick a slippery slot receiver and Chad Johnson _ aspeed outside receiver like Scott _has given Scott a new life.
"We had a No. 1 receiver with Pick and I was the No. 2 guy," Scott said. "Now, we're all No. 1s. It's pretty well spread out."
Scott rolled his eyes in May and later in training camp when some inside the club weren't pleased he couldn't or wouldn't take off some extra weight. But he says now he's where they want him at 202 pounds.
And he rarely eats the snacks the other receivers put away in the post-practice meeting.
"It's like he knows he's at the age he has to take care of himself," Mooshagian said.
Scott says he no longer has the pangs to make midnight runs to Taco Bell and other fast-food empires.
"Now, I'm just staying home and having a little snack before going to bed," Scott said.
He hopes he has a feast on the same field where he and Rams running back Marshall Faulk formed the top Division I offensive duo ever at San Diego State with 10,410 yards, 4,656 of which belonged to Scott.
In the two NFL games he's played at Qualcomm Stadium, he has three catches for 31 yards.
All of which came in his second NFL game, a 27-10 loss on Sept. 11, 1994. He's been held without a catch in three of his 95 games with the first blanking coming Sept. 8, 1996 in San Diego in a 27-14 loss.