Isaac Curtis, back when he revolutionized the passing game.
After he was kind enough to watch all of A.J. Green's NFL-leading 12 catches from Sunday's Opening Day win over the Jets, Isaac Curtis pronounced what he already knew.
Of all the Bengals wide receivers that have arrived since he set the standard from 1973-84, Adriel Jeremiah Green (as Bengals radio voice Dan Hoard has called him after all 46 touchdowns) is the best.
"Clearly No. 1," Isaac Fischer Curtis is saying from California wine country this week. "Both Chad (Johnson) and (Carl) Pickens were really good. That's tight. I like Chad there. Chad made some really good offenses go."
The stately Curtis and we call him "Sir Isaac," for a reason paused.
No. 1 all-time in Bengaldom?
"Well," Curtis said with a soft chuckle. "He's got the numbers."
That Green does. On his second ball Sunday, a wide receiver screen, he picked up all of his 15 yards after the catch with help from monstrous Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth split wide. That gave him 417 catches in his 77th game, one more than Curtis had in 167 and put him into fifth place on the Bengals all-time list.
Then when Green caught his next ball on another screen that went backward, he still went forward, passing Cris Collinsworth into fourth on the list with 418, one more than Collinsworth accrued during nine seasons in the '80s. Green's chase for T.J. Houshmandzadeh's third-place 507 got started three snaps later in spectacular fashion with a 54-yard TD bomb.
Collinsworth reached his numbers in 107 games. Houshmandzadeh did it in 146. The evolution of Curtis' NFL can be seen in a straight line.
"That would be a pretty good month," says Curtis with a laugh. "Think about it. Back then, if you were catching four or five passes a game that was pretty good. It's a passing league. It's more wide open. I don't know how you can compare numbers with receivers from different eras. Who's the best? A guy from today is going to say, 'What are the numbers?' and they're not there."
But don't look at the numbers, talk to Curtis' old teammates. Yes, they say, Ken Anderson and Ken Riley should be in the Hall of Fame. Anthony Munoz was the greatest left tackle who ever lived, Max Montoya was the best guard they ever had, and Reggie Williams did it all like no linebacker ever did in stripes.
But when it comes to Curtis, the tones become reverential. After all, they saw him in that Watergate Babies fall of 1974 catch 30 balls, 10 for touchdowns, at an astounding 21 yards per clip.
If Green is the prototype of the modern NFL receiver, then Curtis is the test tube baby.
"You have to understand," Reggie Williams says of his speed, "Isaac came this far away from making the Olympics."
"If he came out in the draft today," Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham, a former teammate once said, "he'd be a top five pick."
"Jerry Rice before Jerry Rice," Anderson says.
But the greatest compliment came after his breath-taking rookie season of '73, when he racked up 18.7 yards per his 45 catches, the second most balls he ever had in his career. Bengals founder Paul Brown, a member of the NFL Competition Committee, pushed his group to pass a rule eliminating roll blocking of wide receivers and the first major restriction of contacting receivers downfield.
It's not what it is today, but "The Isaac Curtis," rule began the revolution of the passing game that Green dominated on Sunday.
"Look at his production," Curtis says of Green. "He's much more precise running routes. Much more disciplined. He has better hands than Chad. If you remember, Chad dropped some balls. I don't know who is faster, but both could absolutely run and go get the ball."
Curtis admits it. He was faster than all of them, a stunning brew of Olympic speed and ungodly hands. Lapham once saw him catch a TD bomb one handed down the sideline and the next quarter catch one with the other hand down the other sideline.
Chad Johnson is on the Pro Football Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year. With more TDs and catches than Lynn Swann and nearly one more yard per catch than John Stallworth, Curtis should be in the Hall already if those two Steeler contemporaries call Canton home.
In the 2016 opener, A.J. Green moved past Isaac Curtis and Cris Collinsworth on the Bengals all-time receiving list.
After Curtis watched Green's best catch of Sunday's smorgasbord (that 32-yard dive-ahead-one-handed snag that The Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Dehner, Jr., so adroitly compared to a suction cup), he was reminded of a TV feature he saw on Green's juggling a year or two ago.
"You have to catch the ball. He's got the hand-eye coordination and timing," Curtis says. "His juggling, to be able to do that with the concentration and focus, you see it catching the ball in difficult situations."
"Just tennis balls," says Curtis of his own juggling career. "And only three of them."
Curtis follows the Bengals religiously, but is frustrated by his inability to see all the games on The Coast. He caught the highlights, but when someone forwarded him the entire dozen of Green's catches, he looked at the clip that day.
"He's fun to watch," says Curtis, who was so Green-like impassive on the field he was chilly. "I like his temperament. He keeps his cool. He doesn't get too worked up.
"The guy's an all-around receiver. He can run those screens and he can go deep on you. He's got great body control. He can run, but he can also go up and get it. He can make plays all over the field."
And he agrees that Green, at 28, is getting better.
"He should get better," Curtis says. "After one, two, three years is when you really start grasping things. What it takes to play in this league. He's the kind of guy that seems to have his head screwed on right. I would expect him to get better as far as learning things. And mastering his routes. He's talented. He came in with a lot of talent and he really has developed."
Curtis has never met Green, but he's looking forward to it. His youngest son beat him to it. Chase Curtis is 26 and works in Cincinnati in the Kroger marketing department. When Green recently visited the Kroger offices for a promotion, Chase texted a father of his picture with Green.
"I see you met the second greatest receiver in Bengals' history," Curtis jokingly texted back.
Chase was born six years after his father had a dozen catches in his last season, but he knows who he was.
"People will come up and tell him I was their favorite player and he's seen some film," Isaac Curtis says. "He loves football. He loves the Bengals. He was excited about meeting him. I asked him if he told him who he was and Chase said no and I said, 'You should have told him your Dad played for the Bengals.' I'm a little removed now so I don't even know if (Green) knows who I am."
Be assured that Green has heard and seen the name.
No. 1 all-time in Bengaldom?
"I don't know," Isaac Curtis says after watching an Opening Day dozen. "He's good. He's good."
Bengals DT Geno Atkins, WR Tyler Boyd and DE Carlos Dunlap unveiled the team's Color Rush jerseys at the Cincinnati Zoo.