10-31-01, 6:30 a.m.
Tyler Scott is two and a half years old and on Tuesday he tore around the Bengals Pro Shop like Corey Dillon in the red zone.
But he stopped long enough in front of the table where Justin Smith signed autographs and looked the Bengals' No. 1 pick right in the eye.
"How you doing, buddy?" Smith asked.
"What does Justin Smith do after he makes a sack?" asked Andy Sontag, the man who brought Tyler to visit.
Tyler paused, raised both his arms, flexed, and growled.
"We saw him do that on TV Sunday," Sontag said. "I told him we'd come down and see him and he remembered."
Whether Smith growled like Tyler Sunday in Detroit after he buried Lions quarterback Charlie Batch as he threw is unknown.
But Cincinnati definitely noticed their town's newest sports signature. Justin Smith's he-man salute.
"I liked what he did the other day," said Rick Parrott, on his lunch break with fellow worker Craig Rump from their jobs at F.N. Sheppard Belt Specialists in Northern Kentucky.
"I thought that it wasn't overbearing. He didn't point at his face. He just stood up over him."
Smith laughed and smiled at Tyler Scott. And he kept signing. Figure about 300 in the hour from noon to one.
They compared the crowd to what Peter Warrick drew last year. In that hour, all 90 of Smith's 8 by 10 pictures sold out.
He's the kid next door. He's polite, pleasant, and all he's done since he arrived back in September is play hard and say nothing.
But remember the talk shows and the 6 o'clock news and the scribes ripping the kid not even two months ago? Remember the holdout and how the fans roasted him and the team (mainly him) for the 50 days he missed training camp?
Sharon from Sharonville (really) admitted she was one of those people ripping him. But on Tuesday, she was here, wearing a Bengals' sweatshirt and a Bengals' head band.
"I was one of them saying get in there and sign," Sharon said. "He said at the very outset he wasn't going to miss any of training camp and he missed the whole training camp. Bengals' fans are hungry for some victories. But I don't mind it as long as he's producing and tackling and he's making some pretty good tackles."
In Smith's first autograph session as a Bengal, the ladies seemed to take to him Tuesday. A young woman gave him two tickets to a haunted house from her boss. A little later, a lady who could have been her mother got an autograph and then waited until after 1 p.m. to see if she could get a picture with him.
No one remembers the holdout, the bickering, the money. Not now. Not two sacks, one interception and a priceless bunch of quarterback pressures later.
After David Klingler, Dan Wilkinson, Ki-Jana Carter, if anyone can sense a bust a mile away, it's the good people of Bengaldom.
But they see this kid as legit. They see the
eye-blink speed and the 24-and-7 motor.
They saw him in the last two wins. How when the Bengals held the lead in the fourth quarter, a high-priced free-agent in Roman Oben and a first-round draft pick in Jeff Backus simply couldn't keep Smith away from their quarterback.
By the way, about those No. 1 picks who are always supposed to be so awful. You could make an argument that besides Dillon and Darnay Scott, the best players on the field for the Bengals Sunday in Detroit were right tackle Willie Anderson (1996), Reinard Wilson (1997) linebackers Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons (1998), Warrick (2000) and Smith (2001).
Holdout? Hey, it's America. Forgive and forget. They don't want to hear about the labor pains. They just want to see the baby.
"No one remembers," said Smith, not flexing, but pointing in the chest of a reporter. "Until someone reminds them."
Sharon from Sharonville told him, "I like what you did after that tackle, Sunday," and Smith said, 'Preciate it. Thanks for coming down here."
Everyone knew Cincinnati was the perfect place for Smith back on Draft Day. A self-described country boy from the outskirts of Jefferson City, Mo., he would play hard with the hard-core intensity only middle America could love.
"I like his style, his demeanor," said Mark Rogers, a season ticket-holder of Cedarville, Ohio. "Love his motor. He brings the lunch pail. He brings everything, he's just not a flashy type of guy. That's what I like. You can tell he's not here just for the money. When I get a jersey to wear, it's going to be his."
Rogers, an inspector, took the day off from work. He won't get that day back, but he doesn't begrudge Smith the 50 he missed.
"I didn't take the holdout personally," Rogers said. "I think that's the politics of the game. It's really between the agent and the owners. I don't hold it against him."
Neither do Parrott and Rump, two guys who showed up in blue collars with their boss' name stitched on the front of their shirts. Parrott, a season ticket holder, says he has heard no grumblings, "in my section."
"I think the agents control what they do," Parrott said. "It's pretty much them. They don't want to sign too soon because that affects the next guy and their next client, whatever. I was just hoping they'd get him in because I thought he could be a superstar and he's been playing like it."
Smith kept signing and smiling. A man asked how Smith's girl friend, Kerry, is doing running track at Xavier. A lady holding a baby wanted him to sign the kid's new Bengals jumper. A kid in a T-Shirt congratulated him on Sunday's interception.
"I like doing this stuff," Smith said. "These are the people that come watch us play."
Rich Ollier offered to stay and go through some more pictures Smith might like to keep.
When he went through the line, Ollier, a season ticket holder from Green Hills since 1987, gave him a couple of pictures he shot from his end-zone seat against the Bears.
One photo showed Smith in an unflattering position. But Ollier assured him, "The ref threw the flag for holding right after I took the picture. Sorry about that."
"No problem," Smith said. "Preciate it. How did you get them so big?"
When Smith went back to signing, someone told Ollier he's had tickets since the year they drafted another sack artist in the first round. Jason Buck.
"He's not Jason Buck. Jason Buck was a flop," Ollier said. "(Smith) has made big plays in every game he's been in, including his first one. I love the way he plays. He's all over the field. I wish they would play him more. I don't think they play him enough."
Ollier is another fan who would rather talk football than politics.
"I blame the agent as far as that goes and not the player," Ollier said. "I'm behind him 100 percent. I'm excited he's here."
As Smith left the pro shop and walked through the cool of the stadium back to the locker room, he agreed. The hot days of August were long gone. And he said nearly the same words he said back then.
"When you play well and win," Smith said. "Everything is good."