2-7-03, 5:30 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Bengals linebacker Takeo Spikes is now officially in purgatory, NFL style.
He came back to town Friday to accept one of "Applause!" magazine's first annual "Reach for the Stars," awards honoring Cincinnati's emerging African-American leaders at a star-studded luncheon. Then he left just as quickly for a plane back to Atlanta.
Somehow, that seems fitting because as free agency approaches, Spikes is in between as people everywhere pepper him with questions about his future.
"Hey Spikes," the workers at the Atlanta airport call to him. "Come on home."
The Bengals would like him to stay at this home, but he is sending no clear signals publicly that he wants to stay.
"I already said what I want," said Spikes, when asked how he wants to resolve his free agency status. "I think it was clear."
What he said when Marvin Lewis was introduced as head coach last month is that it would take much more than a new hire to bring him back and that he felt his time here had run its course. But he also expects to be tagged with the transition designation, which all but secures one more year in Cincinnati because it gives the Bengals the right to match.
"If they do, they do," he said.
Lewis has been just as guarded as Spikes in his comments and Spikes' agent, Todd France, had no comment Friday.
But the Bengals showed their interest at Friday's ceremony at Xavier University's Cintas Center. The club's contingent included his new position coach, Ricky Hunley, new defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, and new defensive line coach Jay Hayes, as well as director of player development Eric Ball.
Spikes, 26, was one of 10 community leaders under 30 years old honored by the magazine at a gathering keynoted by author and CNN pundit Juan Williams and hosted by WCPO-TV anchor Clyde Gray.
"Applause!" recognized his fundraising for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, a project in which he has been involved the past two years. He also serves as the spokesman for Children's Hospital eye screening program.
"It's an honor because you have to remember the type of influence you have in the community," said Spikes, before receiving his medal from Sallie Elliott, chief of the magazine.
"We're blessed to be in a situation where you can help people or try to set an example to kids, or whatever," Spikes said. "It's important to give back."
Spikes admits he's not sure where his next community activities are going to take place. No doubt the Bengals hope he's one of those cutting the ribbon when the Underground Railroad museum opens next year.
"The frustrating thing," Spikes said of NFL purgatory, "is that everyone keeps asking the same thing and you have to keep saying the same thing over and over."