9-17-01, 3:40 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
If it's not Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe insulting the Bengals at the Super Bowl, it's Baltimore head coach Brian Billick calling for an instant replay with two minutes left in a game the Ravens led the Bengals, 34-0.
If it's not losing a 34-31 game to the Ravens on a controversial call in Baltimore's last game ever at Cinergy Field, it's the Bengals losing the last three
games to the Ravens by 86-7.
The Bengals have plenty of fuel when it comes to Sunday's game against the visiting Ravens, not the least of which is the highly-regarded Bengals' linebackers measuring themselves against the NFL's best backers.
But Bengals outside linebacker Takeo Spikes isn't getting pumped because of the meeting with Ray Lewis, Jamie Sharper and Peter Boulware. That's because Elvis is in the building and Spikes remembers what happened the last time quarterback Elvis Grbac, the man who spurned the Bengals for the Ravens, was in Paul Brown Stadium during free agency back in March.
"I saw stuff where he said he'd rather play for a winner than come here," Spikes said after Monday's practice. "I take that as kind of a slap in the face against us. That gets me more fired up. They have great linebackers, but
our offense is playing them, not us. Grbac decided not to come here and I noticed that."
Grbac signed a five-year, $30 million deal in Baltimore even though his agent said the Bengals had "millions" more on the table in the first two years of the contract.
Grbac is assured of making $7 million if he plays in the first two years in Baltimore. After the second year, the Ravens must give him the $6 million of the $11 million signing bonus in order to trigger the final three years of the contract.
Jim Steiner, Grbac's agent who also represented Justin Smith in an ugly 51-day holdout that just ended, acknowledged then the Bengals' proposal dwarfed the Ravens' bid in the first two years.
"That's where the biggest impact in Cincinnati's offer was. The first two years," Steiner said back in March. "But once the contract stretched out, it became pretty similar."
The Bengals aren't using Sunday's game as a measuring stick for how far they've come under head coach Dick LeBeau. The game on Sept. 23 marks 364 days since the 37-0 loss in Baltimore triggered head coach Bruce Coslet's resignation and the appointment of LeBeau.
"We're only 1-0," said right tackle Willie Anderson. "That's not enough time to (measure) anything."
But Anderson suggested the Bengals went into this two-week stretch against the AFC Central elite of Tennessee and Baltimore in a much better mindset. One of the reasons the Bengals have responded under LeBeau is that during preparation, he emphasizes what the Bengals can do instead of what the other teams can do to stop them.
"We looked forward to playing Tennessee last week and we're looking forward to playing Baltimore," Anderson said. "In the past, there were some coaches and players who would say, 'Oh no, we're playing Baltimore.'"
Spikes says he holds nothing against Billick for his actions last Sept. 24, which also included passing with the 34-0 lead.
"Billick is probably the kind of coach you like if you're playing for him and don't if you're not," Spikes said. "We have to stop them no matter the score. If we can't stop them, the only people to get mad at are ourselves."
Spikes, middle linebacker Brian Simmons and left outside backer Steve Foley, all four-year veterans, have yet to beat the Ravens in their careers. They know that's why everybody hears about Baltimore's backers and why only Bengals' fans and NFL insiders talk about the Bengals' backers.
"The general thinking is Baltimore's linebackers are probably the best crew in the NFL," said Bengals President Mike Brown. "And they are very good. They won the Super Bowl, so they earned it. Our guys are pretty good, too. They're a little bit younger, but not much. They do a good job, but they won't get the recognition that Lewis, Sharper and Boulware get until they have comparable success.
"Our guys are fast," Brown said. "Who knows, if we challenged Baltimore to a relay race, our guys could make it interesting. But don't think Baltimore's aren't fast. That's one of the reasons they're so good."
Spikes knows there's only one way to get recognized. Particularly this Sunday.
"Winning," Spikes said. "Nothing happens until then."
INJURY REPORT:** Pro Bowl RB Corey Dillon suffered such a slight quadricep pull at Monday's practice that he didn't make trainer Paul Sparling's injury report. Neither did WR Darnay Scott with an infected toenail. Both should be able to resume practicing Wednesday.
So should receiver Peter Warrick (knee), who has rested sore cartilage this past week. DE Vaughn Booker (thigh) is questionable, but he said he'd play Sunday. G Victor Leyva (ankle) is questionable.
CLOSE HERO: With last week's attacks still very much on the Bengals' minds, cornerbacks coach Kevin Coyle is about as close as you can get while game planning for a game in Cincinnati against a team from Baltimore.
Coyle's younger brother, fireman Harry Coyle, 43, of Ladder Co. 18 of Manhattan's Fort Pitt crew, was rescuing people from the north tower of the World Trade Center when the south tower collapsed last Tuesday.
"Then they were ordered to get out of there," said Kevin Coyle after Monday's practice, "and it wasn't much more than 30 seconds to a minute after they got out, the thing came down."
Harry Coyle kept working at what is now "Ground Zero," until he went
home Friday night and then came back to work Saturday.
The Bengals know they have to begin thinking about playing this Sunday, but they know these are no ordinary times. Running back Corey Dillon put it best when asked
if America needs the NFL to play this week.
"The only thing we need is each other," Dillon said.
Right tackle Willie Anderson is ready to get back into it, but he also raised the question on everyone's mind.
"You just don't know what's going on," Anderson said. "In another 72 hours we could be at war."
Bengals cornerback Tom Carter, the club's player representative, said the Bengals don't have anything planned as a team in response to the attacks. But he expects players to make individual contributions after head coach Dick LeBeau gave them some league information at Monday morning's team meeting.
Carter said he expects the NFL to announce Tuesday that last week's games will be made up Jan. 5 at the expense of Wild Card Weekend.
Which means there will be four fewer playoff teams this year. But it is a mere footnote when talking about guys like Harry Coyle.
"They got out of there just in time," Kevin Coyle said. "He and a group of about six of his guys just started running. He dove under a fire truck and there was all this stuff falling around all over them. I just can't imagine it."
As reports surfaced that about 300 firemen were missing, Kevin Coyle held his breath. His father phoned late Tuesday afternoon with the word that Harry was OK and working.
"He's been down there pretty much the entire time," Kevin Coyle said. "I've always admired those guys and the tremendous things that they do for others. It wasn't the right time to ask him what it was like, but my sister told me I won't believe his story."