If Joe Burrow is the soul of the Bengals then here came the heart of the Bengals Monday night as Joe Mixon headed into the Paul Brown Stadium locker room filming the fans chanting "Who Dey" through their 28-degree breath.
"A great sendoff," Mixon said as the fireworks ending a roaring Super Bowl pep rally smoked like one of his Drew Estate victory cigars. "I've never seen anything like that before or experienced anything like that in my life. I thank them for my teammates. I love them, too. It was a huge moment, a historic moment and we're looking to have many more."
The Bengals took the field in their Super Bowl LVI white sweat suits as an estimated crowd of about 30,000 offered a thunderous sendoff to Tuesday morning's flight to Los Angeles and Sunday's appointment with the Rams to decide the NFL championship.
Bengals fans packed Paul Brown Stadium for Opening Night Presented by Gatorade Fan Rally. Who Dey!
They serenaded Burrow with an "MVP, MVP," chant. They went nuts when tight end C.J. Uzomah ripped off his brace from the knee he injured in Kansas City. They screamed when hometown punter Kevin Huber told them, "Hopefully we'll be back next week for the after party."
"I've got goose bumps," said Jim Foster, better known as Bengal Jim, who MCed the hour-long production with comedian Gary Owen. "And the great thing is that for about a half or two-thirds of them, they've never experienced something like this before. They weren't here or weren't old enough for '88. I'm so happy for this city. And another great thing about it is how many kids were there."
Heck, the players on the first two Super Bowl teams had never experienced anything like it. Max Montoya, the right guard on both teams, Ken Anderson, who quarterbacked the first one and safety David Fulcher, who helped lead them to the second one, found themselves in a holding room as guests of the club for the rally and couldn't remember anything like this back in the day.
That's because all of them went right to the Pro Bowl after losing Super Bowl XVI and XXIII and missed the welcome back rally at Fountain Square. But Montoya, a local restaurant owner, is looking for a win this time.
"The great thing is that people are wearing their Bengals stuff. All the time," Montoya said. "I've got a guy who works for me who said he's not going to wash them and I told him, 'You know we are in the food business.
"Holy mackerel. The Burrow factor. It's incredible how they keep winning. In '81 and '88 we had good teams all year. But these guys, they just keep coming from behind and winning. It's incredible."
And fun to watch. Willie Anderson, the club's all-time right tackle who is up for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in voting to be announced Thursday, was asked on stage what the Bengals have to do to bring back the Lombardi Trophy.
"Play Bengals football," Anderson said. "Let me tell you something about this offensive line. They can run the ball. They did it in overtime last week and they can play physical. If they play Bengal football and run it, they'll win it."
Tim Krumrie, the old nose guard considered the greatest defensive tackle to ever play for Cincinnati, was also on the stage. When the legends vacated for the coaches and players, senior defensive assistant coach Mark Duffner, who was Krumrie's defensive coordinator when they worked for the Bengals at the turn of the century, hugged him.
Krumrie is a poignant reminder of one of the saddest moments in Super Bowl history. As the greatest nose tackle in the game, he suffered a gruesome nationally-televised broken leg in the first half of Super Bowl XXIII that was thought to be career ending. But he drank a beer in the locker room until they dragged him to the hospital in the second half and he never missed a game in the last six years of his career, cementing his iconic cowboy legend.
So it was fitting that on Monday night Krumrie showed up in a cowboy hat and boots and pronounced he likes these Bengals, "because they play like a team." Asked about the current nose tackle D.J. Reader, he said, "He's a man."
It was nice mix of old and new for the faithful. Fellow Cincinnatian Sam Hubbard joined Huber on the mike. "So did Mixon as he led the crowd in a Who-Dey chant. After Uzomah winged off his cast, he jogged past a few sections offering high fives.
And director of player personnel Duke Tobin, calling PBS' "The Jungle," second to none among league crowd noise, joked, "Somebody said there's not much to do in Cincinnati. It doesn't look that way tonight."
He was poking fun at Burrow's comment from a few weeks ago that his team was staying relatively free of COVID because there wasn't much to do in Cincinnati. It was a harmless off-hand remark and the fans certainly haven't held it against him. When the starting offense and defense was announced, the biggest cheer was for No. 9.
When he called them the greatest fans in the world and said it was an honor to be the quarterback for such a great organization, they chanted "MVP, MVP," and he quickly surrendered the microphone.
"The Bengals put on one of the greatest productions I've ever seen in such a short amount of time," Foster said. "I'm just so excited. It was so fun. I hope we go to the damn thing ever year."