Takeo Spikes regrets

Takeo Spikes

Brian Simmons, a college scout for the Jacksonville Jaguars and former Bengals linebacker, can't provide a recent report on his 1998 draft soul mate Takeo Spikes.

"An uninformed scouting report can get you fired, among other things, but that's at the top of the list," Simmons said Wednesday night from his home base of Orlando, Fla. "My thing about Takeo is that God blessed everybody with something, but God doesn't build everyone like he built Takeo."

It has been five years since Simmons played his last NFL snap and 10 years since Spikes and Simmons played their last games together as Bengals linebackers, and here is the 6-2, 242-pound Spikes lining up to play the Bengals with no neck, no regrets, and all heart this Sunday (4:25 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) at inside linebacker in his 211th NFL start against a Bengals offense that is expected to start 294 games combined.

"The one thing that people fail to realize is that it's one thing to be physically fit," Simmons said. "But you look at guys like him, London Fletcher, Ray Lewis, it takes a lot to go out there for 15, 16, 17 years mentally. That's the hardest part of it. I couldn't imagine playing that long."

But Spikes, drafted with the 13th pick in 1998, is still at it. Think of it. The Bengals still practiced at Spinney Field, Marvin Lewis's Ravens defense had been sent into the offseason giving up a game-winning bomb to Boomer Esiason, Akili Smith was trying to win the starting job at Oregon, and Barack Obama was an Illinois state senator.

When the Bengals and Chargers meet Sunday, Spikes will be 15 days shy of his 36th birthday. Bengals wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, whose brother Artrell was drafted by the Bengals a round after Spikes, grew up with him as if he were almost like an uncle.

"Very close to our family. One of my other brothers stayed with him in Atlanta and worked out with him," Andrew Hawkins said. "I never thought I'd end up playing against him."

And Simmons, the 17th pick in that draft, doesn't have time to watch Spikes on TV because he's so busy evaluating college talent.

"I talk to Brian probably once a month; just checking in on him," Spikes said Wednesday on his delightful conference call with the Cincinnati media. "He's working his way up in Jacksonville. I told him when he gets the GM job, I'll be ready to be his assistant GM."

Spikes is still grinding. He plays mainly on first and second down now, but he had to play 99 percent of the snaps last Sunday and he may have to do the same this Sunday because of an injury to Donald Butler. He play the run downs and the Chargers are tied for fifth in the NFL against the run. The Marvin Lewis scouting report is solid.

"Takeo just keeps playing; he's playing very well in there," Lewis said. "He's plays weakside inside linebacker in their base defense and does a great job. They keep him covered up, and he does a great job of scraping to the football and making tackles."

Spikes is grinding because he thinks there is still a shot. A total of 15 seasons, 210 starts, five teams, and even though the Chargers are 4-7 he still thinks someday he'll play in his first playoff game.

"Yeah. I'm addicted. I'm an addict," Spikes said when asked if that is why he keeps going. "I can't say that's what we all play for. I know that's what I've been playing for ever since I came in – just to have a chance to play for the ring. That's been one of my biggest goals."

And he says he's not afraid if it never happens.

"As crazy as it may sound to you, I'm going to make it. I don't know how, but I'm going to get there," he said. "I'll tell you the biggest thing. I think you know me, I never even give a second thought in my mind to think if I don't make it. And I think that's what makes me so different than everybody else. I am Mr. Optimistic."

You can still hear the passion spewing out of the voice that sounds like football cleats on gravel. He is still absolutely livid about how the Chargers lost at home last Sunday against the Ravens, leading 13-10 late and allowing Baltimore running back Ray Rice to convert a fourth-and-29 desperate dump pass.

And, yes, Spikes missed one of the uncountable tackles. It also looked like Rice may have been given a charitable spot, but …

"I've seen a lot of games. As long as you continue to have birthdays, you won't be surprised. It was just guys taking poor angles to the ball carrier," Spikes said. "That's what I saw. You get a lot of people that want to 'Monday morning quarterback,' and I don't even bother to talk to them because they don't even matter anyway.

"One of the main questions I've had people ask me is, 'Why didn't you have anybody underneath?' Well, it's fourth-and-29, why would we? You have to be accountable and take responsibility. As you look back at it, I thought we had a good call, but we took some bad angles. And you can't leave it in the officials' hands. I learned to know that by playing in Cincy. When you don't win a lot of games and you think a call could be questionable, you're not going to get those calls. You're not."

As for that call about Spikes leaving Cincinnati when Lewis took the job after the 2-14 season in 2002 capped Spikes's five seasons at 19-61, it is now the stuff of legend and lore. What we do know is that Spikes, a transition free agent, basically told the media before he sat down to talk with Lewis is that he didn't want to come back no matter who the coach was.

"I think change is good," Spikes said when he visited the Bills before he signed with Buffalo. "Change is good for everybody. For my point right now, I think change would be more than welcome."

Clearly that didn't sit well with Lewis as he cultivated a new culture, although it's believed others in the organization were for matching Buffalo's six-year, $32 million offer. But when Spikes lobbied the Bengals publicly and privately not to match, they took him up on it.

"I wasn't surprised," Simmons said. "Their relationship (Lewis-Spikes) didn't get off to a good start. There was a little too much talk in the media before the two actually had a chance to sit down and talk. I wish he would have stayed. What people forget is that we also cut Steve Foley as well as losing Takeo and I always thought we had three pretty good linebackers."

But Lewis says the two get along.

"We spent a lot of time in my office those first couple weeks before that occurred, but I've really gotten a chance to visit with him more since he left here than I did in the short period of time he was here as a player," Lewis said.

And Spikes has enjoyed the what-if talks with Lewis.

"We kind of run into each other at different functions and stuff and we always talk," Spikes said. "We always have the talks 'what-if?' The 'if' talks are always good, now. They're always good. I've never had an 'if' talk that was bad."

So Barack Obama is POTUS and Spikes is lining up for the Chargers trying to put the Bengals out of the playoffs.

"They've had their ups and downs. More recently, in the past two or three years, from what I've seen, Cincinnati has always had good players in there," Spikes said. "I think you really have a good coaching staff that's coming along. They're developing the players and guys are taking ownership after Carson (Palmer) left."

Like everyone else, Spikes likes the looks of the Pro Bowl combo of wide receiver A.J. Green and Andy Dalton.

"I haven't played them in so long. I remember Chad (Johnson), I remember T.J. (Houshmandzadeh), and then there was Chris Henry. It's still a similar offense with the vertical passing game," Spikes said.

"You've got A.J. He's a beast. God, he's a beast. Then there's Andy. That's what sticks out to me. My entire career, even when I was in Cincy, we never had a quarterback. If I look at Cincy, I always see who is the guy with the ball in his hands the most, and to see what he's been able to come in there and do it speaks volumes. You can tell he works at it. He really leads that offense. Whether it's a check-with-me at the line of scrimmage or him reading coverages, he gets it, and lot of players don't get it."

Spikes left no doubt if the Bengals are to live another day in the wild card hunt, they'll have to go through him.

"In order for us to have a chance to play for a wild card, we have to win out," Spikes said. "But we have to start with this one game right here. So that's my mindset. We have to go in and win this game. And that's what I'm preaching to the rest of the guys. Until we're mathematically out, that's another story."

Until then, Simmons may get another text from a former Bengals teammate like he did when he heard from Marco Battaglia a few weeks ago.

"I guess he didn't know Takeo was still playing," Simmons said. "His text said, 'How the hell is Takeo still playing?' "

Now you know.

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