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The Conversation: Ted Karras Talks The Hat, Cincy, And A Bengals Run

C Ted Karras celebrates during the Steelers-Bengals game in Week 12 of the 2023 season at Paycor Stadium.
C Ted Karras celebrates during the Steelers-Bengals game in Week 12 of the 2023 season at Paycor Stadium.

With the Cincy Hat Project celebrating its one-year anniversary of smashing success via grassroots fundraising, senior writer Geoff Hobson held a conversation with the venture's driving force.

The Cincy Hat has become synonymous with Bengals center and captain Ted Karras in his effort to expand independent living for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities at the Village of Merici in his hometown of Indianapolis.

Karras also expounds on Cincy, football, Joe Burrow's window, and the issues that concern him as the Bengals' representative to the NFL Players Association.

The Conversation:

GH: You had a big week at

TK: Big week for the Cincy Hat. I matched all sales and donations up to 120,000 dollars. A lot of giveaways this week online. We're closing in on that million dollars and we didn't quite get it in that one calendar year. That was my goal, but I'm just so incredibly grateful for the whole Cincinnati community and how much they've adopted this and the generosity and the spirit of giving that they've shown to their sister city in Indianapolis.

We do have future plans to try and do something here in Cincinnati, but for now we're just trying to put in as many units as possible. The hat sales so far, the money has funded 77 new units. We have a huge wait list.

GH: By unit you mean apartments, right?

TK: Yeah. So we've got 77 people off of a couple thousand person wait list and once you're in the Village of Merci, you're in for life and it's really special.

GH: It started a year ago already?

TK: Right before Thanksgiving. Barely a year. We feel like we've been part of the Cincinnati community for a long time. Close to a million. I don't know the exact figure.

GH: That's unbelievable.

TK: Unbelievable.

GH: What did you think when you began it?

TK: I didn't know what to think. Really, it came organically. I had these hats. It was just like a gift I gave to people. The demand was so crazy.

GH: Were you thinking, maybe I can raise a grand for the village?

TK: I really had no context what to think. I had no expectation. Obviously this has far exceeded any expectation that I did set. I mean big credit to the tech startup guru Matt Renie. He has been grinding this whole year. I mean, he's the entire operation. I'm the face of it and I get a lot of credit for doing this. But Matt has done such a great job.

GH: Matt is your high school buddy who already has a full-time job other than this, right?

TK: He does.

GH: This could be a full-time job.

TK: It could be for sure.

GH: And what does Mrs. Renie think? His mom.

TK: His mom founded it. Colleen Renie founded this organization.

GH: So what does she say?

TK: They're so blown away. Flabbergasted, really. We're a hat company. I think Imperial, we're like in the top 10 as far as individual hat companies making sales. I don't know if that's true or not, but that has been hinted at. They're an amazing company, too. Imperial has done a great job with this. They've done so much to support us.

GH: Who is the most famous person who has worn the hat?

TK: Shane Gillis took a picture with Donald Trump and he was wearing a Cincy hat.

GH: Anybody else?

TK: Gosh, the most famous guys are probably Joey B, Tee Higgins, Ja'Marr. They all have their Cincy hats. Anthony Munoz has bought a few. Luke Kuechly's mother has been a repeat customer.

GH: It must take up a bunch of your time.

TK: Matt has me scheduled out. We were at a school (last week). St. Joseph's up in Hamilton. Matt probably schedules me out a little too much.

GH: What do you do at a school?

TK: We just talk to different classes. I was actually there to thank them because their second-grade class last year did a bake sale, did a book sale and donated all the money to the Cincy Hat project and I thought that was really special that a second-grade class was moved like that.

They have kids in their class with developmental disabilities as well. I wanted to go and thank them in person. It was a great day yesterday. We had a blast. Talked to different classrooms and then we had an all-school assembly to end the day. A lot of fun. I hope the kids had fun because I certainly did.

GH: Let's talk football a little bit.

TK: Let's talk some ball.

GH: We're talking after the Pittsburgh game and there's a lot of criticism about the running game. How do you view that?

TK: I love this town. When you're doing great, you're the greatest thing in the world. And when you're not, you're probably the worst and such is life in this business. You win you're in, you lose you stink. We've lost three in a row and that's the reality of the situation. So I think all criticism is fair. I think it's somewhat cathartic for fans. These people have a lot of passion and zeal, and I never want to diminish that. Criticisms are open. We're not winning the games. We need to do whatever we can to do to give our team confidence to increase the volume of runs, but also when we do call them up, we need to execute our individual assignments to the best of our ability and start getting some yards. Scoring more points, ultimately. I don't care if we run, pass, drop kick it in, we need to score more points. The defense has done a great job. When you lose a game 16-10, that eats away at me as an offensive player. Ten points isn't going to get it done in this league.

GH: You have a lot of confidence in Jake Browning.

TK: I've worked a lot with Jake Browning. He's lived in my house the last two training camps. He's a great guy. It's not like a lot of situations when the backup QB comes in where he's got to earn the respect of the team. Jake's earned that respect over these last years already. And we have a ton of confidence in him. He's a winner. He's won a ton of games in his life. And he has great command of this offense and I think overall did a great job (against the Steelers). Obviously, everyone wants a few plays back, but really, we had a chance to win it, but ultimately didn't.

GH: Do you think you can make a run?

TK: I always think we're going to make a run, Hob. I go into every game thinking we're going to win. We're going to have to backdoor our way in here. It's an uphill battle, but that's what we're here to do. I mean my sole purpose and why you brought me in here was to help win football games. So that's my ultimate goal every single day.

GH: When you signed in 2022, has it been what you thought it would be?

TK: Absolutely. I love this place. I think this franchise is first-class. I love this coaching staff.

GH: Why?

TK: I love the consistency and the trust of veterans. I think Zac does an amazing job scheduling and taking care of his guys. We have a great plan going into the games. We need to execute it better. I don't like the word fun in football because football is not inherently fun. But this is the most pleasure I've taken coming into a football setting every single day. It's a pleasure to be here.

GH: These coaches seem to be able to make it work and make it fun.

TK: They do a great job of it. If we're sitting here at 8-3, no one can be saying anything. "It's great and they're a fun team.' But we're not. But that's what I really respect about Zac is his consistency. I'm not saying it's fun at all. I've always taken issue with football being described as fun because football inherently isn't fun. It's fun to win. It's fun to do well. But I wouldn't say, you know, being a right guard is inherently a fun position to play. It's a battle. And you want to earn the respect of your peers and your coaches and your teammates and you want to win the game and win the matchup.

GH: So center's not fun?

TK: Not that I'm not having fun, but I just have never liked that adjective in a football setting.

GH: A big part of Zac's philosophy is to have a player-friendly setting. You've probably seen that mindset evolve throughout your eight-year career.

TK: I would say this has been biggest example. This is my only experience outside of a New England-style coaching staff. So obviously that's a whole other end of the spectrum … but I also thought that was a great culture to be a part of. I have a huge amount of respect for Coach Belichick. He gave me three opportunities to be on his team, so I'll never take that for granted. Owe you for life for that one.

GH: Joe Burrow said the window

is open as long as he's playing.

TK: I completely agree with that. I think this is a lesson to be learned from us. I think there was a lot of chatter this whole offseason. Super Bowl. We're going back. Not that we took it for granted, but I just think we need to curb a lot of that Super Bowl talk. What are we talking about the Super Bowl in March for? We need to do things to get better in the spring and there's so much football to be played. There's so many things that can happen.

Take this year. Everyone is talking about Super Bowl this, Super Bowl that. We're 5-6 with our starting QB out. So we're going to learn a lot about ourselves for the next six weeks. I'm going to be on guys for their demeanor, for their energy. We're not going to be pouting around.

This is a tough situation. One that I'm new to, too. I've only missed the playoffs once. I see we're talking about playoffs already. We've got six weeks to go. I think we need to be more one track minded and one game minded at times.

GH: Elite teams have growing pains, too, perhaps.

TK: Perhaps. No two teams are ever going to be the same in the NFL, such as this business. You've got to make sure you're performing at your very best every single day. That's what it takes. Competitive stamina is the number one trait for success in the NFL. I think we have a lot of guys made the right stuff, but we're going to find out who's ready to roll here when the chips aren't falling our way.

GH: It sounds like you're going to be more of a captain now than you might have been if you were winning.

TK: This team is easy to lead. We have a lot of guys made up for the right stuff. I'm not a big rah-rah guy, not a big speech giver. As far as what we need to be doing. I've always thought there's no real need to talk about leadership. It's through your actions and your performance and your demeanor every single day— the energy you bring. If I see something, I'll say it. Like I always would have anyway.

But there's not much to criticize here about the guys we have in that locker room.

GH: You grew up Indianapolis and this is your second season in Cincinnati. Is it pretty much the same?

TK: I think since Cincy is a little more unique for a few reasons. I think they're very similar culture-wise, but Cincinnati has, what? About 75 municipalities that are considered Cincinnati? So that's an interesting culture driver of the city. Every 10 minutes someone else is in charge. I think that's kind of shaped the culture of the town. I think it's a little bit more aesthetic than Indianapolis. It's the only Midwestern big city with hills.

I think that lends to a really cool aesthetic that Cincinnati has. They've had to leave up a lot of trees. There's a lot of hills you can't build on. And so far they've left up a lot of the forest. I think that's a huge plus for Cincinnati. I love it here. I love the old buildings. I love OTR.

GH: You're the Bengals' rep to the NFL Players Association. What are some of the key issues for you?

TK: As the PA representative, there are a couple of things this year that we need to get nailed down. One, the fining is out of control. I'm very confused when I watch a play to see a guy fined 42,0000 dollars. It's a big issue we need to get clarified this offseason. Because that's full game checks that guys are getting robbed of.

GH: Like the fine on Stanley on what looked to be a run-of-the-mill play.

TK: Yes, like (Bengals wide receiver) Stanley Morgan. I never like to talk great about the Ravens, but Pat Ricard had an iso block and was fined 44,000 dollars. I don't know what he's supposed to do differently on that play. It's a little bit out of hand for my taste. I don't know if I'll get fined for that.

But that's something as a PA representative I'm going to be hammering home this offseason. We need a full audit of these fines.

Second, there's only one thing I'm concerned about with the gambling issue. How is some of this money ending up in the players' hands? Not from gambling, but licensing fees. If that much money is changing hands based on our performance, there has to be some cut for the players. I don't know what that looks like

from a business standpoint. Whether that's the sites paying a licensing fee to be able to gamble on the NFL. I don't think it would be a direct-to-consumer type scenario, but we need to protect our players and make sure this one industry that is first-time legal in this country, that the precedent is set early on that we have a piece of this pie. We're just not going to let millions and billions of dollars exchanged and we don't get a piece.

GH: Do you think that would prevent guys from ever throwing games and shaving points?

TK: There's only one guy on the whole team that can potentially, even remotely, affect a game and that would be the quarterback. The NFL is too hard with 11 guys out there. The ball bounces funny. It's very, very hard to throw a game. I think it's a non-factor issue. The culture of the sport lends it to that not happening. I'm not concerned about that at all.

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