The Ruler of the Jungle in Dave Lapham's first NFL opener was the great Lemar Parrish in 1974. Lapham, tapped as Sunday's Ruler of the Jungle who opens the game in a pregame ceremony from the throne of Paycor Stadium, thinks the same hair could rise from the back of his neck.
And he'll probably sign a few autograph books.
"Opening against a division rival as AFC defending champions in front of what may be the biggest crowd ever, it's definitely a thrill," Lapham said Sunday before doing what he's been doing the last 37 seasons of Sundays and headed to the Paycor radio booth.
Lapham, 70, Paul Brown's old offensive lineman who has become the conscience of Bengaldom as the wildly popular analyst, wasn't sure he could take the assignment given that it takes him out of the booth in the precious moments before kickoff. But when he was told how much the Bengals wanted him to do it, he was all in. And he changed it up with play-by-play man Dan Hoard as they began their 12th season together. He gave his "Keys To The Game," an hour before the game instead of just before the kickoff.
Besides, they can always slide in a pre-recorded segment before kickoff if needed. And from there it's one long hustle.
"It depends how the long commercial breaks are, so I might miss only a snap or two when the game starts," Lapham said. "It's really around the horn back to the booth and there are going to be a lot of people."
Lapham's first of 140 games across ten seasons was at Riverfront Stadium in that rookie year the Bengals opened at home blowing out Cleveland as Parrish returned a punt 62 yards for a touchdown.
"The preseason games were big for me," said Lapham, a third-round pick out of Syracuse. "We played the Dolphins that had been 17-0 the year before and I'm out there with guys I had seen on my television. My heroes. The temptation was to bring out an autograph book.
"The preseason kind of wore that off. But that first NFL game, you walk into the locker room and your jersey is hanging there and the veterans are sitting around getting ready for a game. Then going down the tunnel to the field with the unbridled exhilaration. I'd played in big stadiums and big games in college, but this was the pinnacle. The hair on the back of your neck stands up."
His signature enthusiasm is one of the many reasons he's a beloved figure and that's the first trait needed by any Ruler of the Jungle. Of course, he's "up in the bit," for this one.
"It's going to be a tough one. A typical AFC North game. (Mike) Tomlin knows what he's doing," Lapham said of the Steelers head coach. "I don't think it's going to be all that crisp, especially from the Bengals side. They'll be trying to get timing and cohesion against a pretty damn good defense.
"I'm picking the Bengals. Unless there's just a total mishap of throwing the ball away and I just don't see that happening."
BELL TOLLS: The Bengals have won three straight in the rivalry and every Cincinnati school kids knows where the tide turned. On Monday Night Football late in the 2020 season when strong safety Vonn Bell detonated Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster after a catch at midfield to force a turnover in the Bengals' 27-17 win.
"It was a tone-setter, especially for this group and this organization," Bell said in the week leading up to this one. "We kept feeding off that, the energy and now we just want to keep on making bigger and better plays each year, week in and week out."
Now, neither Smith-Schuster nor the man who threw it, Ben Roethlisberger, are Steelers anymore.
"Going against Big Ben, he's a savvy vet. He really controlled the offense. So, it's going to be kind of different now," Bell said.
INACTIVES: The Bengals deactivated all three waiver claims, tight end Devin Asiasi, guard Max Scharping and defensive tackle Jay Tufele, as well as tackle D'Ante Smith and running back Trayveon Williams. Punt returner Trent Taylor, who tweaked his hamstring leading up to the game, was active. With Smith out, that made Hakeem Adeniji the first tackle off the bench.