Andrew Whitworth made one prom even more memorable this spring.
This is why Hailee Raffensperger wore a No. 77 jersey even before she served the two dozen kids from Ripley-Union-Lewis-Huntington High School headed to their prom this past weekend.
"He was walking up to his table and asked me if the kids were going to the prom," Raffensperger recalls, taking a minute in the wake of the Thursday lunch rush at J. Alexander's. "I said, "Yeah,' and he said, 'Give me all their checks. Just bring them over, but don't say anything."
In the end, of course, the kids figured out. It was Saturday afternoon, after all, and there was barely anybody in the Rookwood hot spot on Cincinnati's eastern edge. The big bald guy had to be Bengals Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth.
"He comes in pretty frequently by himself or with his kids," Raffensperger says. "He's the nicest man I've ever served . . . I told them their meals were paid for, but I didn't tell them who. But I had to tell them something. They started looking around and they saw him come back to his table from the rest room. He's so tall you can't miss him, so I think some of them figured it out."
First, they got on their phones to see if their parents were the ones picking up the tab, but as one of the kids said, "Our parents wouldn't do that. They gave us money to come here."
Meanwhile, Whitworth, along with his boys Drew, 5, and Michael, 4, out with their dad for haircuts, were enjoying the scene.
Well, at least their dad was.
"They were wondering why everyone was so dressed up," Whitworth says. "You see 20, 25 kids all eating together, I thought it was a prom. Seeing all those kids dressed up, Lord, it brought back some memories."
This wasn't the first time Whitworth has made someone else's memories sweeter. He's done it for other Prom goers in other years when he's been out and about.
And Whitworth isn't the only Bengal to do such things on the spur of the moment. Defensive tackle Domata Peko has been known (as has Whitworth) to slip a few extra thousand dollars into a family's hands during a Christmas shopping spree. And last Christmas responded to a family's plea to get involved in the Bengals' holiday festivities by taking the family shopping himself.
But Saturday was a real eye opener for Hailee Raffensperger.
"It was just all very exciting. We were so excited for the kids," she says. "But we were also excited that somebody like that would do something so nice."
Raffensperger, who is from Mason and has been working at J Alexander's for four years, is a Bengals fan and so is her boyfriend. He bought enough tickets that they saw every game last season. He often watches the players on YouTube and the videos struck a chord with her.
"I like how he spoke about his dedication to the team," Raffensperger says. "It wasn't all about himself. I liked his demeanor. He's a genuine person. He stuck out to me."
So she got a No. 77 jersey. And as her boyfriend started watching him play, he thought, "This guy is good," and he bought his jersey, too.
"It really brings you back," Whitworth says, looking at the kids. "I guess I went to mine around 2000. A long time ago. A lot of them came over said thank you. They were very appreciative. They tweeted it out and hit me up on social media. It's nice to be able to make a memorable moment even more memorable."
It has been duly noted that his favorite order is the Ahi Steak.
"I'm going to buy his next one," Hailee Raffensperger says.
Matt W., third generation Bengals season ticket holder, went to Chicago to hand the Bengals jersey to the NFL commissioner during his V.I.P. access trip to the draft.