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Wishing well at PBS

Posted: 1 a.m.


Jake (center) sits in a meeting with defensive line coach Jay Hayes and the Bengals D-linemen. (Bengals photo)

After Shayne Graham signed his hat and T.J. Houshmandzadeh stood on tip-toes to take a picture with him and Marvin Lewis broke the huddle with him to end practice, Jake Bumpass waved goodbye to Willie Anderson as if he were a Pro Bowl teammate.

Anderson shook his head and remembered what Eric Ball, the Bengals director of player relations, told them before Bumpass spent the day with them to make a wish come true.

"He could have gone to Disney World," Anderson said. "Instead, he came here."

For the high school senior whose first question after being told he had cancer was, "Will I be able to play football?," Paul Brown Stadium on a working Wednesday is as good as fireworks over the Magic Kingdom. And it really is a small world because he met some other big guys who love the game.

"When I showed him our playbook, his eyes popped out," said defensive tackle John Thornton, his host for the day who sat with him in the defensive meeting chaired by defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan. "Whenever Chuck would say something, I'd explain it to him and he knew a lot of the stuff. He said they pretty much did the same thing, it just wasn't as detailed."

Thornton told him that when the big, black loose leaf notebook is jammed with about 100 pages, that is probably for only three or four defenses.

"Not like high school," Jake Bumpass said.

On his way to the meeting room, the 6-5, 330-pound Bumpass passed Pro Scan Imaging, the company lodged on PBS's ground floor. It was 13 months ago that Bumpass went there to get an MRI on the torn meniscus in his knee and left with the image of a dark cloud on the paper.

Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Large B Cell.

No. No football his senior year as a Dixie Heights High School defensive tackle.

"I want to play football again," Bumpass said. "I don't think about (the cancer). I never thought about it when I had it."

He's in remission and the magic date is sometime in October of 2007 when it should be gone for good. Until then, there are scans every six months. And since he's got one Friday, he can pick up the goodies Bengals equipment manager Rob Recker has hoarded for him to be autographed. Balls. Hats. An official Bengals helmet Bumpass purchased for himself in the Pro Shop.


Jake (right) dissects the Bengals playbook with John Thornton during the defensive team meeting. (Bengals photo)

Jake walked by Pro Scan one other time, after going out on the stadium field and standing in one of the end zones. He looked at the 1-yard line and recalled how he had helped stop Covington Catholic on a couple of goal-line stands as a junior.

"You should see his room before we moved to go to that high school," said his mother, Linda. "Matching pillow case with the curtains. The room was orange, black and white. I couldn't believe I had that shade of orange (in the pail). He still has posters all over the walls in our new place. You know a Bengals fan lives there."

Bleeding Bengals orange and black

A Bengals fan who plays defensive tackle. His request to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Ohio wasn't Disney World or a crate full of video games, or an MTV concert or a movie set. It was to hang out with the Bengals defensive line and get some pointers.

"He loves strategy. That's what he wanted to see; how they do it," Linda Bumpass said. "He watches a game and he says, 'See that?' No. I can't. One time when (the Bengals) were playing the Ravens, there was a fumble and he slowed it down three or four times and said, 'See, he hurt his shoulder,' and I just couldn't see it even when he slowed it down."

Jake crafted enough good strategy to win the Super Bowl in Madden 2005 by "passing a lot. I pretty much passed with four receivers with Carson (Palmer) as my quarterback."

This is the kind of day it was. Jake forgot to go talk to Palmer. Just slipped his mind to go meet the Pro Bowl quarterback.

But he can be forgiven, as Lewis and defensive line coach Jay Hayes had him on a tight schedule. After ushering Jake and Linda into his meeting for the line's brief practice skull session, Hayes went over installing a new front with Jake in the middle in front of the board, next to end Justin Smith.

"He stands out a little bit to me," Jake said of Smith. "He looks like he's the leader of the line."

Linda, who also came with Jake's 16-year-old brother Caleb and neighborhood buddy Brian Hudson, figured Jake was the only one of them who could figure out what was being said. Hayes showed some tape of past Bengals games where the fronts and schemes they were covering Wednesday worked to befuddle opposing pass protections.

Maybe that's what got Thornton thinking. He asked Jake if he went to a game last year and when he said "no," that got Thornton scheming.

"I've got two season tickets for you this year," Thornton told him late in the visit.

"I've only been to one game here. It's when Corey Dillon broke (the single-game rushing) record," Jake said. When he waved goodbye to Anderson through a window, Jake told his brother, "Willie Anderson has been here forever. He blocked in that game. He was Highway 71 then."

Jake liked the big guys. They liked him, too. Hayes had him running around like a one-arm paper hanger. Holding dummies. Holding his notebook.


Jake checks out the Bengals practice. (Joe Fussinger photo)

Hayes spent some time with him on the field in between the frenzy of practice. Here Bumpass was telling him about how he came back too early from a recent knee surgery, which amazed Hayes. He thought he might be worried about more complex medical problems. But the steel-belted confidence couldn't help but leave an impression. Despite the six-month blitz of chemotherapy that didn't end until the end of October.

Now here it is May after a year-long drive and Jake is holding up cards in a Bengals two-minute drill.

Well, Bresnahan was calling the play and telling Jake which card to put up.

"It's so much faster. They're so much faster. It's just so much faster than high school," Jake said, shaking his head. "Their technique is always perfect."

The coaches might disagree with him on that, but not much more. At the end of practice, offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski asked him how he liked it.

"He said that he could tell professional athletes have to put in a lot of time at their jobs on and off the field," Bratkowski said. "It's nice he could come down and see that."

He only had to come about the 15 minutes from Crestview Heights, Ky. Kevin Manley, executive director of the local Make-A-Wish Foundation, said that of the 120 children in the program this year, about 85 of them go out of town.

"It's always special when a child can stay right here in Cincinnati," Manley said.

Lewis would never let a special moment like this slip by. His players learn so much. At Tuesday's morning meeting, Lewis told his team of Jake's visit the next day. Nothing had to be said Wednesday.

"He's so young," Thornton said. "I hope he'll be all right. It's a tough story."

Jake didn't say much, but then, nobody had to.

"Anything you can do to help him get through it," Thornton said. "I'm trying to learn about (the cancer.)"

When Lewis called Jake up at the end of practice, he asked him if he remembered the Word of the Day special teams coach Darrin Simmons had revealed at the team meeting.

"Industriousness," said Jake with not a little difficulty.

The wise Lewis, knowing no one can say that word quite right, said, "OK, but let's just break on 'Work.' One-two-three."

The big guys are going to keep working him. Thornton told Jake to stay in touch and he gave Linda a hug. After Friday, the next time Jake comes to PBS, he won't have to go into the tube to see if the shadow has come back. He can just go to Thornton's seats.

"That's something," Anderson said after he waved goodbye. "Here I am and all I'm worried about is I want to keep on playing."

As Jake left, he smiled.

"Willie towered over me," he said.

From one big guy to another, Anderson would probably tell him they were looking each other in the eye.

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