I love the NFL Network. I had never watched it before I started my gig with the Patriots, as I'm currently included in the lonely 14 percent of the American population that doesn't have cable television. But now I'm hooked. I get to see a lot of the things I would normally see just by covering the NFL, but instead I'm watching it on TV, which just seems cooler. Anyways, the only problem is that whenever I turn on the NFL Network, I seem to catch Cincinnati Bengals games from last season. This really should be a memorandum to certain program directors, because I'm seeing John Kitna this, Corey Dillon that… Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait a second. Corey Dillon you say?
This got me to thinking (shuddup). Corey Dillon is on the Patriots now. What a great story. Maybe we can continue the three-week trend and ask Dillon even more of the exact same run-of-the-mill questions, in a variety of different ways, about playing for the dreadful Cincinnati Bengals. In fact, the Patriots play the Bengals this weekend – in Paul Brown Stadium nonetheless – in their second preseason game. The headline can read "Dillon Psyched About Hyped Return to Cincy."
What an idea. A great angle. I bet Dillon thinks so too.
"I'm not going to make a big deal out of it, because it's not really a big deal," Dillon said Sunday, almost a full week before the game. "It's another opponent, [we] have to go play ball. I'm a Patriot now. I mean, that situation that occurred up there was over December 28, and that's where I left it. I'm here now, I'm with my new teammates, we're gelling, and I'm happy as ever. I'm not even trying to look back. It's fortunate that we play them, but it's just another game."
There goes another story. Just when you think you have a great take and an interesting angle to go with, the three-time Pro Bowl running back your Super Bowl defending team acquired in the offseason has to go and say it's no big deal to face his former team. I have to admit it would be cool to hear Dillon trash his former team. But he didn't say he had this game circled on his calendar. No shots at head coach Marvin Lewis. No one was called a bum. No snide comments about the fans in Cincy. Nothing.
Truth be told, I've been complaining about the Cincinnati questions since the second day of camp. After the first day of training camp, I wrongly assumed we could move on from the drama and controversy that hovered over Dillon. It was about that time when I got bored with questions on Dillon's exodus from Ohio. I'm still bored with it. I'm sure Dillon is too. He remains quite adept at offering up no bulletin board material.
"I approach every game the same," Dillon continued when asked about the regular season match up between the teams on December 12. "I go in there and do what I have to do, and do whatever it takes to help the team win. That's been my main focus for eight years. … I don't focus on that. I focus in on what I have to do to help the team win. Basically, that's what I'm going to do."
Okay, so it sounds like a company line doesn't it? This is fine by me. Maybe Dillon does care, maybe he doesn't. I don't want to hear any more questions about Dillon's tenure in Cincy, and I don't want to hear any of his retread answers about "just winning football games." I get it. Maybe someone, somewhere, knows how Dillon really feels about his first game against his former team. Maybe his new teammates even know the real story. But we're not going to get it. That, too, is fine by me. The point was made even clearer when, as a group of reporters were talking with Dillon Sunday, a group of his new teammates – which included Rosevelt Colvin – walked past.
"Corey Dillon is a liar!" Colvin shouted with a grin. "Write it!"
The exchange brought a hearty laugh out of Dillon. It was funny in the we-all-know-what-we're-laughing-at-but-nobody-says-anything kind of way.
The guy says he's as happy as ever. Happy to be here even. Who wouldn't be? The Bengals had a 34-78 record during his seven seasons there. The team never reached the playoffs, and didn't reach the .500 mark until an 8-8 effort in 2003. In fact, Dillon recorded more rushing touchdowns than his team had wins in every season until 2003. How many times have we heard a player say he's happy to leave a losing team? "Book It" as one of my friends is wont to say.
Dillon left Cincinnati far behind. It was after his last game as a Bengal, on December 28, 2003, that he walked off the field in the season finale and tossed his jersey and shoulder pads into the stands in one final celebration. It's the franchise for which he rushed for over 8,000 yards, for which he started 94 of his 96 career games, and where he still owns or shares 18 team records. It's not speculation to think that even then Dillon had convinced himself and the team that the relationship had run its course.
If I were Dillon, or I were hired to speak on his behalf, I would tell people like me that we're only answering Cincinnati-related questions for one day. One day of completely candid Cincy talk. From that point on, lets talk about football and New England and Super Bowls. Not because these questions aren't legitimate, but because I'm bored with them. When this particular conversation turned towards winning, Dillon was asked how bad he wanted one of those rings.
"Bad," Dillon said. "If your heart and mind aren't set on winning the Super Bowl, I don't know what you're playing this sport for. That's the ultimate goal. If you're out here playing the game for something else, your career isn't going to be that successful. I'm in it for the ring."
Dillon could be the only one, it seems, who views the Bengals as an ordinary opponent. But there will be no fanfare, no nostalgia, and no trip down memory lane – at least from Dillon. Maybe his inner football player is too numb from what took place in Cincinnati, but he was convincing when asked if his return will turn up any emotions.
"No. None at all," Dillon said. I'm serious when I say this; I'm not going to make a big deal out of it, because it's not really a big deal. That's just the way it is."
That's enough for me. If it will end the unconscious flow of Cincinnati questions for the week, I'm all for it.
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