Next year, the Bengals will move next door

By David Carducci Record-Courier staff writer Published:

Next year, the Bengals will move next door to a sparkling new 65,600-seat Paul Brown Stadium and, when they do, the Bengals hope the Browns will once again pay a visit.

"We'd love to have the Browns open the new stadium," said Bengals coach Bruce Coslet. "That would be great. It would be good for the whole 'Battle of Ohio' thing. But I'm not sure we have any control over the making of the schedule."

There is, however, a precedent already set that could allow a team to request a specific opponent to open a new stadium.

Just this season, Browns owner Al Lerner asked the NFL to send the Pittsburgh Steelers to Cleveland to open the new Cleveland Browns Stadium.

The request was granted.

"Maybe Mr. Lerner is a better friend of the commissioner than (Bengals president Mike Brown)," Coslet joked.

Coslet, who has spent most of his NFL career in Cincinnati, including the last three as head coach, said he does not expect to get emotional when he leaves the Cinergy Field stadium for the last time today.

"I'm not all that nostalgic," said Coslet, who played for the Bengals as a tight end from 1969-76 and served as an assistant coach and offensive coordinator with the team from 1981 to 1993 and 1994 to 1996. "I have a hard time even remembering last week. It may be emotional for the fans, but not so much for me. That's probably because I can see the future going up right next door."

Coslet may not be part of that future.

With the Bengals sporting a disappointing 3-10 record, there are rumors Coslet may be fired as the team's coach at the end of the season. The most recent rumor has him being replaced by former University of Michigan head coach and current Detroit Lions tight ends coach Gary Moeller.

FOND MEMORIES ... Prior to the start of the season, the Cincinnati media voted on the top 10 most memorable Bengals game at Cinergy Field.

One Browns-Bengals tilt made the final list as the eighth-most memorable game at old Riverfront.

On Nov. 15, 1970, Paul Brown got his revenge against Art Modell, the man who fired him as coach of the Browns. Brown led the Bengals to a 14-10 victory over Cleveland in front of a then-record Cincinnati sports crowd of 60,007. It was the Bengals' first victory over the Browns. Earlier in that season, the Browns had narrowly escaped with a 30-27 victory over the Bengals at Municipal Stadium.

NO AKILI ... Akili Smith walked into the Bengals locker room at the beginning of the week, shouting gleefully: "It's Browns week."

Unfortunately, the Bengals rookie quarterback won't be in uniform today due to a severe case of turf toe.

The Browns want another crack at Smith, who led his team to an 18-17 victory over the Browns in Cleveland earlier this season with a last-second, 2-yard touchdown pass to Carl Pickens.

Smith angered the Browns by turning to their bench, pounding his chest and making a (now illegal) throat-slashing gesture.

"I was angry at the time, but that's all over now," said quarterback Tim Couch, the man Cleveland chose with the No. 1 pick in this year's NFL Draft. Smith thought he should have been chosen with the pick, and felt the Browns used him as a negotiating tool with the Bengals.

After the Oct. 10 meeting, Couch vowed he "would never forget" Smith's gesture.

BLAKE ON THE RISE ... The Browns will have to seek payback against a different Bengals quarterback, eight-year veteran Jeff Blake.

Since returning to the Cincinnati lineup five games ago Blake has been on a steady rise, climbing to fifth place in the AFC passer ratings with a computer score of 83.3. Colts quarterback Peyton Manning leads the conference with a rating of 91.6.

Blake was the AFC's Offensive Player of the Week last week, when he led the Bengals to a 44-30 victory over San Francisco by tossing four touchdown passes.

Blake's strong performance could make him one of the most highly sought after free agents this off season.

"I have a lot of sentimental feelings for the Bengals, but I don't have any idea where I'll be next year," said Blake. "I'm just going to finish out these last three games, become a free agent, and let the chips fall where they may."

RUHMAN GETS START ... Lomas Brown is still not ready to return to the Browns' starting lineup. Brown, who tore the medial collateral ligament in his right knee in a Nov. 14 victory over the Steelers, has missed the last three games.

Scott Rehberg has been the starting left tackle in Brown's absence _ that is, until now.

Browns coach Chris Palmer decided to bench Rehberg in favor of second-year player Chris Ruhman. Rehberg's confidence has been destroyed in recent weeks. Two games ago he drew criticism from his teammates after choosing to sit out a game against Carolina due to the flu. When he returned to the lineup last week in San Diego he was beaten three times for sacks by Chargers defensive end RayLee Johnson. He was also flagged twice for holding and once for a false start.

Ruhman is a former third-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers. He played his college ball at Texas A&M, where he was considered a solid run blocker. His only previous start in the NFL came during Rehberg's illness two weeks ago against the Panthers.

KARIM HEALTHY ... Karim Abdul-Jabbar was pronounced healthy and ready to play after practicing Friday on the indoor artificial turf at the Browns Berea practice facility.

Cleveland's starting running back injured his knee and his hip during last week's loss in San Diego.

Abdul-Jabbar has had knee problems in the past. When he was a sophomore at UCLA, he had was given a medical redshirt after suffering a season-ending knee injury. He had more knee problems in his three years with the Dolphins. Abdul-Jabbar said last week that his love of vigorous plyometric workouts has weakened the knee.

COLINET OUT ... Stalin Colinet, who injured his ankle last week in San Diego, will not play in today's game.

With Colinet out the Browns will shuffle their starting defensive line, moving Derrick Alexander from end to tackle. The other starting tackle will be Darrius Holland. John Thierry and Hurvin McCormack will start at the ends.

HOMECOMING ... The Browns visit to Cincinnati amounts to somewhat of a homecoming for rookie quarterback Tim Couch.

When Couch was growing up in Hyden, Kentucky, he would travel some 200 miles up Interstate 75 to see the Bengals play in Riverfront Stadium. He also made the trip from Lexington, when he was in college at the University of Kentucky.

"I saw something like five games there," said Couch. "I'd usually try to see the real good quarterbacks. I remember seeing Brett Favre."

Couch joked that most of the small town of Hyden will be at Cinergy Field today.

"I got tickets for about 20 people," said Couch.

KEY MATCHUP ... The Browns' special teams coverage has been dismal this season.

Their coverage will be tested again today when they face the AFC's best return man _ Cincinnati's Tremain Mack.

Last year Mack set a Bengals record for kickoff return average at 25.9 yards per return. He is bettering that mark this season, with a conference-leading average of 26.9 yards.

Against the 49ers last week Mack had a season-high total of 189 yards on six returns, including a 72-yarder in the third quarter to set up a Cincinnati touchdown.

On Nov. 14 he returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown against the Tennessee.

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