Palmer Nervously, Officially Becomes A Bengal
April 26, 2003
By JOE KAY
AP Sports Writer
CINCINNATI - Two days after they slipped a $10 million check intoCarson Palmer's 10-inch hand, the Cincinnati Bengals got their No. 1 pick -along with a smidgen of respect.
The Bengals relinquished their reputation for first-round bungling - theVikings took a turn on the hot seat instead - by having the Heisman Trophywinner already signed and delivered Saturday.
'Any first-round pick would be a big plus for a team in that situation,'commissioner Paul Tagliabue said.
It hasn't in the past. The Bengals have remained the NFL's worst team in thepast 12 years despite one high draft pick after another, including first-roundquarterbacks David Klingler and Akili Smith.
They were a draft-day punch line, with commentators poised to pounce as soonas the clock started to tick. It stopped after only a few ticks.
Cincinnati needed less than a minute to go through the formality of takingPalmer. Waiting backstage at Madison Square Garden, the quarterback known forhis cool demeanor was losing it.
'I was very nervous,' Palmer said in a conference call. 'It took thesuspense out of it - I already knew. A lot of guys back there were nervous andsweating, and I felt just as nervous as they did.'
For once, the Bengals weren't sweating.
First-year coach Marvin Lewis made it a priority to get the first picksigned before the draft, breaking with the team's history of long holdouts andcontract haggles.
He got his way. Palmer agreed to a deal that included a $10 million signingbonus, with another $4 million bonus due in two years. He will make $18.25million in the first three years through bonuses and salary.
Palmer initially had some reservations about Cincinnati, but was swayed bythe way Lewis started to change the team's methods and its makeup. The Bengalsruined Klingler and Smith by throwing them into the lineup as unpreparedrookies; Lewis will let Palmer sit behind Jon Kitna and develop.
'I think it's the best thing for me and the team and the organization,'Palmer said. 'They've made an investment in me, and it's going to take timefor me to pay back that investment. I'm going to have to learn this offense andget used to the NFL.'
He's had a whirlwind week, flying from California to Cincinnati to sign hiscontract Thursday, then heading to New York for predraft appearances. He andother draft picks helped ring the bell on the New York Stock Exchange onFriday, when the Dow closed down 133 points.
'They were hoping we would rock the floor and bring some good luck, but itdidn't,' he said.
Finally, he and his family gathered at the Garden to go through theformality of the first round. After he hugged relatives, Palmer put on theBengals cap and unfurled the No. 9 Bengals jersey that he got two days earlier.
'It's more than what I expected,' he said. 'There must be 1,000 fanshere, and a lot of them are Jets fans. All the media and cameras and lights -this is the NFL and how it's going to be from here on out.'
The Bengals haven't been in the NFL's spotlight for anything other thanpratfalls since 1990. During ESPN's draft show, they once again started out aswhipping boys.
Broadcaster Chris Berman said Palmer would 'try to lead them out of thedark ages.' When New York fans booed at the outset, Berman exclaimed,'They're booing the Bengals! You can't do that. You can't boo the Bengals justbecause they haven't had a winning season since 1990.'
Tagliabue, speaking before the draft to a group of Associated Press SportsEditors, got a chuckle as he talked about the league's rule blackout rule forhome games that aren't sold out.
'We've reached the point where more than nine out of every 10 games aretelevised locally and the blackout is an issue with fewer than 10 percent ofour games,' Tagliabue told the sports editors. 'That's a historicaccomplishment. It wasn't too long ago that 25 percent of our games might beblacked out.
'Now we're down to fewer than 10 percent, so if the Bengals can perform alittle better, we'll be down to 4 percent.'
Tagliabue made sure everyone knew he was joking.
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