Notes: Football Rockwell's final chapter
By GEOFF HOBSON
December 26, 2006
Updated: 12-27-06, 5 p.m.
Dave Lapham, the Bengals radio analyst who himself played 10 seasons along the Cincinnati front, framed Rich Braham’s retirement best Wednesday.
“He’s a Norman Rockwell portrait of an offensive lineman,” Lapham said. “In everything. I’ve never seen anyone tougher. His pain tolerance has been unbelievable.”
One of the longest and toughest careers in Bengals history ends Sunday when Braham retires with a pre-game ceremony at Sunday’s regular-season finale at Paul Brown Stadium as the seventh player to play at least 13 seasons in Cincinnati.The first 40,000 fans receive a poster of Braham at a game where he he won't dress.
"It will be pretty emotional, but I think it will be kind of neat,” Braham said. "To sit there and get a happy farewell from great fans."
Braham’s agent had said Tuesday his client had yet to make up his mind about returning for a 14th season after missing most of this one with what had been called a bone bruise but was really a fracture of the tibia. While Braham told some of his mates about his decision last week, he didn't make it official with the team until Wednesday.
Head coach Marvin Lewis confirmed the move at his Wednesday news conference and later in the day Braham appeared at his own news conference with Bengals president Mike Brown and offensive line coach Paul Alexander.
“Richie has not missed a Saturday night at the hotel this season. That tells you right there what kind of pro he is,” Lewis said. “He’s been there for his teammates. He’s been on the road with us. I had to tell him to quit answering the questions in the meetings. It’s because of habit, and that’s what he means. If he ever wanted to be a coach, he’d be a great football coach, but I think he’s probably smarter than that.”
When Braham told quarterback Carson Palmer he was retiring last week, Palmer told him he wished Braham had been born eight years later and he was born eight years earlier because "we would have had a heck of run together."
Braham, 36, recognized as the glue of an offensive line that paved the way for last season’s division title and record-setting offense, hasn’t played since the second game of this season when he got hit in the back of the knee blocking on a running play by Rudi Johnson.
After a rough start that included switching left guard Eric Steinbach to center, second-year man Eric Ghiaciuc has started the last 10 games and looks to have solidified his position as a long-term center.
The Bengals originally thought Braham could come back in late November, but was never able to put together a string of practices. Braham said he knew he was finished when he thought he could play against Baltimore Nov. 30 but the knee just didn't respond the day of the game.
"It felt good until you practice on someone like Sam Adams and you're like, 'Oooh, it still hurts..' It got to the point I could barely walk."
But clearly it wasn't an easy decision for a guy who has returned whenever his career in Cincinnati looked to be over, as it did before the 1997, 2003 and 2004 seasons while cobbling together 142 starts and 146 games at left guard and center.
After the Bengals matched the Patriots offer sheet in restricted free agency in 1997, Braham ran his streak to 44 straight games at left guard the next season despite a broken toe.
He then switched to center for the 1999 season, where he has made his last 98 starts. He played every game in 2001 after being diagnosed with a herniated neck disk after the third game, played every game in 2002 even though he had arthroscopic elbow surgery during the bye week, and played in 10 games in 2004 after a preseason knee scope.
"I love the game," Braham said. "Every Sunday it's awesome. You got a new challenge, play against the best in the league every week. That's what is fun about it."
Braham and right tackle Willie Anderson are the only Bengals to have played with both Boomer Esiason and Carson Palmer. Braham arrived via the waiver wire from Arizona on Nov. 18, 1994 as a rookie after the Cardinals selected him in the third round.
“He basically took care of me. My first two or three seasons I was playing left tackle, he was playing left guard, he took me under his wing," said Anderson, a first-round pick in 1996. "He’s a guy that’s held this team together for a long time. His value to this team has been long underrated. It’s not been known until the last couple of seasons to the fans and outside the organization how important his role is and was on this team.”