Fan engagement and supporting the community were the two main focuses of the Bengals Taste of the NFL Event on Wednesday night at Paul Brown Stadium. Nationally known as an outreach effort to help fight hunger with the help of NFL teams across the country, the Cincinnati Taste of the NFL party features a dinner-by-the-bite format prepared by some of the finest chefs in the area.
It also features many Bengals players, coaches and alumni as they hang out with fans and eat some great food. The event includes a live auction featuring dinners and other experiences with players and coaches as well as a silent auction with various sports-themed items, with all proceeds benefit The Freestore Foodbank.
Just about every star Bengals player was there, including Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Geno Atkins, Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, Kevin Zeitler and Adam Jones among many others, most of whom graciously took photos with my dad.
Cincy Jungle was able to attend the event this year and get an up-close experience of the festivities. Here are some of our takeaways from the event:
Most Social Player
Carlos Dunlap: Already known as one of the team's fan-friendliest players, Dunlap was chatting it up all night with people while taking photos and signing autographs with fans. He was easily the most engaged player at this event, but if you know Carlos, this is no surprise.
Most Surprising Moment
In general, it was just surprising to see how many of the Bengals players really soaked this in and enjoyed it as much as many of the fans did. Several players even had their kids and families there as they looked like they were right at home with friends and family. The Bengals really do enjoy being part of the Cincinnati community.
Getting to talk with Bengals owner Mike Brown was a highlight of the event. He really doesn't carry himself like a big-wig owner at all, instead walking around and chatting up fans like he's one of them. Talking to him, he really was genuine and happy to talk about whatever, whether it was Bengals football, thanking fans for coming to the event, or just reflecting on his days as a youngster staying in the dorms at Georgetown College while Paul Brown held training camp there.
It was really cool seeing Mike so down to Earth and acting like he was just another one of the many fans there.
Filet Mignon at Jag's Steak & Seafood. Cincinnati has some killer steak joints, so picking the best of them all is no easy task. On this night, however, it was Jag's who offered the best steak sampler.
Most Interesting Food
I like donuts, but donuts with bacon bits on them? Another donut had grilled cheese on it. And then there was a more tradition donut with frosting and Fruity Pebbles sprinkled on top, which I really liked.
- Geno Atkins is small in height, but boy is he built like a tank. You have to see him up close out of football pads to really appreciate how much of a physical specimen Geno is, despite being a generous 6'1".
- Giovani Bernard is in that similar mold, though for him it's at a height probably just under 5'9". But, he's as built as just about any NFL back you'll find outside of Adrian Peterson.
- Domata Peko was having a great time with fans, as he normally does at any kind of fan-related event. After Dunlap, Peko was the next most engaging player with fans.
- Even Marvin Lewis was mingling with the fans, whether it was talking with them, posing for pictures or signing autographs.
- Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert was seen on a mini scooter that kept his injured ankle elevated so he could ride around and mingle with the fans. That injury and subsequent surgery would have been the perfect excuse for Eifert to skip out on this kind of event, but he still showed up and had a good time with fans.
- If we're just going off which player looked to be the most physically intimidating, that honor goes to Margus Hunt. He's always been a tall, athletic guy, but now he's adding bulk to his frame and looks like the last dude you'd want to mess with. Hopefully, that translates to a better year on the field this season.
Bengals Fan Who Can, Should Eventually Go
From a fan's perspective, if you want to get your personal memorabilia autographed, meet just about all of the big-name Bengals and a lot of the roster in general while getting once-in-a-lifetime pictures/videos, this is an event you must attend. I would go as far as to say you should make attending this more of a priority than any single game the Bengals play in the coming season.
While tickets are a little pricey (around $180 per person), the money goes to a phenomenal cause and you are never going to attend an event with so many current and former Bengals greats who are so willing to have fun with the fans.
You also get a chance to eat food from the best Cincinnati restaurants and get free drinks through the night. If all you but is the ticket and don't do any of the auctioning, between all the memorabilia you get signed, free food and just having a good time with Bengals players and fans, you'll get more than your money's worth, not to mention have a once-in-a-lifetime kind of night.
You'll even get a chance to bid on the kind of Bengals gear and memorabilia you won't find on eBay or any other online site. Between Ken Anderson signed jerseys, dinner with various members of the Bengals, and even game-worn gear, you're bound to find something that pique's your interest.
Even if you didn't go to the event, you can still help the fight against hunger by donating at the Freestore Foodbank website.