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Domata Peko still has love for Cincinnati; Plans to honor the late Chris Henry in his return

Domata Peko still has a soft spot for the team he spent most of his career with and planned on retiring for. He also has a special plan to honor a former teammate.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Most fans probably have fond memories of Domata Peko.

From the day he was drafted in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft, all 300+ pounds of him and that incredible hair became an icon for all Bengals fandom. He stayed with the team for 12 years up until the 2017 offseason where he signed with the Broncos. This is his first time returning to Cincinnati to play his former team since then, and it sounds like he still has that same love for this city.

“I have so many friends and relationships there and that’s why I can’t wait to get back in the Jungle and play in front of Paul Brown (Stadium),” Peko told Geoff Hobson of “I was always getting the crowd pumped up and it seemed like they really responded to me. Those are the memories I’ll never forget. Just winning games there and the crowds. I’m a big lover of the fans.”

Peko was one of the leaders for a Bengals defense that was filled with veterans at the time. He was easily one of the most charismatic players on the team, and it showed by the way everyone in the organization respected him. Following the 2016 season though, Cincinnati opted not to re-sign their big man in the middle allowing him to enter free agency.

“I thought I’d retire there,” Peko said. “That’s what I was thinking. In a perfect world that would have happened. But even Peyton Manning had to leave Indy. No disrespect to the Brown family or anyone in Cincinnati. They treated me great. That’s why I’m excited to get back to The Jungle.”

Since joining the Broncos, Peko has enjoyed a resurgence in Denver. He has become one of the better nose tackles in the NFL, seemingly overnight. The switch to a 3-4 defense as well as a stellar coaching staff and players surrounding him has made the Broncos the perfect fit for Peko.

He still hasn’t forgotten where he came from though, and on Sunday he is preparing to pay tribute to former Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry who had his life cut short in 2009.

“And I’m going to get some knit caps for the Chris Henry memorial for my wife and family,” Peko said. “Chris was a good dude. When he first got there he was getting into trouble, but he turned over a new leaf and things were going well and life got cut short. He hung out in my basement with us after games kicking it. I miss him. Cincinnati misses him.”

Peko also had a special towel made that will have the No. 15 on it, which was Henry’s number. Peko will wear it during the game Sunday from his belt nearly nine years after after Henry’s passing.

Peko has always been one of the good guys in the NFL, and he is showing it in spades on his return to Cincinnati. He has every right want to blast Mike Brown and the rest of the Bengals organization for not re-signing him, but instead he is coming in with grace. It seems like Peko will always have a home in Cincinnati.