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Highlights and takeaways from the 16th annual Cincinnati Bengals Taste of the NFL

With a fun night of food and socializing, Bengals fans helped raise enough money for over 400,000 meals to be donated in the Cincinnati community.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals-Minicamp Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

For the 16th year in a row, the Bengals teamed up with dozens local chefs for Cincinnati Taste of the NFL. I had the pleasure of attending for what was my first, but hopefully not my last time.

For those who have never heard of this event, this is a night where fans can come to Paul Brown Stadium to sample food from nearby restaurants, meet the players and coaches, and bid on Bengals merchandise. The cost of admission and proceeds from the auctions all go directly to Freestore Foodbank to help feed the hungry in the Cincinnati community.

By the end of the night, Bengals fans raised roughly $130,000, which is enough to provide needy Cincinnati children and families with 405,000 meals.

There is so much I would love to share from this event, but I will spare you all and just give some of the highlights.

The auctions

I did not bid on anything, so I will keep this section brief.

There was a silent auction that helped benefit Freestore Foodbank. Some of the items included posters signed by Andy Dalton, Tyler Eifert, and A.J. Green, a football signed by Billy Price and Sam Hubbard, and a signed Bob Trumpy jersey.

Later on in the evening, Dave Lapham led a live auction. The items given out there consisted of dinner with rookies and the different position groups. Even Carlos Dunlap enjoyed this time and bid on one of these prizes.

The food

Chefs were scattered all over the club level at Paul Brown Stadium to share their delicious fares with the fans. 44 local restaurants donated their time and food to support this event.

I did not try all the food, but I did partake in my share of treats. I personally ate food from Tom+Chee, Eddie Merlot, Taste of Belgium, Brezel, Senate, Holtman’s and Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse (among other places that I can’t remember).

A collection of the different foods I got to try
Nick Manchester

Even some of the players were wandering around grabbing bites to eat. This food seemed just as special to them as it was to the fans.

And that leads me to my favorite part of the evening...

The players

A couple things stood out about the players that caught my attention.

First of all, most of the players were incredibly nice. This came as a profound surprise to me, though I didn’t really know what to expect from them. I figured the coaches and front office could have said to the players that they just have to smile and pretend to have fun, and go home. But that was not the case at all.

Obviously, some players were more social than others; they don’t all have an outgoing personality. Clint Boling was sort of awkward, but he still made an effort to have a fun conversation. Unfortunately, I can also be awkward, so our awkwardness was multiplied when we were engaged in conversation. This was evident right from the beginning when I offered to shake his hand and he tried to bump my fist.

Michael Johnson, on the other hand, talked my ear off. The Bengals’ most recent nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year is already a profound off the field presence in Cincinnati because of his work in the community. But he is a genuinely kind person and is incredibly friendly.

Geno Atkins even interrupted his dinner for a selfie and a conversation with me.

Geno Atkins and I; pardon the blur

There are other examples I could share of how nice these players are, but I will write about them another time.

The second thing I noticed about the players is that they are all gigantic. You really don’t appreciate how big these players are on TV or even if you see them live. But in street clothes among average-sized people, they towered above the crowd.

The aforementioned Johnson is every bit of 6’7”, though I’m convinced he‘s even taller. Boling was standing next to Cedric Ogbuehi and Cordy Glenn when I spoke with him, and the three of them were spectacularly large. My selfie with Dunlap didn’t turn out so well, given the 10-inch disparity between the two of us.

Carlos Dunlap graciously agreed to a selfie with me. Please excuse the bad lighting

Even Joe Mixon, who is a paltry 6’1”, appeared far grander than I expected he would.

Between these larger-than-life players, the food, and the merchandise, the whole event was a success. I had so much fun that I would recommend everyone go at least once. The price of admission is completely worth it just for the money it helped raised.

All the other things are an awesome bonus.