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T.J. Houshmandzadeh offers glimpse into unacceptable conditions Bengals provided early in his career

We all had an idea that things with the Bengals before Marvin Lewis showed up weren’t great, but I don’t think we would’ve guessed how bad it really was.

Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

T.J. Houshmandzadeh has been in recent Bengals-related news for the work he has done with John Ross this offseason. He obviously is best known as the team’s former star wide receiver from 2001-08.

Houshmandzadeh was part of one of the best new millennium Bengals’ teams in 2005 that was cut short due to a Carson Palmer injury. However, not even five years before that, the Bengals’ franchise was in a much different state, according to Houshmandzadeh.

In an interview with Colin Cowherd, Houshmandzadeh opened up about how horrific the conditions were early in his career with the Bengals, which doesn’t come as much of a surprise when you remember who owns the team and other similar stories we’ve heard in the past.

“We didn’t have bottled water or Gatorade and when we first got it, guys would be taking bottles of Gatorade home... The year before I got there, Willie Anderson was telling me they didn’t even have jockstraps.”

Housh says the team offered up USED jockstraps.

So, Ki-Jana Carter bought jockstraps for the team, since he was a rich first round pick.

“Once Marvin (Lewis) got there, he brought a level of professionalism and structure that it was like OK. Everybody stayed in hotels for every home game, every team I’d been on. When we first got to the Bengals, we stayed at home.”

Housh says the rookies sometimes went straight from the club tot he stadium when they thought they might be inactive for a game.

This is absolutely absurd to hear. For all the jokes Mike Brown gets about being a cheap owner, it seems like he really earned that title. In the modern NFL, having bottled water and Gatorade is an essential thing to afford your players to keep them in the best physical condition possible.

The most appalling story has to be the jockstraps. Throwing a pile of used jockstraps out to players who you expect to put a winning product on the field is absolutely unacceptable. That doesn’t even seem like it could be cleared by the health department.

Houshmandzadeh recounting how players stayed at home instead of in a hotel before home games is also a nice representation of cutting costs. Most teams will have players stay at hotels for both home and away games to help keep an eye on their players and make sure they aren’t going to get out into trouble, which is pretty much what Houshmandzadeh says happened. Going straight from the club to the stadium isn’t the way you want your players to get ready for a game.

Houshmandzadeh’s story is already being confirmed by other former Bengals, and it is really eye opening how badly this team was run before Lewis arrived.

You also likely remember when former Bengals cornerback Jonathan Joseph left the team and went on a similar rant.

“The first thing about Houston is it’s an organization run from a different perspective. In Cincy, the team lives off money it earns from football,” Joseph said back in 2012. “Houston’s owner has other business interests and he controls the money. Numerous things that go on such as the way Houston interacts with my family; we’re treated in a first-class way. They helped us when my wife lost our baby daughter in a miscarriage. But they help with anything you ask of them because they are a very caring organization with positive attitudes about its players. In Cincy, we’re told how much Gatorade we could take home. In Houston we get what we request. You get soap and deodorant at your request. You don’t have a roommate on road trips.”

Marvin Lewis responded at the time, taking the blame.

“It’s my fault that I feel that a player doesn’t need to take a dozen Gatorades home in his backpack each night and that we are paying him a salary. I’m sure that Johnathan would not have been one of the abusive players, but it is my policy,” Lewis said.

It should come as no surprise that the Bengals won a combined 12 games over the first three seasons of the 2000’s after being the laughingstock of the NFL for most of the 90’s.

It is hard to imagine Lewis’ first reaction to seeing the conditions he was taking over in 2003. To have to tell your owner he needs to provide bottled Gatorade and water to his players isn’t something an NFL coach should have to do. It also shows just how good of a coach Lewis was to turn that culture from a joke of a franchise into a team that actually mattered.

It is no surprise players like Corey Dillon and Takeo Spikes opted to leave the franchise as soon as they could. It was clear ownership wasn’t committed to putting a winning product on the field. A story like this also validates fans during that era who maybe didn’t support the team through these horrid conditions.

Honestly, with how Houshmandzadeh described the team, I’m surprised Brown even provided them with transportation to away games. Luckily conditions have improved, but I’d be curious to see how the Bengals’ conditions currently matchup to other teams.