Ten years ago, North Carolina Tar Heels running back Giovani Bernard sat at a small table alone at Lucas Oil Field during the annual NFL Combine. It was February 23, 2013, and Bernard, along with the rest of that year’s draft class of running backs, were fielding questions from reporters in what amounts to the biggest job interview of their lives.
I was there too, and as I walked from table to table, looking for a running back to talk to, knowing the Bengals were going to select one early to replace Cedric Benson, I noticed Bernard sitting alone. So I sat down with him.
We had a 10-minute conversation about how he thought he would fit into a pro offense and how his skill set would transfer from college football to the NFL. We also talked about life in general. We were both nervous. He was getting poked and prodded by team doctors and was being asked ridiculous questions by scouts, while I had never really done anything like reporting on the combine before. There were moments when I ran out of questions to ask, and he and I awkwardly stared at each other. He was gracious, though, and assured me I was doing fine.
I had no idea at the time he would be selected by the Bengals in the second round that year and would be the first running back to come off the board.
I’m happy he was.
Ten years later, Bernard has officially announced his retirement on Twitter.
“10 years ago, I came into this league grateful,” he wrote. “Grateful for what God has done for me to get to that moment and to celebrate all the obstacles that were overcome. And now fast forward 10 years, I leave humbled. Humbled by the experiences, relationships, and memories that have shaped me during this time. I’ve had the privilege of crossing paths with exceptional men and women, including my brothers on field, coaches who’ve taught me so much, and front office/staff who worked behind the scenes to make it all seamless. I offer my deepest thanks to you all. You’ve allowed me and my family to be a part of something truly special. We are forever grateful and feel truly blessed that this was part of our journey. As I look forward, I’m excited for the newness ahead. New challenges to face and new adventures to take. What a ride it’s been, but what a ride is to come. Thankful for you all. Much love!”
Bernard played for the Bengals for eight seasons and then for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the final two seasons of his career. He finished his time in Cincinnati with 3,697 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns. He added 2,867 receiving yards and 11 more touchdowns. He helped the Bengals reach the playoffs in his first three seasons and was named to the Pro Football Writers of America’s all-rookie team after his first season in the league in 2013. He finished his career with 3,783 rushing yards, 22 rushing touchdowns, 2,989 receiving yards, and 14 receiving touchdowns.
Bernard likely won’t make it onto the Bengals ring of honor, but there is no downplaying the role he played, both on the field, and in the locker room, in rebuilding the team’s brand. He helped lay the foundation for what the Bengals are today.
He will likely be best known for this play against Miami, or possibly when he took this nasty hit from Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier. The point is, he will be remembered, though.
As for me, I’ll remember him for being an awesome guy who recognized I was just as nervous as he was at the combine.