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Giovani Bernard may be gone from the game, but he will never be forgotten

The former Tar Heel standout made a lasting impression on the Queen City.

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NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans
Giovani Bernard
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Running back Giovani Bernard may have ended his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he made a name for himself, both as a football player and as a class act, after being a second-round selection of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Bernard left Cincinnati at the end of his eighth season with the 10th most yards from scrimmage in Bengals’ history and broke James Brooks’ club record for most career catches by a running back.

The 5-foot-9, 205-pound Bernard quickly became a fan favorite in the Queen City. On October 31, 2013, Bernard scored two touchdowns on just nine carries in an overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins. But, his second score is one that etched a permanent place in Bengals’ lore.

Bernard started right, then reversed his field and followed several blocks down the left sideline, before reversing field again and somersaulted into the end zone at the end of a 35-yard touchdown run that many considered to be the best run of the year.

Later that year, he racked up 99 yards rushing on only 12 carries and added 49 yards receiving on four catches in a victory over the Indianapolis Colts. He finished his rookie season with 695 yards rushing and 514 yards receiving on 56 catches. He scored five touchdowns on the ground and added three more receiving while being named to the NFL All-Rookie team.

While he was never quite able to replicate that start, Bernard would eventually rack up 3,697 rushing, which ranked seventh in Bengals history, while scoring 22 touchdowns, before being released on April 1, 2021. His 342 career catches are the most ever by a Cincinnati running back, and his 2,867 receiving yards are second-best.

But as good as he was as a player, the grace with which he carried himself was the thing that most Bengals fans will remember about Giovani Bernard. He showed that grace when he sent a thank-you message to those fans shortly after his release.

“Thank you Cincinnati! Grateful for it all!! The ups, the downs and everything in between. I have nothing but love for this city and all the relationships it has brought into my life. Cincinnati has been a place that has given countless blessings to my family and I over the past 8 years and for that I am forever grateful. To every person that rocked that #25 jersey whether on game day or just for an evening stroll down by the Banks, you’ve made a Haitian kid from South Florida grateful for it all. To friends that became family at Paul Brown Stadium, whether still there or not, I’m thankful for each and every one of you. Thank you for guiding me the right way. To the Brown family that gave me an opportunity and a platform to share my story, I’m grateful. And to #WhoDey Nation, from embracing the minivan to watching the stache grow to unreasonable length, I’m forever grateful for you all. And most importantly thank you to the man above for your undeserving grace on my life. Cheers to you Cincy #JL What’s next?” he posted.

Bernard was signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on April 14, 2021, and spent the next two years there before announcing his retirement from football on April 28, 2023.

“To be able to get out of it healthy, to get out of it with my mind sharp, my body feels good and I chugged it out to (year) ten,” Bernard told Geoff Hobson of “I’m excited to get to the next phase.”

But, he will never forget the football phase of his life, which began when the Bengals plucked him out of the University of North Carolina in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft with the 37th selection.

“To go as high as I did, I’m not going to say it was a shock, but it was like, ‘Wow, they think really highly of me,’” Bernard said, looking back. “It’s more about gratitude than the whole change of life thing. I’m sure grateful to those people that gave me those opportunities and I met a lot of really, really damn good people.”

And he carried that gratitude with him, not just through his career with the Cincinnati Bengals but during his entire career. He was especially grateful for his interactions with owner Mike Brown and his family.

“Every time I crossed paths with them in the hallway or saw them, I never felt like I was just a player,” Bernard recalled. “I know it sounds crazy. People say it’s a business and all that, but I never felt like I wasn’t part of that family. For them to show that kind of love to a player they drafted and for them to keep me as long as they did, I’ve got the utmost respect for that family. They changed my life by giving me this opportunity. I’m grateful for that entire family up there and how they run their business.”

Speaking not just as a writer but as a fan, I would like to join the chorus of fans in saying thank you to Giovani Bernard for everything he did for the city of Cincinnati, not just as a football player, but as a person.

Shortly after his arrival in the Queen City, Bernard formed the Run Gio Foundation, a non-profit organization that promotes education, health and sportsmanship in low-income areas through free youth football camps.

“Being the child of Haitian immigrants, I knew financial struggles at a young age,” Bernard said. “I’ve persevered, and dedicated myself to education and sports. I was blessed with a scholarship to attend St. Thomas high school in Fort Lauderdale and was fortunate enough to continue my education, having earned a full ride football scholarship to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Through hard work and dedication I became the first running back selected in the 2013 NFL draft to the Cincinnati Bengals football club. Humbled, I was determined to give back to youth. I believe that every child, no matter their race, religion or income, deserves the opportunity to play sports and more importantly, earn a quality education.”