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Thanks for everything, No. 77

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A post of gratitude, while recollecting the play of one of the best Bengals to ever suit up for the club.

Chargers Game--Anthony

Even in the Cincinnati Bengals most successful years, the franchise has been known as one of the more dysfunctional ones in professional sports. Be it from long streaks of on-field futility, players getting into trouble, or picking and choosing when to pay out big contracts, brights spots can be hard to come by with Cincinnati’s football team.

Sure, in one sense, those bright spots can be had by striking gold in the draft, with on-field examples like Corey Dillon, Chad Johnson and others. However, it’s those rare players who become the faces of the franchise—and not solely because of their game tape—that offer fans something to really look forward to during football season.

Offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth’s talents were often overshadowed in a number of respects during his time with the Bengals. Locally, it was some of the me-first flashiness from certain skill players on his own team taking away from his ability, Marvin Lewis’ former reputation as The Queen City Savior receiving massive credit, and Whitworth’s taking a backseat to two other talented tackles early in his career. Nationally, Whitworth was an often overlooked asset to the Bengals for much of his 11-year career in Cincinnati; a frustrating scenario for fans.

Nationally-speaking, as a second round pick and playing for a mid-market-sized franchise, Whitworth didn’t get the notoriety he deserved. In terms of national exposure, he constantly sat behind former top picks like Jake Long, Joe Thomas, Branden Albert and so many others.

Yet, despite his lower draft status than all of the above-mentioned names, Whitworth is right in the mix with Pro Bowl (three) and All-Pro (one) berths to his name. And, those numbers are egregiously low because of media biases and a lack of overall success by his team.

When considering a Mount Rushmore, of sorts, in terms of franchise greats, Whitworth has to be in the Bengals’ discussion, given his accolades and the non-coincidental coinciding team success the team has seen while he has suited up for them.

Since their inception in 1968, Whitworth ranks right up there with other Bengals offensive line greats like Anthony Munoz, Willie Anderson and Max Montoya. I haven’t had the pleasure of directly speaking with Whitworth yet, but I think if you asked him about being lumped him in with those three, he’d be pretty pleased.

The character:

Though the national media still likes to paint a decade-old picture of the Bengals being “bad boys”, Lewis has made it publicly known that he values guys who keep a locker room together. Robert Geathers and Domata Peko may have unfairly worn out their welcome in the eyes of fans, but Whitworth’s value in this respect has been steadfast over the past decade.

Regardless of your religious beliefs, Whitworth was not only a chaplain-like figure in the locker room, but also kept his team accountable for on-field play. His family guy reputation was something to be admired—especially after all of the characters we saw go in and out of the Bengals’ locker room in his tenure.

Some great memories:

Sunday, November 25th, 2012: After a surprising 2011 season when the Bengals improbably landed in the playoffs with a slew of young players, it was time for the team to take the next step. In the middle of a four-game win streak where Cincinnati was mostly trampling teams in the span, a major showdown popped up in Week 12. After Carson Palmer forced himself out of The Queen City one year earlier, he came back to Cincinnati for the first time while on the visitor’s sideline.

The Bengals stomped the Raiders, 34-10, sending Palmer and the rest of his Oakland crew back west, embarrassed. But, toward the end of the game, Whitworth showed his trademark tenacity, while almost signaling a true changing of the guard. On an offensive snap from Cincinnati toward the end of the game, a false start was committed, but the whistles didn’t fully blow and then-Raiders defender, Lamarr Houston, took a shot on (at the time) new franchise quarterback, Andy Dalton.

As a gesture of protecting his quarterback and showing that the team was truly behind Palmer’s successor, Whitworth went after Houston and was subsequently ejected. On his way to the locker room, he pumped up the crowd, exuding the necessary nastiness it takes to be successful in the AFC North.

Tell me you don’t want this guy as your teammate.

GIF Whitworth Fight

Sunday, October 23rd, 2016: Even though the Bengals were experiencing their first rough season since 2010, the pride Whitworth took in his job was evident until the end of Week 17. At the time, Cincinnati was fighting back into the playoff race, as the team had a much-needed “break” against what would become the 1-15 Browns.

Jeremy Hill had a day on the ground that harkened back to his breakout rookie year, but he had a ton of help. Even though the Bengals had a rough year on the offensive line, they absolutely took it to the Cleveland defense, opening up big lanes for the embattled running back.

On Hill’s 74-yard touchdown run below, you’ll see that Big Whit pulls all the way to the right to help spring the big play. While he didn’t have a gigantic block, per se, he definitely opened a lane in an underrated aspect of his skill set as a blocker. What you may or may not see is Whitworth’s fist-pump of celebration and his goading of the Browns’ sideline on the play.

Awesome.

Saturday, November 30th, 2013: As a 6’2”, 235-pound man myself, I’ve never felt so physically dwarfed than when I met the former Bengals offensive tackle back in 2013. I’ve also never been so impressed with how friendly and approachable one of the best players to ever suit up for the Bengals was that evening.

While I was in San Diego for the team’s December matchup covering the game for Cincy Jungle as best I could, I was also there as the common mega-fan, meeting a myriad of Bengals players at the hotel. While most were pleasant, given fans’ constant approaches for pictures and autographs they were getting a day before a game against the Chargers, a handful of players really stood out as extremely affable.

Both Michael Johnson and BenJarvus Green-Ellis took the time to face-time with my nephew, while Whitworth was taking time with everyone in the lobby, including myself. Though it was Whitworth’s stature drew everyone’s gaze and seemed to receive the lion’s share of fans’ requests for photo-ops and the like, he actively sought out the loiterers—not vice-versa. It’s a stark contrast to so many other star athletes who, sometimes rightfully, get annoyed with the masses hounding them for attention, but it’s a rarity when a high-profile figure embraces their fans in such a way that leaves lasting impressions.

I don’t often get star-struck from any type of celebrity. However, Whitworth is someone I looked up to on so many respects. I’m certain he doesn’t remember our brief meeting, but it’s something that has stuck with me for years now.

Thanks a bunch, big guy:

Dear Mr. Whitworth,

I hope that once your great career is finally over, the Bengals embrace you the way they recently did with Shayne Graham. I also hope they take it an unprecedented step further (for this franchise, at least), and never allow another player to don No. 77 on a Bengals jersey ever again, because, quite frankly, no one can live up to the legacy you’ve built with it. Much like Munoz’s No. 78 and Anderson’s No. 71, you’re deserving of the utmost respect from the team and its fan base. Most of all, I hope you finally get a Super Bowl ring, because you, over almost every other NFL player, deserve it.

Thank you, big-seven-seven, for your skill, your classiness, your durability, your leadership and for being a shining example of effort and success as a part of a franchise that desperately needs those traits. Though it’s been a few short days since you committed to the West Coast, please know that you are already massively missed. This team is exponentially better to have had you over the course of 11 seasons and 168 games. Like the other great Bengals offensive linemen before you, the void you leave will never be fully filled.

Who Dey Nation wishes the best for you and your family in your time with the Rams. We won’t forget the amazing years you gave to a team that can never fully repay you for all you meant to the club and its fans.

Personally speaking, I live in Southern California, but in my 34 years on this Earth, I’ve only been a fan of the team you joined back in 2006 as a rookie. With your move to the franchise here out west, they can count another meager fan in their corner.

Thanks for everything, Whit.