A First-Hand Look Inside the Bengals

People dream about having that one summer job that will get them somewhere in life. Others choose an internship that will yield them the most experience, best memories or the largest paycheck.

I never really considered those options when I applied to work at my local newspaper, the Georgetown News-Graphic, as its only staff photographer last summer. I did it because it was something I knew how to do well. In the past, I have spent time in the lounges at University of Kentucky basketball games, met and greeted people at the Panasonic Open and met my fair share of celebrities while working as a photographer. But this year pretty much raised the bar. This year, I worked with the Cincinnati Bengals.

I hail from Georgetown, Kentucky, which is a small town one hour south of Cincinnati. In the late summer of 1997, the Bengals made their first appearance at their new home for summer training camp at Georgetown College. Ever since then, the townspeople have sported Bengal black and orange during the season.

Despite the camp entering into its tenth year, I had only come in contact with the team once before. Going into my sophomore year of high school, I was dragged onto the sidelines one night at practice by my father to “meet some people he knew.” I didn’t really care about it at that point; I was still obsessed with the dancing team back then.

But this year, I was eager to go see everything that I had missed before. Lucky for me, neither of The Georgetown News Graphic‘s two sports writers enjoy taking pictures. So on July 26, I waited next to the field outside the player’s soon-to-be apartments, hoping to be a smooth enough paparazzi to catch a great shot of a big shot.

When the cars started to roll in, I took notice. I could easily spot the rookies; they carpooled and brought way too much stuff. Plus, they arrived early in the afternoon. The vets, like QB Carson Palmer, didn’t come unti their 3 p.m. deadline.

I was a little bit overwhelmed at the sight of the men. Not only was I obviously much shorter than the Bengals, but I was literally the only lady around that day; it’s hard to say if that gave me any kind of edge. Sure, everyone was extra nice to me. I got to ask questions first, and Lord knows every single player noticed me as the oddball. However, I got the sense that I was making them hold back. It seemed like everyone had to watch his mouth and actions because a lady was present.

But as the days passed by, it became clear to me that this really was a glorious opportunity. I got something that most people never will: an inside look at how the NFL works before the season starts.

The word on the inside is “work”. Breakfast is at 7 a.m. sharp. Afterwards, players meet with position coaches until 10 a.m., when the first of two daily practices takes place. That is followed up by lunch and more sessions filled with play reviews and general technique discussions. The evening consists of dinner, another practice and a late night snack.

It surprised me that the majority of the staff members were kids that attended a local college and worked at training camp over the summer for course credit. When they crossed paths with the players, it was just like seeing two friends chatting in the COOP. This wasn’t some huge show with millions of miles of security; instead, it was as simple as it gets.

The players and coaches are a mixed bunch. Chad Johnson is one cocky son of a gun. The man has a stool at his locker with his face, gold teeth and all, painted on top next to his self-appointed nickname, “Ocho Cinco”. The guy acts like an untouchable rock star both on and off the field, but I still saw glimpses of a regular guy who likes to goof off with his friends.

Palmer and Head Coach Marvin Lewis are just normal guys. Palmer drives a Chevy Avalanche and brought his golf clubs with him. Lewis often takes the time to ask how people’s days are going.

After a while, the days blended together. Traffic around town was still terrible, despite the complex being less than a mile from the interstate. In the end, the exhilaration wore off. It was the perfect way to wind down my News-Graphic career. After three solid weeks of being on the field, I sat in the stands and watched as Madieu Williams and Chad Johnson battled on the playing field. After practice, I walked down with all the rest to get autographs. Lewis came to me first and said he liked my photograph. I replied with a “Thank you sir,” just like I had in the weeks prior.

I left town the same day the Bengals did. My photos sit on my desk as a constant reminder of where I can go with photography in the future. There’s something special about taking pictures of people I know and not of some larger-than-life figure I dream about. The Bengals may no longer know who I am, but I had some great times. Maybe I’ll even get to repeat them next July and August when I’ll be forced to chase after Carson Palmer as he moves into his apartment, asking him his opinion on his extensive line of backup quarterbacks. Or maybe I will be content to sit in front of my TV and hope for a win over the Steelers.