By GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals drew the first marquee date of the NFL season Wednesday when the NFL announced they are playing in the Aug. 8 Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio against the Cowboys at 8 p.m. on NBC. It is the first appearance in the league’s traditional preseason kickoff game for the Bengals since they used it to start their run to the 1988 AFC title.
Both franchises are celebrating inductions that take place the day before at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Former Bengals head coach and long-time assistant Dick LeBeau takes his spot 32 years after he became eligible. Meanwhile, 41-year-old Emmitt Smith, the former Cowboys running back and NFL’s all-time leading rusher, celebrates his first-ballot election.
For the first time in 28 years, the game at Fawcett Stadium lines up division champions. The Bengals won the AFC North last season at 10-6 and Dallas won the NFC East at 11-5 in what will be the first-ever preseason game between the clubs.
“We’re excited to get an early start on the 2010 season against a fellow playoff team from last season,” said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis in a news release. “It’s a showcase our fans will enjoy, and we’re proud to be a part of the Hall of Fame weekend, honoring some of the league’s greatest players. And any time we think of the Hall of Fame, we think of the fact that our franchise was founded by Paul Brown, one of the greatest Hall of Famers ever.”
The Bengals have some MoJo whwen they start the season in Canton. After their other appearance in 1975, a 17-9 loss to the Redskins, they finished with their best winning percentage ever at 11-3 in taking the AFC Central in the middle of the Steelers heyday.
Both clubs are going to play one more preaseason game than everyone else with five and it means they can open their training camps before the other 30 teams. Teams typically open camp 15 days before the opener, which would put camp at Georgetown College underway July 24, a couple of days before the majority of the league.
Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth, one of last season’s offensive captains, doesn’t anticipate the extra work having a huge impact. He says that Lewis did a good job last season backing off the team from the grind.
“It was better than it has been in years past and if we work hard like last year to get the things done we’ve got to get done, it shouldn’t be a problem,” Whitworth said. “I would think it’s going to be a good experience for the team to play in a game that is going to have a big-game feel with it being on national TV and against America’s Team. It’s going to be a good experience, especially for the younger guys.”
Whitworth, who has never visited the Hall, is only half-kidding about America’s Team. He is friends with several Cowboys, including Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Ware, and he grew up across town from linebacker Bradie James in West Monroe, La., and went to LSU with him.