When the Bengals open the season Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati Local 12) at Paycor Stadium against the Steelers, punter Kevin Huber closes the book on one of the franchise’s oldest records when he breaks Ken Riley’s 39-year-old mark for games played.
But his 208th game will undoubtedly start like any other. Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons will run the stadium steps during pregame, and after that he’ll go to Huber and discuss the weather.
There’s a 24 percent chance of rain early and a 37 percent chance by 2 p.m., according to weather.com
“I don’t know if it’s going to be wet because it’s raining or because I’m sweating,” Simmons said.
Simmons, the superstitious Type-A farmer in Kansas, has run the stadium steps every pregame but two of his 25 NFL coaching seasons. Fourteen of those seasons have been with Huber and shortstop Clark Harris, the unpredictable East Coast tight end in his 202nd Bengals game, fourth on the list.
If it sounds like they’re the odd trio, that’s because smooth Cincinnatian Huber doesn’t exactly fit the bill. Which perfectly fits his pressure roles as Evan McPherson’s pass holder and the offense’s backup.
“He’s impatient. Happy go lucky,” Simmons said after Friday’s practice. “That’s a good trait for his position. You have to have a bad short-term memory. You have to forget a good shot as well as a bad one. You’re only as good as your last shot.”
For the first time since linebacker Reggie Williams had three touchdowns in the 1989 home opener in Chicago, the Bengals have players in their 14th season with the team. Huber and Harris trail only Riley (15) and quarterback Ken Anderson (16).
“What ruins people’s careers, especially with specialists, is not that they age, but that they lose their effectiveness. They fail at their jobs more than their bodies,” Simmons said. “I give Kevin credit that he’s been able to stay not only physically consistent, but mentally strong. Dealing with me and Clark is probably a little challenging.”
All three give each pretty well. Although Simmons’ mass superstitions are famous, he insists the other two have some, too. They won’t mock him for leading the steps, but they will attack him for leading them more slowly now.
“We’re different. We feed off each other that way. We keep our heads, but in a good way,” Simmons said. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t admire and appreciate what he’s done over time. He’s a friend.”
Huber, 37, isn’t planning anything special. He’ll play number 208 and maybe take his wife out to dinner. That might as well have been 20 years ago at McNicholas High School in nearby Anderson Township.
“It’s a business. He’s got a job to do and that’s what he’s thinking about. I think that’s one reason he’s been around this long,” said father Ed Huber.
There always seem to be around 10 family members at the stadium, although he never knows the exact number as some of them have season tickets. His wife goes when she can. Ed and mom Kathy go to every home game. At one point during warmups, Ed, the retired car salesman and basketball coach who knows everyone, discovers a spot along the railing in front of the bleachers behind the Bengals’ bench. He’s done it every home game for the last 13 years and before that at the University of Cincinnati and before that at McNick.
“He’s made friends with the security guys and he’s going to hold court,” says Kevin Huber. “Then he’ll come down and have a look.”