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Pat Kirwan article (He has a show on Sirius)

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I went to Cincinnati last week and spent a day with the team, coaches, front-office people and lots of fans.

Two weeks ago, the team held a practice in shorts and opened it up for the fans to watch. About 12,000 people showed up! Bengals fever is back in a big way. And it is amazing to me that consecutive 8-8 seasons in one city could be a sign of disaster and doom, yet in Bengals land it is a sign of hope and optimism. After 24 hours in the Bengals community, there was no doubt that I started to get the bug that the time has come for black and orange to step up.

When I asked a few of the players about trying to identify the moment the Bengals turnaround started, I got two consistent answers. The younger veterans who hadn't been through the worst of times sighted the fourth quarter of the game against the Ravens late last year at Baltimore when the team stormed back with 24 points to defeat the mighty Ravens and their defense. The older players said it happened when Marvin Lewis came in as head coach and immediately started changing the way things were done with running the team. The media I spoke with felt it was both ... and a lot more. They sighted good drafts, especially this last one when the team selected David Pollack, Odell Thurman and Chris Henry in the first three rounds.

There is risk attached to Thurman and Henry because of some issues in their past, but the people that cover the team feel Lewis' strongest suit may be the ability to mentor young players and keep them headed in the right direction. As one assistant coach said to me, "We may have drafted three first-round players when it was all said and done."

As I pulled out of Cincinnati, it occurred to me that this team may not be ready for a Super Bowl run, but the quiet optimism of the head coach and the momentum of the late-season charge in 2004 have the team on the right track. The things Lewis is doing to bring this team closer together -- like a visit to a NASCAR track with the players for the experience of a race -- made me feel something very special is brewing in Bengals country.

Watch out AFC North, here they come ready or not!

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