Inside interview with Houshmandzadeh

(This article originally appeared in 2007 in the Pulse/Downtowner, a weekly news-magazine, which is no longer published.)

By Jessie Gridley

GEORGETOWN, KY—Mobs of fans unfazed by the sweltering heat hold out their footballs and T-shirts to get the signature of wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, a player with a very unconventional rush to the NFL, complete with a few fumbles.

“T.J., T.J., T.J.,” the children chant excitedly. He makes his way down the line smiling with his black Sharpie in hand, drenched in sweat after the two-hour practice at Georgetown University.

Meanwhile, Quarterback Carson Palmer, towering over the 40-yard-line at 6-foot 5-inches, speaks softly compared to his outer toughness. “We are going to be expecting a win every game. It doesn’t matter who it is—we are going to be excited,” Palmer says, prior to the team’s 26-27 loss in the preseason opener to the Detroit Lions.

The crowd roars and the their orange and black apparel blurs together in the thick heat. Cody Pelle, 11, proudly cradles his football like a baby after his favorite player, Houshmandzadeh, adds his mark to those of 11 other Bengals players. “It gets hard to walk away. You can’t please everybody,” says Bengal No. 84 after a long retreat to the locker room to clean up, stretch and soak in an ice bath after battling heat nearing 100 degrees.

Houshmandzadeh outgrew his role as flashy Chad Johnson’s sidekick in 2006, leading the team in 90 receptions, according to the Bengals’ web site career stats. The wide receiver duo, which also played together at Oregon State before being drafted to Bengals football in 2001, made Bengals history in 2006 with both players recording 1,000-yard seasons: Houshmandzadeh with 1,081 yards and Johnson with 1,369 yards. Houshmandzadeh, nicknamed “Who’s-your-momma,” sits coolly in the summer heat and says that he and Johnson have disagreements just like any other co-workers.

“I think my road is probably different than anybody else in the NFL,” proclaims 30-year-old Houshmandzadeh. Dropping out of high school, he later finished qualifications for his GED in junior college at Cerritos College in his home state California. That is where his skills on the field started attracting scouts from all over the nation, including Oregon State. He also attracted the attention of his wife, Kaci, in junior college.

The Bengals star says that playing for the NFL was never a dream growing up. In fact, he says that he really only played in high school during his last year before dropping out. “I just got lucky,” he says of his path to the NFL. “First time I ever got a paycheck was here (with the Bengals).” With a diamond stud in each ear, the wide receiver states that the money that comes with those Bengals paychecks makes a difference in lifestyle, case by case. “I think money makes you become the person you always wanted to be,” he says, adding with vindication, “you can be an asshole or not.”

On the field he is surrounded by testosterone, clashing gear and mud, while at home Houshmandzadeh is daddy to two little girls, Kennedi, 5, and Karrington, 7. “They see the commercials. They know what Daddy does,” he says with a grin. The father of two little girls shares that he never knew his own father, but has been contacted by him recently. “It doesn’t matter if we do or don’t (meet),” he says.

Although the 6-foot-1 Bengal sees having actually made it to the NFL his biggest challenge, he says that players can never get too comfortable. Houshmandzadeh’s answer is short and sweet when asked what he likes about football and being a part of the Bengals Jungle: It’s fun to play.

Bengals Bashes Begin

The Bengals have exploded with an increasing fan base these past few years and that is why Bengals Bash has moved to Fountain Square from Backstage Alley, says the event producer Melinda Kruyer.

Kruyer works with Do Downtown Restaurant Group, which includes Boi Na Braza, Jeff Ruby’s, Bistro JeanRo, Morton’s and Rock Bottom Brewery among others. Bengals cheerleaders, top players and the Do Downtown participating restaurants are all coming together to make this year’s Bashes ones for crazy fans to remember.

Live music and special appearances by 700 WLW personalities will add to the excitement, along with a bottomless supply of $1 draft beer in plastic Bengals Bash cups. Fans can continue the party the night of the bash to any participating restaurants for $1 drafts during the rest of the evening, says Kruyer.

Join the Who-Dey crowd 5-8 p.m. on Bengals Bash evenings on Fountain Square.