BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
GEORGETOWN, Ky. -- Kevin Sargent is ready to splurge. Ready to blow some of that big signing bonus. Ready to prove that he's not really the tightwad his teammates suppose.
"I need a haircut," the Cincinnati Bengals left tackle announced Saturday afternoon, running his hand across his shaggy scalp. "But that's about it."
The National Football League's wealth effect has lately trickled down to the grunts on the offensive line, and a lot of these guys are not sure how to handle all their dough.
A running back would know what to do with a $3.5 million signing bonus. An experienced wide receiver could have it spent by sundown. A quarterback would know how to buy a yacht and have it serve as a tax shelter.
But make a rich man of an offensive lineman, and what you get is a millionaire with worn out jeans. Kevin Sargent has signed a three-year, $12 million contract and his idea of conspicuous consumption is a round of golf or taking his wife to a restaurant. He is reputed to be the only Bengal who never missed an assignment or picked up a check last season.
"He's got a $3 million bonus and he's looking for a used car," joked Bengals guard Scott Brumfield. "Something with low mileage, maybe a '92 or '93."
Sargent smiles. His teammates talk of BMWs, but he's thinking Toyotas. Offensive linemen have always been the least flashy of football players, and this describes their tastes as well as their talent. They are too big for small cars -- Sargent stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 300 pounds -- and ill suited to Italian design. Their wardrobes might be considered extensive, but only if you confine the count to T-shirts.
Former Bengals running back James Brooks was a fanatic about shoes, and replaced them as rapidly as he ran. Bengals quarterback Jeff Blake, so far as anyone knows, has yet to wear the same outfit twice. Boomer Esiason, Bengals coach Bruce Coslet calculated recently, owns $6 million worth of homes.
Offensive linemen, by comparison, tend to hoard what they have. They make the famously frugal Mike Brown seem like Santa Claus.
Esiason took up a collection last season for retiring tackle Joe Walter. He said he was going to buy Walter a Rolex, and would personally pay the difference between what was contributed and what the watch cost. When one of Walter's fellow linemen (not Sargent) finally pried open his wallet, he insisted on a receipt.
It was once said of George Halas that he threw nickels around as if they were manhole covers. Compared to the spending habits of some offensive linemen, however, Papa Bear's manhole covers might seem like Frisbees.
"They wear the same old stuff every day, all year long," said Tom Gray, the Bengals' first-and-only equipment manager. "Fashions don't fit the offensive linemen too well, which is a convenient way of getting out of it."
Yet even when one size fits all, offensive linemen are slow to show their prosperity. They tend to eschew the elaborate jewelry typically seen around the necks of "skill" players.
"You don't see jewelry on hogs, do you?" Gray said.
Sargent's money is in a paid-off house on five acres in Seabeck, Wash., and, to a large extent, in bonds. He plans to pay off the mortgage on the homes of his father and his mother-in-law and -- in case his teammates still consider him a cheapskate -- about $1,000 in fines his fellow linemen have accumulated for missed blocks and assignments.
Beyond that, Sargent's needs are simple. When he cashed his first bonus check in 1992, his lone extravagance was a video game system. He is thinking now of spoiling himself with installed sprinklers.
"I don't have to have the newest toy out there," he said. "I would have been fine if I never would have gotten this contract. I have virtually everything I need. I could get a job doing whatever and pay the bills."
This won't be necessary. Kevin Sargent can now afford to live off the interest his bonus will generate. He can afford, even, to live a little.
"The Bengals are concerned," line coach Paul Alexander said Saturday, "that Sarge may actually cash his checks from his rookie year now."
Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at firstname.lastname@example.org.