Monday, October 11, 1999

When Pound barks, Akili shows bite

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Akili Smith passes under pressure from Derrick Alexander.
(AP photo)
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        CLEVELAND — The mouth-foamers in the Dawg Pound were ready for Akili Smith. They stood there in the east end zone of the shiny new Cleveland Browns Stadium with their same old routine: Overweight, middle-aged guys wearing plastic and latex dog faces and snouts, shaking big dog bones and barking like they'd just seen a full moon.

        They had some things to say to the visiting quarterback:

        “We drafted the right guy, Akili!”

        “Let Couch show you how to do it, Akili”

        Akili heard it all. Then he did the darnedest thing. With the Bengals backed to their 1-yard line, the rookie making his first NFL start turned to the mouth-foamers and waved his arms.

        “Bring it on, baby,” he said.

        Oh, he's special, this kid. Maybe just for the day. That's all we have to go on now. But what a day.

Rookie magic
        If you are an ordinary rookie QB, even if you are the first-round, multi-million dollar face of the future, you do not always play with the poise Akili Smith showed here Sunday.

        This is what the kid faced in his pro debut:

        A rabid crowd; an 0-4 Browns team looking at its first legitimate shot at a win; a simmering feud between Smith and the Browns organization, which Smith felt used him as leverage in dealing with Tim Couch, the man Cleveland took first in the draft last April and, naturally, the revived Dawg Pounders, who had three years of cooling their passions (served in a penitentiary, no doubt) before returning last month.

        He was magic in the last two minutes. He took the Bengals 80 yards in 10 plays, finishing with the familiar fade route to Carl Pickens that Jeff Blake copyrighted five years ago.

        The Bengals beat the Browns, 18-17. Suddenly, there is reason to believe.

        “We're going to score right now,” Smith told his huddle with 2:04 left and the ball at the Cincinnati 20.

        Excuse us, rook?

        Recalled guard Brian DeMarco: “It wasn't, "Let's go try to score.' It was, We're going to score. He was beyond his years on that drive.”

"Crazy like me'
        Before we shift the Akili hype into overdrive, we should note that Cleve land is an expansion team and on Sunday, Cleveland was awful. The offense was inert. The defense would be decent if anybody on it could tackle. These are not yet your father's Browns.

        But Smith had every reason to flinch Sunday and he didn't. He was down there in the teeth of the Pound. Woofing. “That inspired me, man,” Corey Dillon said. “He's crazy like me.”

        He started the last drive by saying in the huddle, “Everyone be accountable . Linemen, give me some time. Receivers, get open.”

        Smith called most of the plays on the last drive, but coach Bruce Coslet called the last one, the 2-yard fade to Pickens the Bengals call “Dice.”

        Smith thumped his chest after that. Thumped it like Tarzan. He was all over himself. “It was how I dreamed it,” he said. “Go down to the last possession and beat these guys. This is what they drafted me for.”

        He didn't look like a QB making his first start. He didn't play tuck-and-run when his primary receiver was covered. He didn't make many dumb throws. Forty-one passes. No interceptions.

        The kid has allowed everyone to breathe. Spinney Field will not be a morgue, practices will be stepped more lightly. And the blood boils now. Bengals-Browns is back. The abuse will flow like fine wine.

        “I played it like it was the last game of my life,” Smith said.

        “He was taunting our crowd (saying) they should have drafted him. I'll remember that,” said Couch.

        One game into it, it's good already. And they're just getting warmed up.


Bengals Stories
Bengals 18, Browns 17
- When Pound barks, Akili shows bite
First win makes it fun again
Smith's family shares big day
Dillon glad to be in it for the long run
'Money player' Pickens pays off
Second-stringers busy in secondary
Browns 0-5 and unhappy
Bengals-Browns summary