Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo jokingly offered to replicate the sacrificing of a bucket of chicken — a la the movie “Major League” — at the spot on the FirstEnergy Stadium turf where cornerback Chidobe Awuzie tore his ACL last year on Halloween.
Bengals head coach Zac Taylor affirmed earlier in the week that Awuzie will start Sunday when the Bengals travel to Cleveland for the season opener.
How Will Chidobe Awuzie Commemorate His Return to FirstEnergy Stadium?
Running around the field chasing his good friend and former teammate Amari Cooper again won’t be emotional for Awuzie, but walking onto the field for pregame warmups could be. And Anarumo said he’ll be there to support the team’s top defensive back in any manner he chooses to commemorate the experience.
“In any player’s career, when they go through something like that, to know that he’s less than a year removed from that happening, mentally, that’s a huge accomplishment at the level of football that these guys are playing,” Anarumo said.
“It’ll be emotional for him, I’m sure. I’m sure he’ll go over there and say his peace and move on, knowing Chido the way I do. It’s something I’ve seen other guys do before. So I’ll go over there with him if he wants me to.”
Awuzie said nothing special is in the works while also taking a shot at the condition of that field.
“I’m gonna look at it, probably walk by it, see if the grass is actually grass over there,” he said. “But I have nothing planned for it. I’m just blessed to be able to be back at that stadium. I feel like it’s a good story.”
With Joe Burrow’s calf injury and contract situation being the biggest stories of training camp, Awuzie’s return from the ACL injury that terminated what had been the best season of his career was somewhat of an afterthought.
Everyone from the trainers to the doctors to the coaches to Awuzie himself expected him to be 100 percent in time for the season opener. Part of that is advancements in the medical and rehab fields, but most of the faith was due to who Awuzie is.
He wanted to push the recovery but trusted the process, sneaking in extra work wherever he could during training camp practices when he wasn’t allowed to participate in team drills. He’d run with receivers when they were supposed to be doing routes on air. He’d cover the gunner on punt returns. He even returned punts in the vice-tackling drill.
He finally was able to get on the field in team drills on Aug. 23, and his teammates made a big deal about it. His response was to tell them to shut up.
His mindset is similar heading into the season opener.
“All this stuff about Chido, Chido, ACL, this, that, you know, it’s bigger than that,” he said. “It’s about going on the road and beating this team and putting the first step toward our goals. So that’s really what we’re going to be focusing on.”
Lou Anarumo offered to help Chido with a voodoo curse ritual, a la Major League, on the FirstEnergy turf. No need. Chido is excited to complete his comeback on the same field. pic.twitter.com/SkrYKGu0lY
— Jay Morrison (@ByJayMorrison) September 7, 2023
But Awuzie also understands he is a story. And a good one. He stood in front of his locker and answered all of the questions Thursday — sometimes the same ones more than once — well beyond the time the locker room was supposed to close to the media.
“I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t (mental hurdles),” he said. “That’s been the biggest thing that people who have gone through this have told me. They told me that the first two weeks when you’re back are the hardest two weeks, and then you get into a rhythm. I’m past two weeks now, so I’m kind of in a rhythm now.
“Now naturally, the first game, everybody always wonders, ‘How am I going to do?’ Or ‘How are we going to gel together as a defense?’ Or ‘How are we going to move against this concept, that concept?’ I think that’s mixed in with coming back after being out for a period of time. I know after the first couple of reps, that goes out the window. It’s just football.”
Just as Anarumo has offered to be there for Awuzie when he visits what the defensive coordinator called “the scene of the crime,” he was also the first to find his cornerback after the schedule was released and let him know what was in store.
“It’s a big coincidence,” Awuzie said. “I remember when Lou found out the schedule, he walked up to me and was like “Guess who we’re playing the first day?’ And I said, ‘Browns.’ He said, ‘Yep, guess where?’ It was written this way, and I’m blessed enough to be healthy enough to play in the game.”
“I know it’ll be fun. It will be exciting,” he continued. “I’m the type of guy, I don’t really find my energy within. I find my energy externally, the people I play with, how much I care about the guys and my family, and people like that. That’s where I get my energy from. Just being around the guys is always a blessing. I’ll be excited.”