Tyler Boyd's eyes were wider than his catch radius when he first caught a glimpse of the past with cigar-chomping Chad Johnson perched on a concrete throne in the middle of flowing greenery. Then, the future reached out and striped him.
"Unbelievable," said Boyd, moments after he had squeezed into the Bengals' new uniforms for the first time. "They're futuristic. A new glow for the new us."
The Bengals introduced their new uniforms that saluted their 20th century roots Monday morning during a blaze of 21st century media featuring players modeling seven of a possible nine ensembles in a slick video rather than on an improvised runway.
Take a good look at the seven models and that's also a new brand of leadership easing into their big shoes. They gathered for the commercial-like production on a sprawling floor of The Warehouse Collaborative and it didn't take a genius to know that the group that gathered to sample the New Stripes collection has been sized to lead the next generation's locker room.
"The guys that are here are the kind of people that are going to take this organization to where we want to go," said quarterback Joe Burrow, lean and hungry with rehab. "Along with Zac (Taylor) and ownership. I think we're the future. I think it's going to be a fun ride."
The Bengals strapped in about ten days before Monday's introductory video hit the streets, a day-long production that spliced the franchise icon Johnson with fellow wide receivers Boyd, his 1,000-yard descendant, and second-round soulmate Tee Higgins.
Running back Joe Mixon, who along with Johnson is the only Bengal to win an AFC rushing or receiving yardage title in this century, claimed the throne for the photo shoot after Johnson abdicated following his fourth video of the day.
Also on the set were a pair of 2018 draft choices suddenly the most tenured Bengals defensive starters in free safety Jessie Bates III and left end Sam Hubbard, as well as that size No. 98 model in nose tackle D.J. Reader.
"They're fire. That means they're fresh," said Mixon of the new unis after he scorched the old ones with two 1,000-yard seasons. "I love the font. My favorite thing is the signature on the back."
That's the authentic Paul E. Brown autograph in the back neck of the jersey, a salute to the Bengals Hall-of-Fame founder and one of the collection's nods to the past.
"Oh yeah. That signature is cool," Boyd said. "It kind of symbolizes the opportunities that have been given to us."
Mixon's font conjures up the 1980s look with the outline of the numbers. A sharp angle mirrors the cutting edge design of Paul Brown Stadium and there are the claw marks of a tiger on the prowl.
The Bengals were going for a brew of classic and modern and they got it with a clean, crisp froth based on the popular and sleek all white color rush.
The white, black and orange jerseys go with three styles of pants. The simple stripes on the shoulders flow boldly off the iconic striped helmet and there are no blocks of color on the uniform. Less, they seemed to decide, was more. The nameplate's stroke has been removed and the word "Bengals," flashes across the chest.
"They're just enough," Hubbard said. "They're super simple, but very sleek with a lot of different colors. You look good, you feel good, you play good."
Reader ran a hand down his side and pronounced the uniforms a success.
"I think I like the new pants," Reader said of his favorite item. "The way the stripes are. People will know what I'm talking about. The lines are straighter. It pops more. It's got a little less going on."
Bates and Hubbard, drafted 23 spots a part in 2018, had the same sense as the unveiling unveiled. They saw the Bengals move on from three 2020 captains in the weeks leading up to the uniform debut.
"We're setting the standard of what we want. It's a whole new locker room. Stuff like this gives the players a lift," Bates said. "I feel the guys here are among the main guys. It's a different look and we're excited about it."
Hubbard: "This is our team now. We've got a lot we want to accomplish. I think this is energizing."
As the Bengals moved to a new leadership group wearing a new look, the video they used to announce it was pioneering in itself. Flexing their video and social media muscle, the club assaulted the eighth floor of a Dalton Avenue warehouse with four video cameras, four still cameras and a Twitter founding father in Chad Javon Johnson.
The last time the Bengals changed uniforms in 2004, Johnson was one of those taking a bow in a fashion show that announced the new unis to a world that had only cell phones and Email. It was more Instamatic than Instagram. He was the reigning AFC receiving yardage champ, listed at 6-1, 188 pounds, a good five years before Twitter burst on the scene. Suddenly, a runway seemed so plodding and 20th century.
"We didn't want to do a fashion show," said Seth Tanner, the Bengals director of content. "I guess, yeah, COVID made the decision for us, but we weren't looking to do that anyway. We wanted to do something new that people hadn't seen before."
It was an all hands-on deck effort by the club. Video producer Marissa Contipelli. Social media coordinator Sam Schwartz. Graphic designers Mina Creamer and Dan Brown. Video producer Luke Johnson. Scoreboard videographer Wil Blackwell.. Digital media specialist Michael LaPlaca back at the shop creating the pages for Bengals.com.
Tanner also had help from the Warehouse Collaborative on what amounted to three different sets and four different stations. Ferns and other green plants on the main stage helped feed The Jungle vibe of Paul Brown Stadium. So did the music of the PBS disc jockey ETrayn punching up a pre-game mood like the Steelers were in town. Game day coordinator Alex Schweppe had better luck than the Cleveland secondary that received the Pepto Bismol from No. 85 all those years ago as he covered Chad's every need on the set.
"I love the setup. It makes you want to be a baller," Boyd said. "In this atmosphere it makes you want to come out like a Bengal."
And then there was Chad "Ocho Cinco", Johnson at age 42 bridging the 17-year gap by fitting into the new uniform with the same measurements equipment manager Adam Knollman put on him in his last Bengals season.
Jersey: 40. Pants: 28.
"I lied. I played at about 180," Johnson said. "I'm almost 200 pounds now. Burrow looks good. I want to get him on my diet."
No one knows where those 20 pounds are because Johnson still looks like he did the day he caught two balls for 36 yards in his last game for the Bengals, a 2010 win over the Browns at PBS. Naturally, when head coach Zac Taylor visited the shoot Johnson lobbied for a tryout. Taylor, who needs a down-field threat, hugged him and listened.
"I think Chad's a guy that would do anything to wear a full uniform and pads and a helmet again," Tanner said.
But thanks to Twitter, Johnson is more than a football player. Not only is he a social media trailblazer, but Schwartz, the Bengals Twitter tsar, has been amazed at the durability of Johnson's popularity. His numbers dwarf the players from his generation and battle with the stars of today, largely because Johnson doesn't confine himself to football.
He's also into soccer, video games, cigars. Tanner saw that up close. When they took a break between shots, Johnson ventured into a downtown Starbucks still wearing a white lab coat from one of the videos.
"It kind of took on a world of its own," Johnson said as he viewed the social media hub of the set.
Tanner sat Johnson on the throne, complete with a sizzling cigar from the Mt. Lookout Smoke Shop, to greet the players as they emerged from behind a curtain. That was a bit of a bow to last year's cigar video heralding Burrow's selection by the Bengals in the wake of the national championship cigar he puffed after the Sugar Bowl.
Tanner's idea for a throne also came out of the theater. He had King Louie's chair in "The Jungle Book," in mind.
Hubbard, who grew up in the PBS suburbs, was fittingly, the first guy to greet Johnson with a hug.
"He was a Cincinnati legend. I was a big fan growing up. I just love him," Hubbard said.
So does Higgins, the current No. 85. But it already felt like they had met a long time ago.
"I know all these guys from social media," Johnson said.
When the time came for Tanner to get a photo of the players around the throne, Mixon ended up on it when he stepped forward. No one really knows how it happened. It just did.
"They told me to get in the middle. I said 'All right.' That's where I belong," Mixon said. "I told Joe, he might have been in there, too. He was like, 'Naw, you go.' I thought it looked good. It would have been nice with Joe in the middle, too. Either Joe, it won't matter.
"We've got a good thing going. This is a nice tone setter on and off the field."
Burrow liked it, too.
"Joe deserves to be up there. He's going to be a part of this," Burrow said.
Boyd figured it was going to be one or the other.
"All roads lead to Joe. One of the Joes," Boyd said. "Had to pick one."
Tanner, the director, had no preference, and left it up to the players.
"They know better who should be the representation up there," Tanner said.
Which seemed to fit into the design of the day.
"It's our time," Mixon said.