Giovani Bernard’s Bengals career began with a thank you note to club president Mike Brown eight years ago and it is probably going end with one Wednesday night when Bernard gets a chance to get away from the phone to write one.
“This isn’t a sad or sorry moment,” said Bernard, hours after he was released. “I had my eight years there and I’m thankful to everyone there. The whole entire city, the whole entire front office. The coaches that are still there. The coaches that have been there. Everyone knows it’s a business. It happens to everyone. I’m grateful and I’m excited about the next opportunity.”
Bernard, one of the most productive running backs and one of the most inspiring players in team history, had such a good pre-draft visit to Paul Brown Stadium that he did what he didn’t do for the other interested NFL teams. He wrote thank you notes to Brown, running backs coach Hue Jackson, and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.
“I just had a feeling about this place,” Bernard said the day after the Bengals took him in the second round. “I just wanted to say ‘thank you’ for taking the time to sit down and talk to me and just spend time.”
Eight years later, he’s still thankful. So are the Bengals.
Bernard leaves as one of only 11 players to combine for more than 6,000 rushing and receiving yards and his 342 catches are the most ever by a Bengals running back. His reliability, honored by a captain’s ‘C’ on his jersey, is ensconced in his club-record 829 straight carries without a fumble in a run spanning his rookie and last seasons.
“As a running back, even more as a person, you want to be reliable,” Bernard said. “You want to be one of those individuals everyone can rely on and be there. Not just to the coaches and not just to the organization, but my teammates.”
Bernard, who overcame a childhood that included some poverty and the death of his mother at age seven, became a prime mover on and off the field. A son of Haitian immigrants, he traveled to Haiti to build a school named in her honor. His work with the Le Jardin Vert de Josette School (translating to Josette’s Green Garden) helped earn him the Bengals’ NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year award, along with several other community endeavors.
His locker-room presence was also a big factor in the crafting of the club’s mission statement on social justice in the weeks leading up to last season.