Lewis & Spikes were never meant to be
CINCINNATI -- Marvin Lewis' first major challenge as the Cincinnati Bengals' head coach was convincing his best defensive player to stay.
He did all he could, and failed to pull it off.
Lewis told linebacker Takeo Spikes about his grand plans for resurrecting the NFL's worst team. He talked about the role that Spikes could play in the turnaround. He exuded confidence that it would get done.
Spikes listened, then left. With the Bengals' permission, he accepted an offer from Buffalo, leaving some bruised feelings behind.
"I think it was two guys that didn't know each other, that didn't know the situation," said offensive tackle Willie Anderson, one of Spikes' closest friends. "Takeo couldn't predict the future, and Marvin couldn't look into the past."
They don't seem to be very comfortable about sharing the present, either.
The Spikes-and-Lewis saga is front-and-center as the Bengals (1-3) prepare to play in Buffalo on Sunday. Neither one is eager to talk about their brief, failed time together.
When Spikes' name came up at Lewis' press conference, he gave a terse, telling response.
"I think Takeo plays linebacker for the Buffalo Bills, so that's good," Lewis said, turning away so there would be no follow-up question.
Spikes left Cincinnati because he was tired of losing and wasn't convinced that Lewis could turn the Bengals into a winner overnight. After an 0-3 start, they got their first victory last Sunday in Cleveland.
Asked about the changes Lewis has made in his former team, Spikes responded with a chill in his voice, "What has he done? I don't know. The only thing I know is what the record is right now."
At 2-2, the Bills are only one game better, which makes their get-together more intriguing. A Bengals victory would validate Lewis' methods. A Bills victory would satisfy Spikes in a lot of ways.
"It's a natural reflex for me because of the situation of where I was and where I am now," Spikes said Wednesday, in a conference call. "I miss the fans in Cincinnati, and one of the biggest things is that all of the fans in Cincinnati will be having their first chance to check me out."
It's not like he's been forgotten. Since Spikes joined the Bills, he's gotten more national attention than he had during his five losing seasons in Cincinnati.
That's one big reason why he left. The Bengals' emotional leader wanted a chance to make prime time, the playoffs and the Pro Bowl. He's already accomplished the first goal.
"He wants to get to the point where he's recognized as one of the top guys and has the hype, the publicity that comes along with it," Anderson said. "That first two weeks, he got it.
"It's like the media was waiting and pulling for him to get out of here. They didn't want to bestow that on anybody in Cincinnati."
They're getting along all right without him.
When Lewis realized that Spikes -- a restricted free agent -- wouldn't be won over, he let him leave for Buffalo and used the money to bring in free agents to overhaul the defense. It has improved.
"It's been good for us to add the guys to the mix," Lewis said. "It worked out well for us."
Spikes' former teammates understand why he left, and are glad that he's finally getting the things he badly wanted. No one worked harder than Spikes at trying to make the Bengals respectable.
"On one hand, you'd really like him to be on your team because you know what kind of a player he is," quarterback Jon Kitna said. "On the other hand, for guys who have been close to him, you're kind of happy for him because he wanted to be out of here and wanted to move on and see if there were greener pastures elsewhere."
So far, it's working out for both sides. Spikes is happy and the Bengals are better -- although the linebacker can't quite bring himself to acknowledge it. When Anderson tells him about the improvements in Cincinnati, Spikes has a standard reply.
"He says, 'That's good. Buffalo's better," Anderson said.
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index
MORE NFL HEADLINES
- Saints top Panthers to take NFC South lead
- Sources: Redskins' Hall tears Achilles again
- Judge rejects Hernandez trial venue change
- Report: Charges unlikely for 49ers' McDonald