When Mike Nugent was just a little cat growing up in southwestern Ohio, he and his younger brother didn't need tickets to see the Cincinnati Bengals play at Riverfront Stadium.
"It was back in the day when my dad could take both of us," said Nugent, a kicker in his third season with the New York Jets. "He could kind of carry one kid in and that would just mean that we were going to share seats. My brother and I would stand up during the game and share seats."
Those were the good old days in Cincinnati when smuggling kids into the stadium was not frowned upon while QB Norman "Boomer" Esiason and RB Elbert Woods — best known for his "Ickey Shuffle" end zone dance — were helping the Bengals advance to Super Bowl XXII.
"We always got two season tickets every year to games," Nugent said. "I was telling Ben [Graham] the other day that it's kind of weird playing the Bengals because they're the team I used to watch — Ickey Woods and Boomer Esiason and guys like that."
After starring at Centerville High School, Nugent attended Ohio State with Nick Mangold, another Centerville native. The second-year center also grew up about 40 minutes from where the Bengals played and was a fan. Mangold, just 23 years old, said two names that stuck with him from childhood are Esiason and Dan "Big Daddy" Wilkinson.
"Growing up, I never went to too many NFL games or Ohio State games," Mangold said. "I went to one game my junior year and I think that's really been about it. I went to two Bengals games but usually just watched them on TV."
Last October, Mangold and Nugent returned to Ohio to face the Browns. That was a quick plane ride from New York but more than a 200-mile car trip from Centerville.
"We played Cleveland last year in Cleveland and that was pretty exciting, going back to Ohio," Mangold said. "It was the first time since high school that I was on the away team in Ohio, so it was kind of different."
They'll still be the away team this afternoon when the Green & White meet up with the Bengals but much closer to home. Nugent will have a huge turnout at Paul Brown Stadium, which has been the Bengals' home since 2000.
"It ended up being about 56," he said of his ticket count. "Everyone is helping me out. People were very generous about it. I told them if I could get any, I would help them out."
Mangold will have a smaller contingent but a strong showing nonetheless.
"Well, he's got me beat. I probably have about 20 different people coming," he said. "He has me beat pretty well."
Neither player plans on visiting with friends or family Saturday. The Jets will arrive in Cincinnati late Saturday afternoon and won't have much free time before meetings and bedcheck soon after.
"To be pretty honest with you, I don't like to break my routine when it comes to the night before the game," Nugent said. "I just try to keep the same schedule as always. You couldn't see anybody the night before the game in college and I kind of carried that to the NFL."
"I just wait until Sunday after the game. I was the same way in college," Mangold said. "I never really tried to get a hold of anybody before the game. It was usually after the game when I would meet up with people."
They'd like to see those familiar faces after a victory. Each plays an important role on the Jets, who will be playing their first game ever at Paul Brown and their first in Cincy since 1997, when they beat the Bengals, 31-14, at Riverfront, which had been renamed Cinergy Field.
Mangold, who helped paved the way for Thomas Jones' 130 rushing yards last week against the Eagles, and the rest of the O-line will counter a pressure-happy Bengals defense surrendering 145.8 yards per game on the ground.
The improved leg strength of Nugent has been well-documented and he has helped Jets' coverage units with his booming kicks. He has connected on seven of his 11 field goal attempts this season and would approach a game-winning kick in his hometown like any other.
"If it does come down to it, hopefully you just can go out there and do your job and get it done," he said.
Just like old times, no tickets will be required to gain entry to the stadium.