CINCINNATI - A beautiful night along the Ohio River on Thursday provided a pleasant backdrop as the Cincinnati Bengals hosted a kick-off event for the 2013 NFL season.
Thousands of fans gathered at Paul Brown Stadium for the event, which featured a special fireworks display and a chance to dance to music performed by The Rusty Griswolds.
Who-Dey nation was also excited for the chance to see and hang out with some of the organization's all-time greats like Ken Anderson, who many consider the best quarterback in team history.
But the loudest cheer came for the Bengals players that fans hope will take the team to the next level.
While the team's regular season doesn't officially begin until Sept. 8 when they the take on the Chicago Bears, the Bengals success in 2013 will likely be determined over the next few weeks of training camp.
So as the players settled in to endure multiple weeks of grueling practices and position battles, the team hosted the pep rally on the first day of training camp to give the players and fans a chance to enjoy what will hopefully be a successful campaign.
"We've had a great spring, and now we're ready to have a better summer, and the best fall ever in the history of the Cincinnati Bengals," said coach Marvin Lewis who will be featured along with the rest of his team in the upcoming HBO show "Hard Knocks," a documentary-style look at the goings of training camp. It's the second time the team will appear on the show.
Many of the fans in attendance hope Lewis' optimism mixed with the acquisition of new talent and the maturation of young players from last year's team will result in a playoff run this year.
Team supporters have a lot to be optimistic about heading into the season. The organization has made the postseason three of the past four years and features a young nucleus of stars.
Wide receiver A.J. Green and signal-caller Andy Dalton are poised to excel on the field with another year of NFL experience under their belts.
The team should also continue to get and grow on defense, where they were ranked sixth overall in 2012.
However while some appreciate the strides the team is making after going without a playoff berth for 15 years, not all fans think that the way. Some believe after 23 years without a playoff victory, this year needs to be The Year.
Many fans believe the team's ultimate success or failure will be linked to owner Mike Brown who made a special appearance on Thursday.
While Brown has had a mixed relationship with some locals over the years, his willingness to reach out to members of the community mixed with the Bengals' recent success is starting to change that perception.
"First time seeing him in person and it meant a lot that he took the time to come over and sign an autograph for a number one fan," said Stephen Taylor.
In addition to celebrating the start of another football season, the pep rally provided Brown and the organization with a chance to get back into the good graces of some fans. The team was criticized last year for only inviting season ticket holders, who still had to pay $10 to attend the event.
But this year's rally was free and open to the public. It was one of several chances fans have this offseason to interact with team free of charge.
Training Camp Practices Open To The Public
Open practices this training camp - including two new Family Night practices - are scheduled from July 26 to Aug. 15.
Two "Family Night" practices inside the stadium will be held at 6 p.m. on Aug. 1 and Aug. 11. Those will feature enhanced attractions for children. The team will announce more details later.
Other practices will be held on the fields west of the stadium. There will be 1,500 bleacher seats, plus additional room for fans to stand along the sidelines. No passes will be required.
The first 53 fans entering the gates to the practice fields who show a Fifth Third Bank debit card or credit card will be upgraded to the Fifth Third Reserved Bleacher Seats. This promotion does not apply to the two practices inside the stadium.
Fans will be allowed to bring small soft-sided coolers, unopened bottles of water and food into all practices. Concessions and Bengals merchandise will be available to purchase. No chairs or other temporary seating will be permitted.
After every practice on the practice fields, several players will be available for autographs for 15 minutes. No autographs will be permitted as players enter or leave the practice fields. After the Family Night practices inside PBS, all players will be available for autographs.
Parking for all practices is available in the public parking lots adjacent to PBS at established prices.