Popo: "Wait your turn" defines NFL winners

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BALTIMORE - We were told to "wait our turn" from the time we were very little. We got in line for the drinking fountain, for fire drills, to get on the swings at the playground.

It was polite, it was respectful, it was considerate.

We learned as adults that "wait your turn" was still around. We wait in line at restaurants, at banks, and for a lifetime over the phone when you have to contact the pathetic cable company.

That's the way it is in our careers. Corporate climbers "wait their turn". So do broadcasters, executives, even popes.

Time passes and a new generation eventually takes over. This works everywhere except with those old crusty dudes in Congress. But that's another story.

Sports is a great example of "wait your turn." If someone is a great performer, he or she could be entrenched in a position for years, perhaps longer than a decade. Second stringers come and go. They get impatient.  Sometimes they have to go somewhere else to get a chance.

In sports, your chance often comes abruptly, sometimes unexpectedly, usually painfully. That's what happened to players when Robert Geathers went down for the Bengals. Then Leon Hall. Now Geno Atkins. All essential players and prominent individuals. But somebody else had to take their place. Often somebody we know little about.

I think back to how it seemed like Corey Dillon was the only running back on the Bengals roster for years. But when he was injured, Rudi Johnson stepped in like a veteran and became a star in his own right. He just had to "wait his turn."

"It's the nature of the beast" is the way defensive tackle Wallace Gilberry described it. You don't like getting your big chance because somebody else got hurt, but that's the way sports works, especially in the rough and tumble NFL.

Marvin Lewis made this a point of emphasis as his Bengals pointed toward Baltimore. He showed them statistics that every Super Bowl winner over the past five seasons has had to deal with a significant number of players on the injured reserve list.  In other words, they're lost for the season. "Double digit" losses according to the research Lewis did.  Players get hurt.  Replacements take over.

This week it's Brandon Thompson who gets a start against the Ravens, in place of Atkins. He hasn't been hoping for this moment, but he has been preparing for it.  It's what he's been doing since he was a boy in Thomasville, Georgia when he played both sides of the line. It's what earned him national honors at Clemson. It's why the Bengals drafted him in the third round in 2012.

Since coming to the Bengals, Thompson told me that he's been "like a sponge" in learning to play the game from Atkins and Domata Peko. Not just technique and physicality, but he learned about being a professional and about being a good teammate.

As he sat with reporters early this week, Thompson seemed comfortable with his new assignment. And it sounded like he's comfortable because he's prepared for it.  He's a very personable, articulate young man who said he's not trying to be like Atkins, a two-time All Pro. He wants to be  Thompson.

"I am what I am" he said.

Sounds like he might be more like Popeye.

He wasn't bothered by the challenge or the questions.  I asked him if he might be anxious or nervous when he starts Sunday against the Ravens.

"No, I think I'm just going to be ready" said Thompson as he looked me in the eye with confidence.

As they say in the NFL, Thompson is "the next man up.".  But in life, we know that he just "waited his turn." His turn has arrived.

Copyright 2013 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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