From The Vault: Muhammad Ali visits Bengals' training camp in 2009

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Posted at 7:00 AM, Jul 28, 2016
and last updated 2020-01-13 16:16:52-05

CINCINNATI – It might not have been Muhammad Ali's visit at training camp that sparked the Bengals to the AFC North title in 2009.

But coach Marvin Lewis said he often used Ali's sayings and fight clips to inspire his players. Imagine what a surprise visit from The Greatest himself could do.

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At that time, Ali was 67 and in advanced stages of Parkinson's disease. He had been diagnosed back in the 1980s.  But it was his idea to see the Bengals on a visit to Georgetown (Ky.) College, where the team trained then.

</p><figcaption><p>Ali rides in a golf cart to the field.

Greg Roberts, president and CEO of the Ali Center, reached out to the Bengals and arranged the visit, according to Geoff Hobson's story on

"Muhammad is a big sports fan. Anybody close by, he wants to see," Roberts said. "He loves the Bengals. He loves Coach Lewis. He thinks a lot of Coach Lewis."

So near the end of practice, a few other training camp visitors were startled when a golf cart rode by with the boxing legend in the passenger seat and his wife Lonnie walking beside him The cart stopped at the edge of the field and for a few minutes Ali watched. As drills ended and the players and coaches gathered at midfield, Ali approached in the cart. Recognizing him, the Bengals chanted, "Ali, Ali" and "Champ, Champ."

</p><figcaption><p>Coach Marvin Lewis thanks Ali (seated) for visiting the team.

Players and coaches crowded around Ali and he posed for group photos – one after another.  

It was a short visit – maybe 15 minutes – but a memorable one.

"He sent the message to just keep working hard every day at practice," defensive tackle Domata Peko said.

"He still had that presence about him – you know, The Champ. It was really good to see him. It was awesome for us to be in his presence."


Ali died on June 3, 2016. He was 74.

SEE more video and stories about Tri-State history from our "From The Vault" series.