Look around Paycor Stadium — or any area sports bar — on Sunday, and you’ll see thousands of Cincinnati Bengals jerseys. But they are hardly uniform. Choices range from old-school heroes to current stars to unproven rookies and everything in between.
But when it comes to hats, there is an overwhelming favorite. And at the center of the movement is the center of the Bengals offense.
Ted Karras Chosen as Bengals Walter Payton Nominee
Ted Karras’ Cincy Hat initiative, launched in November 2022, has seen sales top $800,000, with all of the proceeds — totaling more than $325,000 — going to the Village of Merici, a non-profit living community and service provider for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Karras’ hometown of Indianapolis.
Karras has worked closely with the Village of Merici as a donor, fundraiser, and even host. But the Cincy Hat project has resulted in an explosion of revenue and publicity for the Village of Merici during the last 13 months, and on Monday night, the Bengals announced Karras is their 2023 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee.
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) December 5, 2023
“We’ve been able to essentially double the amount of housing we’ve been able to provide just from this project, so it’s a big deal,” Karras said.
Karras personally matched the first $100,000 in sales, and in just 13 months more than 22,000 hats have been sold at TheCincyHat.com, which includes new products such as t-shirts, visors, and onesies.
On the Tuesday after Thanksgiving — Giving Tuesday — Karras matched another $120,000 in donations and sales, making him an ideal choice to be the team’s Walter Payton Award nominee.
“It’s a humungous honor,” Karras said. “It’s a combination of on-field performance, which is the bulk of our job, mixed with obviously off-the-field impact. And to be in a position that I’m in, I’ll never take that for granted. And to be able to execute a project that so many people have bought in is so special. I’m also a huge fan of Walter Payton — Sweetness.”
Karras was born in Chicago and grew up cheering for the Bears, the team his grandfather played for. In eighth grade, he moved to Indianapolis when his father became the head coach at Walsh University. That was the year Chicago played Indianapolis in the Super Bowl, and he said he wore his Brian Urlacher jersey to school despite being surrounded by Colts fans.
In a way, that scene will repeat itself on Sunday when the Bengals play host to the Colts, enabling a lot of Karras’ family, friends, and devoted fans from the Village of Merici to make the short, 100-minute drive to the game.
“I’ve got a huge Indy contingent coming to the game, but they’re wearing black and orange,” he said.
Karras will also have the support of teammates, who often wear Cincy Hats around the facility and when going on camera for media interviews. And Sunday, right guard Alex Cappa will join Karras in honoring the Cincy Hat and Village of Merici as part of the league’s My Cleats My Cause initiative.
Ted Karras shows off “My Cleats, My Cause” cleats for both he and Alex Capps. The black ones are @CincyHat Nikes and Cappa pays tribute to @VillageofMerici Great stuff as always from Bengals WPMOY nominee. Shoutout to @smoovecreations from Teddy K. pic.twitter.com/dOiqMuAn9H
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) December 7, 2023
Karras said there are plans in the works to expand the fundraising for the Village of Merici, but the focus remains on the Cincy Hat, a project that has, at times, left the team’s most loquacious, media-friendly player at a loss for words.
“I’m so grateful to everyone who’s supported this project,” Karras said. “It really wasn’t anything that I expected or ever kind of sought out to do. It’ll be one of the coolest things we ever get to do is to make an impact like this.
“But the main sentiment I want to express is gratitude towards the Cincinnati community because this is a nomination for everyone. And the outpouring of generosity that Cincy he has shown me and the Village or Merici and our sister city in Indianapolis, has made me speechless at times.”
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