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Houshmandzadeh returns to Cincy, hopes for a happy reception

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- T.J. Houshmandzadeh doesn't know how he will feel when he takes the field in Cincinnati or how he will be received by Bengals' fans.

The only thing he's sure of is that it's going to be a blast seeing some of his friends from the old days when the team was known as "The Bungles."

Houshmandzadeh began his NFL career with the Bengals and played eight seasons in Cincinnati before signing as a free agent with Seattle last year. After he was cut by the Seahawks earlier this month, the wide receiver was scooped up by the Baltimore Ravens, who face the Bengals in an AFC North showdown Sunday.

It will be Houshmandzadeh's first game in Cincinnati since he left in a huff as a free agent following the 2008 season.

"I'm kind of eager to see how the (visiting) locker room looks, whether it's nice or different," Houshmandzadeh said Wednesday. "I don't know how I'm going to feel. Emotions kind of come to you however they may. You can't really control them. But it will be very different, to say the least."

The Bengals can't wait to see him -- as long as he stays out of the end zone.

"T.J. had a lot to do with the success of things here," coach Marvin Lewis said. "He's obviously well-loved here. He's a great young man. He's one of the guys who also helped my knucklehead receiver I got here to do better."

That "knucklehead receiver" would be Chad Ochocinco, who was known as Chad Johnson when he was Houshmandzadeh's teammate.

"It's been a long time since I've actually been able to see Housh in person," Ochocinco said. "I'm looking forward to catching up with him."

Houshmandzadeh was drafted by the Bengals in the seventh round of the 2001 draft. He battled injuries early in his career but remained in the mix at receiver because Lewis was convinced Houshmandzadeh could excel in the NFL.

Lewis was right, and Houshmandzadeh will forever be grateful for his coach's faith.

"Had I been on another team, I probably would have been released and be at home right now, doing Lord knows what," Houshmandzadeh said. "Marvin stuck by me when I was hurt."

Despite starting only six games in his first three NFL seasons, Houshmandzadeh scored 37 touchdowns and had two 1,000-yard receiving seasons with Cincinnati. For that reason, he hopes Bengals fans will treat him as an old friend.

"Expect the worst, hope for the best," he said. "Maybe they have a little more (empathy) toward me because I was a guy that started at the bottom."

When Houshmandzadeh's contract expired, he had every intention of coming back. But the Bengals were slow to begin serious negotiations, giving him the impression they weren't as interested in signing him as he was in returning.

"I wanted to stay, but I think the way they went about it initially put it in my mind I don't need to stay," Houshmandzadeh said. "It was like you want to do something, but you know it isn't the best thing for you. Kind of like you have a woman, and you really like her, but she really doesn't like you, and you don't know when to leave her alone."

Houshmandzadeh finally left for Seattle, where he endured one unfulfilling season. Now he's with the Ravens, who are intent upon unseating the Bengals as division champions.

In his Baltimore debut Monday night, Houshmandzadeh caught one pass for 27 yards against the New York Jets after scrambling to absorb a new playbook.

"Monday was fun. It was kind of whirlwind," he said. "When I was studying the playbook, I was like, 'There's no way I'm going to play.' Because it was like Spanish. The Rosetta Stone. As the week progressed, though, I kind of got a grasp of it."

He could receive more playing time this weekend, but there are no guarantees.

"I wouldn't say I expect more," he said. "I want more."

Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer expects that to happen sooner than later.

"They're going to end up using him a lot, and he'll be a tremendous player in that scheme because they know how good he is," Palmer said. "They've played against him so many times, and he's beat them so many times, that they know things he's good at already. They'll get him involved quick."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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