After the first days of grinding through training camp, Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard used his first off day Tuesday not to take a break, but to give one.
Bernard, along with his fiancée Chloe and her mother Anita, spent a few hours at Mercedes Benz of Fort Mitchell (Ky.), where they donated the Honda Odyssey minivan Bernard used to drive as a rookie – the one made famous on Hard Knocks – to injured United States Marine Veteran Corporal Dustin Hogg.
“It was amazing, just that entire experience,” Bernard said Wednesday morning before returning to practice. “And honestly, it wasn’t all me, it was Anita, my mother-in-law that really kind of put it forward. She’s the one that was donating the vehicle. To see it go to a family in need was an awesome experience.”
Anita recently purchases a new vehicle and told the dealership she would like to donate the Odyssey. A dealership employee had just heard about Hogg, a 33-year-old who did two tours in Iraq before suffering an injury during an ambush in Fallujah.
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Hogg, a married father of five, was looking for dependable transportation.
“I was approached by someone that his son played football with saying he was a veteran and he needed a car in Indiana,” Bernard said. “It just so happened it worked out well. Anita was looking to get rid of her old car, and it just worked out really nicely.”
Five years ago, the Odyssey worked out nicely for Bernard.
He met Chloe, a Cincinnati native, during his sophomore year at North Carolina. After the Bengals drafted him in the second round in 2013, Bernard needed a place to stay in Cincinnati so he moved into Anita’s basement.
And with his brother’s aging BMW Z3, the car Bernard drove around the UNC campus, unfit to make the drive to Cincinnati, the rookie also needed a car. Anita had two, so she loaned him the minivan.
The first day he drove it to Paul Brown Stadium, Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict posted of photo to Twitter of Bernard in the minivan.
“Every single guy on the team probably ended up putting it on social media at the time,” Bernard said. “I was just rollin’ around and obviously the guys gave me heck for it. I drove it for training camp as well and it was on Hard Knocks. The cameras were around all the time, so it was well documented.”
What he thought would be a nondescript ride turned out to be the exact opposite.
“People would see the van and they’d be like ‘That’s Gio!’” he said. “They just went nuts. I wanted to be under the radar, and this car is not helping whatsoever.”
Despite signing a four-year, $5.3 million rookie contract, Bernard continued to drive the minivan into his second season.
“It’s funny because when Ryan Hewitt was a rookie, that was the first car I gave him a ride in,” Bernard said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, get in man.’ He was like ‘Oooooo K.’ Ryan was like ‘You’re already in a van, bro?’ I was like, ‘Nah, it’s not like that. It’s just a loaner vehicle.’”
Bernard eventually bought a Mercedes – “Not as much storage room, but a little cooler,” he said – but he still called Anita to borrow the minivan from time to time when he needed something larger.
And Tuesday he figured one good favor deserves another.
While Bernard was in Fort Mitchell helping the Hogg family, his running back teammate Joe Mixon was spending his off day at Colerain High School speaking to the Cardinals football team.
Running backs coach Kyle Caskey said he encourages players to get involved in the community, but Bernard and Mixon are two who don’t need any prodding.
“Gio is mature beyond most NFL players, and Joe is starting to get where he understands there’s more to it than just playing football,” Caskey said. “Joe’s starting young, and he realizes he can affect a lot of lives. He’s got that energy to him.
“These guys do it on their own, which shows what kind of people they are,” Caskey added. “The people of this community are the ones who support us, so they should go back out and show support for them. When Gio does something like he did with the minivan, it really changes somebody’s life.”