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Domata Peko opens up on his emotional return to Cincinnati

Zac Stevens Avatar
December 3, 2018

Domata Peko couldn’t be happier to be a Denver Bronco.

But the truth is, less than two years ago, when he was a Bengal through-and-through, he never wanted to leave Cincinnati.

“I kind of felt like that I, I don’t know, like I left here too soon. I felt like I had more to give. I had more to give this city and to my old team,” the man with the biggest smile in the Broncos’ organization said in a moment of somber reflection on Sunday.

“But it’s just the way the game goes, and the way the business goes. No one’s ever going to be on one team for their whole career, unless you’re someone special. That hardly happens, because even Peyton Manning had to leave Indy. It felt really good to get the love from the fans. Being here for 11 seasons man, I was always raising up the fans, and getting them hyped, and getting them proud, and just to hear that they still love me here felt really good.”

As a fourth-round draft pick in 2006 out of Michigan State, Peko gave his heart to the Bengals organization and city of Cincinnati for eleven years. Although he never made a Pro Bowl, for many seasons, he played Robin to Geno Atkins’ Batman and helped Cincinnati establish one of the most feared defensive lines in the entire league.

After a down season in 2016, coupled with turning 33 years old, however, the Bengals elected to not re-sign the anchor of the defensive line and community.

“Spending my whole career there, I felt like, ‘Man, I still have some in the tank.’ It did hurt, them not signing me back,” the 325-pounder said with his heart aching. “The worst part about it was moving my family, my wife and my kids. Being there for so long, my kids all grew up there. Having to take them from school and relationships that we had to lose.”

Thanks to the Bengals’ decision to let him walk out the door, the Broncos quickly signed him to what would turn out to be a sweetheart deal for his new team.

A year and a half later, Peko, along with his smile, his flowing locks of love and his infectious positivity returned to the city and stadium he once adored and called home.

“Good, man. It felt really good to get back to Cincinnati,” Domata said after the Broncos 24-10 victory, as his larger than life smile quickly returned.

“It felt really good to come back to Paul Brown. I played almost 90 home games here I think. I’m real familiar with this area, and it felt really good to come out on top today. Big win.”

While some players will make a return to their former team seem just like another game, Peko didn’t even try going down that route.

“It was a mix of emotions, man. You’re happy to be back and see all your old teammates and coaches and all that, but then you’re kind of mad because you’re not back, you know what I mean? It was a mixture of emotions,” he said, showing the rollercoaster of emotions he was experiencing throughout the day. “But I feel like Cincinnati fans showed me a lot of love out there.”

Fittingly, the man that spreads love and positivity on a second-to-second basis — whether it be with teammates, media or fans — was showered in love during his one-day business trip to The Queen City.

“All I kept hearing was ‘We miss you, man. We miss you, we miss you,’” he said, as emotion swept over him. “It was good to hear that.

It wasn’t only the fans in the stands showering Peko with heavy doses of his own medicine, either.

“Right when I got off the bus man, the security was showing love — everyone, man. They remember your boy out here,” Peko said, sending smiles to everyone in the room. “So it just felt really good.”

On the field, the Bengals certainly have missed him, too. Since they let Peko leave, they’ve been unable to stop the run — ranking as the third-worst team in 2017 and the second-worst team in 2018, including giving up 218 yards to the Broncos on Sunday.

Needless to say, the Broncos have been better in that department in both years.

“I’m super excited to get the W,” Peko said, shifting his sights to the future with his current team he’s come to embrace. “Now I’m here, I thank God that I’m here and my teammates embrace me. They welcomed me with open arms here, and the organization has loved me, especially Broncos country, they’ve really got my back.”

Riding a three-game win streak, and back to .500, the Broncos have completely flipped the script on their season, while almost entirely ending the 5-7 Bengals hopes of a post-season run.

“I just thank God for my players, my teammates. They all came out today and got the job done,” Peko said on the dominant win.

“We have a bigger thing on our mind. Our eyes are on the prize. We started off pretty weak this year — pretty slow I’d say — but now we’re rolling. We’ve got three in a row — we’ve created a little win streak here. We’ve just got to keep it moving.”


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