I am not a big sports memorabilia collector, but last month at the annual Marvin Lewis Community Fund Golf Classic, there was an auction item that I was thrilled to purchase.
Former Bengals coach Sam Wyche has created 150 unique works of art – at least for avid football fans. They are diagrams of plays meticulously drawn with a white marker on a black canvas. Each drawing is approximately 16 by 20 inches. Another one will be up for auction at the Marvin Lewis Football 101 event on Wednesday, October 21st.
“They are plays that were used in Super Bowls that I was a part of,” said Wyche. “Super Bowl VII when I was a player with the Washington Redskins – that was the year that Miami had the perfect record so that tells you how we did in that game. Super Bowl XVI when I was the director of the passing game under Bill Walsh with the San Francisco 49ers. We won that game with Joe Montana against the Bengals. And of course, Super Bowl XXIII when I was the head coach of the Bengals.”
I was able to purchase #90 in the series. It’s labeled the “best basic run in 1988.”
“That play helped take us to Super Bowl XXIII down in Miami,” Wyche told me. “We had a zone-blocking running game under Jim McNally – probably the best offensive line coach of his day and maybe ever. He was certainly as good as any of them. We probably had the best offensive line in football that year if you think about it. Anthony Munoz, Bruce Kozerski at center, Max Montoya and Bruce Reimers at guard, Joe Walter at tackle, and some guys that would come in that were just as good. So we would take good splits, take a little drop step, and then we would – as Jim McNally used to say – cover up the guy in front of you. If he wants to go to his left, take him farther to his left than he wants to go. If he wants to go the other way, take him farther that way. But cover him up and let James Brooks go downhill. He would line-up deep in the backfield in an offset ‘I’ and come downhill. He could hit the hole off tackle, off guard, cut back over the other guard, or cut back all the way over the other tackle. After James got tired we gave it to Ickey, and if he got tired we gave it to Stanley Wilson or Stanford Jennings. We had fresh guys that could run that, and all they did was run downhill and look for the crack in the offense. We didn’t try to push them back; we tried to push them where they wanted to go which created seams. Then we let the running back pick the seam. We were the number one offensive in the National Football League several times during the eight years that I was there and it was mainly because we had a great offensive line, terrific running backs, and deep threats running down the field.”
In the 20-16 loss to the 49ers, the Bengals were held to 106 rushing yards after averaging 155 per game during the regular season. Wyche thinks they would have fared better if Wilson had not succumbed to a cocaine relapse the night before the game.
“I think Stanley Wilson would have been a difference maker because the field had not been watered properly and it was coming up in 18-inch chunks because they re-sodded the whole field,” said Wyche. “For our big backs that took away their quickness, their speed, and their decision making somewhat. Stanley was more of a Barry Sanders-type runner – feet real close to the ground, wide stance, dance on a dime. He could have made them miss that day I think.”
Kicker Jim Breech didn’t miss that day, as he drilled three field goals including a 40-yarder that gave Cincinnati a 16-13 lead with 3:20 remaining.
“I still remember Cris Collinsworth coming over and poking me with that bony old elbow that he got at the University of Florida and saying, ‘Sam, I think we left too much time for number 16.’ That was the way he worded it. Number 16, of course, was Joe Montana.”
Montana led San Francisco on an 11-play, 92-yard drive that ended with a game-winning touchdown pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds left.
Wyche says he regrets that he was not able to hand the Vince Lombardi Trophy to the man that signed him as a player and hired him as a head coach.
“Paul Brown had been – by poll – a national champion high school coach, won a national championship at Ohio State, and his Cleveland Browns teams were World Champions back in those days when they didn’t have a Super Bowl,” said Wyche. “The only trophy he didn’t have was the Super Bowl trophy. That meant something to the players. Obviously they wanted to win it for themselves too, but it meant something to them to try to get that trophy for Paul Brown. It certainly meant something to me having played for him. I was a free agent when he, Mike, and Pete Brown gave me the opportunity to come to camp in 1968. I really wanted that trophy to be one repayment for a favor that led to a career for me. We fell 34 seconds short.”
Cincinnati returned to the playoffs two years later under Wyche and beat Houston in the Wild Card round 41-14. The Bengals have not won a playoff game since.
Much of the criticism for their last four playoff losses has been heaped on Andy Dalton, but Wyche remains supportive of the Bengals quarterback.
“It’s an 11-man operation every time the ball is snapped,” said Wyche. “The guy that gets most of the credit or blame is the quarterback because he’s got the ball in his hands on virtually every snap. He’s got the close-up shots on him, but viewers don’t see the routes that are run, the coverages that are good, the pressure from the defensive line – a lot of things happen to the quarterback. After watching Andy Dalton, I see a good quarterback.
“Quarterbacks have to be two things – they have to be accurate and they have to be smart. When I say smart – they have to be poised, they have to be able to get you out of trouble with an audible, and they’ve got to be able to go the right receiver at the right time. A lot of that last point – going to the right receiver at the right time – is experience. Andy is now an experienced guy. I think he’s definitely accurate and I think he’s definitely a smart guy. From the little bit that I’ve talked to him, I have no doubt that he can handle the pressure. The comments always circle around the quarterback – that’s just the way it is – but I think he’s good enough not only to take them to a playoff win but well into the playoffs. Then, of course, it’s a single elimination tournament and you’re playing the best teams that year so you may or may not win.”
Cincinnati did not quite win Super Bowl XXIII, but under their innovative head coach, the Bengals pioneered the use of the no-huddle offense, led the league in scoring, and even introduced the “Ickey Shuffle.”
For Bengals fans, it was a work of art.
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