Posted: Thursday November 18, 2010 1:44PM ; Updated: Thursday November 18, 2010 1:49PM
Don Banks
Don Banks>INSIDE THE NFL

Running up the score (cont.)

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The Bengals did not let up during a 61-7 win over the rival Oilers in 1989.
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Though both men have since grown friendly and put aside any animosity, with Wyche saying he once even wrote a letter to Bills owner Ralph Wilson recommending Glanville for the Buffalo head coaching job, their emotions were running high in 1989 and probably led to the Bengals keeping their foot on the gas in that memorable 54-point win.

After that game, Wyche was quoted saying: "I don't like phonies, and I don't think Jerry is a very genuine guy. The cheap shots they tried after our quarterback was down, their big mouths. When your football team is so talented and yet so undisciplined, you got to be ready to get kicked and the score run up on you. And that's exactly what happened today.''

Twenty-one years later, Wyche remembers the game as "a day where nothing went right for Houston, and nothing went wrong for us.'' He does allow that some comments Glanville made about the Bengals being close to "quitting'' in a game between the teams the year before had some carry-over effect to the 61-7 rout.

"That was kind of our rally cry that day, that nobody quits in this ballgame, no matter what. If we're beating them bad, or they're beating us bad, nobody quits. We're not letting up. But before every ballgame, go ask an offensive coordinator or a head coach how many points do you want to score today? They'll always say 'I want to score as many as possible.' Why should that answer change during the game?

"In that Houston game, I remember we ran a few conventional running plays in the third quarter, and we got booed like crazy by our home fans because they wanted to see our no-huddle offense, which was our regular offense in those days. But with that game against Houston and Jerry Glanville, they couldn't stop us. I don't know what else we could do. We didn't play our starters except one series in the third quarter.''

Most head coaches, Wyche said, aren't looking for sympathy from the other team in a blowout situation. They're looking for some sort of fight and competitiveness from their own team. In other words, if you don't want to get embarrassed, don't let them embarrass you. Wyche remembers seeking out Cowboys head coach Tom Landry on their team bus after his Bengals beat Dallas 50-24 in Cincinnati in 1985, and Landry said the lopsided score was his fault for not having his team better prepared.

"Sometimes the other team is just playing good, and you're playing badly,'' Wyche said. "I don't think anyone ever goes into a game thinking you can blow anyone out anymore in the NFL. But the few times it happens, it can be as much about your team not being ready to play.''

***

In the past four NFL weeks, we've seen some pretty big point totals put up and the specter of the running-up-the-score scenario raised. The Raiders beat the Broncos 59-14 in Week 7; the Eagles thrashed the Redskins 59-28 on Monday night; and Haley had his issues with the Broncos' 49-29 win on Sunday. In a Packers' 45-7 rout of Dallas in Week 9, all the blame landed on the Cowboys, who seemingly quit in head coach Wade Phillips' final game on the job.

Maybe it's not a case of anyone consciously running up the score, as much as it is an indictment on the quality of NFL defenses these days, the club front-office executive told me. It's a valid point.

"What's happening is at least partly about how bad the defenses have gotten in the league,'' the club executive said. "Monday night was another example. The Redskins had a pretty good defense last year, and the Eagles scored 59 on them. And look at what the Patriots did to the Steelers defense on Sunday. Pittsburgh has one of the best defenses in the league. It's very hard right now for defenses to stay on the field for long with some of these top, high-flying offenses.

"But that's what the league wanted. They really got what they wanted with all the rule changes that have helped the offense. If you think about it, we've become the live version of the Madden NFL [video] game. Haven't we?''

Dilfer makes the case that the raging popularity of the NFL, with every game accessible to any fan, and the media's saturation-level coverage of the league, has something to do with how a coach might react to decisive loss like the one Haley's team endured in Denver. A blowout doesn't just go into the record books and get quickly forgotten about anymore. It reverberates around the media echo chamber, for days on end.

"There's a much greater level of sensitivity leaguewide to [running up the score], because more people are watching and more people are talking about the games,'' said Dilfer, who now gets paid to watch and talk about the games on TV. "And more people are covering the game. In 1991, if you got your brains beat in, the only people who saw it was on the local feed in your market. Unless it was a national game. But these days, if it happens, it's everywhere. And there are so many more shows on, and so many more people commenting on it.

"Coaches are way more aware now of the perception of their team, and realize those perceptions will be shaped by each and every result. They care what people think and they care how they look in the media. If you're getting your brains beat in, all of a sudden you're going from looking like a genius one week to an idiot the next. And that's not a lot of fun. At the root of it, there's much more sensitivity to the perceptions that get formed.''

Big-boy league or not, between sensitive head coaches, porous defenses and alarming point totals on the scoreboard, sometimes a simple postgame handshake becomes one of the NFL's tougher moves to execute.

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