The team finished 4-11, and Mike Dodd of
The Cincinnati Enquirer
, among others, abandoned hope. " Wyche's chameleon nature is partially responsible [for the poor play]," he wrote. Dodd also thought the offense was too complex. "Do the benefits of the no-huddle offense outweigh the busted assignments it causes? You can give a football player too much to think about."
Nonetheless, Wyche was retained for the fifth year of his five-year contract. "The Brown family did it," he says. "They knew why games were won and lost, and the losses weren't the coaches' fault."
Paul Brown professes to have been worried only about Wyche's health. "Sam was so eager to do right," he says, "that he was knocking himself out. So he came back in 1988 under the proviso that he get his rest."
Wyche also shifted some roommates around in training camp so they would get to know one another better. "When it's fourth-and-one and I know what's in your life," he says, "your family, your injury, your neighborhood, and I see the look in your eyes, there will be a degree of loyalty there."
"Even now he couldn't get those guys to charge a machine gun," says Wood. "But he freed them to play good football."
Cincinnati started fast in 1988. The defense, formerly the team's weakness, now had anchors in nose-tackle Tim Krumrie and strong safety David Fulcher. "And the no-huddle offense was paying dividends," says Wyche, "and making a lot of people mad."
By skipping the huddle and calling plays at the line, the Bengals not only broke the rhythm of opponents' work and rest—"They were sucking canal water," says guard Max Montoya—but also kept defenses from shuttling in defensive backs and linebackers as the situation demanded. Occasionally, when teams hurriedly tried to substitute, the snap caught them with 13 or 14 men on the field. "It picks up the pace and it drives people crazy," says Esiason. "That's what I live for."
Wyche didn't invent the no-huddle offense, but he had faith in it. "I'm a believer in the coaching tree," he says. "It's important to know where ideas started."
Indeed, this is how the football web reaches through time. "People had used the no-huddle some for years, in the two-minute drill," Wyche says. "Once Hank Stram and I were talking and he said, I wonder why teams don't just go ahead and do it?' That kicked me in."
Wyche's is a mind that walks on soft pads, downwind, plotting ambush. "You can't go into every game saying, 'We'll just damn well outplay you,' " he says. "You're looking for the two-percent edge, the surprise of a safety blitz, the surprise of having fourth-and-12 on your own 25 and going for it. These things are sound. They work." They are also sniffed at in league meetings as "popcorn football" by those whom they have burned.