Wyche will always be haunted by the vision of Wilson before him that night, sweating, staring with unfocused eyes, apparently unable to answer any questions. Says Wyche, "Finally I said, 'Stanley, do you realize what you've done? That there will be no more football? That we'll help you find treatment, and a job if we can, but that everything you've built your life around is gone?' At first he gave no sign. Then he began to say, 'I'm sorry. I'm sorry,' as if some part of him knew.
"I told him I had to call his parents, that they shouldn't have to read about this in the papers. He asked me not to, maybe to give himself some time to pull himself together before he saw them. But I couldn't do that. I did call them. It was a terribly difficult call."
It is late. Moist night smells of honeysuckle and sawdust are infiltrating the porch screens. A cat named Rusty is shedding red hair all over Wyche's dark-green slacks and white sweater. "The clich�s about commitment and dedication seemed to fit the game better years ago," he says. "I'm not blaming modern players. They have people wanting a piece of them. It's a lot of money and a short window in which they can earn it. They think they can handle it. Zip off to New York for a TV commercial in mid-season. They're young. They can get away with it. That becomes the cultural setting. You can survive losing a night's sleep. But in that setting, what's to oppose the feeling that you can survive an encounter with drugs? The distasteful part of football is watching wonderful potential dissipate. We're talking about a minority of the players, I think. But that does worry me."
This and much else Wyche has pondered. "He carries no protective devices," says Walsh.
It was perhaps inevitable that Wyche would recognize that the matrix of connections in which he moved involved more than football. It is, simply, the web of life. Thus, driving in the chill dawn of game days through the Over-the-Rhine area not far from Spinney Field, Wyche began to see, as he lightly puts it, "people starting the day who hadn't had too good an evening. I was touched by the elderly, the young fending for themselves. I was drawn to them. It almost borders on being unfair. It's not their fault that they have to grow up with no books, no folks or being mentally handicapped."
After last season Wyche announced he would charge $5,000 a speaking engagement, all of which would go to help the homeless in Cincinnati. In the off-season he raised $80,000, and he played his and the Bengals' connections for all they were worth. "The players won $32,000 on Family Feud," he says. "We took some of that to Kroger and said we want real food—meat and vegetables—and we want you to stretch it out with your own gifts. By now it's tripled or more."
A friend of Wyche's, Bob Stix, is a senior vice-president of U.S. Shoe in Cincinnati. Wyche asked him what happened to the leftover food in his cafeteria. The company started shipping it to the homeless. "You don't find underwear in discarded clothes bins," says Wyche. "We got 2,000 dozen pair of socks at a super price. We're getting 200 dozen pair of underwear. If our government could only operate as efficiently."
Wyche spent so much time at these projects that defensive-line coach Chuck Studley, for one, was concerned. "I told him I don't remember Vince Lombardi or Don Shula getting so involved," he says. "They'd lend their names to causes, but not give all the time Sam does. I told him it's not helping us win games."
That said, Studley leans back and allows that he isn't surprised. "There's no ulterior motive with Sam," he says. "That's not true of most things in my business."
Wyche takes a visitor on a short drive past 12th Street, where CASH/CREDIT signs thicken. The open windows of the dirty brick buildings seem as black as caves. He points out Mary Magdalen House. "They have little rooms for people to shower and shave," says Wyche. "St. John [Social Service Center] there is for clothes."