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Well, what rule can the NFL dream up now to stop the Cincinnati Bengals? No hip-hopping fullbacks? No striped helmets? Will the league decide to ban coaches who have rescued their careers from the remainder table?
Face it, the Bengals are going to be a tough nut to crack. It looked like the NFL overseers had put the Tigers in the tank for good on Sunday right before the AFC Championship Game at Cincinnati's Riverfront Jungle. The Bengals had been permitted to play an entire season with a no-huddle, all-befuddle offense, and they naturally assumed that they could run it against the Buffalo Bills. Then, an hour and 50 minutes before kickoff, the rule makers yanked it out from under them like magicians performing a bad tablecloth trick. What else do you need to do?
When you're dealing with the Bengals, you need to do more. Like figure out a way to legislate against heart. Like come up with a rule against a defense that forgot how ordinary it was. Like slap the cuffs on a ponytailed rookie running back with Gregory Hines feet and Earl Campbell shoulders.
Ickey Woods and the Bengals earned a trip to Miami by beating the Bills 21-10, before 59,747 striped natives, setting up an eight-years-later Super Bowl sequel with the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners beat them 26-21 in 1982.
"I've got one of those tiny AFC championship rings, and nobody comes to golf tournaments to peek at those little things," said Bengal receiver Cris Collinsworth. "They want to see that big Super Bowl ring, and I want one."
Though only an appetizer, the conference title was plenty tasty for guys like Bengal coach Sam Wyche, who went from 4-11 in '87 to 14-4 this season; for owner Paul Brown, who kept his pink slips in his pocket; and for quarterback Boomer Esiason, the AFC's MVP, who was so unloved last year that Wyche never had the offense introduced at home games for fear of boos.
It had been a wild week in Cincinnati. Buffalo coach Marv Levy complained that the Bengals' fans use too many air horns, and that the Bengals' no-huddle offense was, at best, unsporting. Wyche, in turn, assailed Levy's threats to have his players fake injuries to stop the hurry-up attack. Next, Oldsmobile unveiled a TV commercial starring Woods, his mother and the two-step touchdown dance known as the Ickey Shuffle. Finally, Bengal running back Stanley Wilson was arrested for relieving himself in a saloon parking lot.
The Bengals dismissed the Wilson incident—"It was piddly," Wilson actually said—and there were more air horns than ever. Woods, who gained 102 yards on 29 carries, performed his end zone arabesque twice, with a new "woo-woo-woo" (as he calls it) addendum, in which the right index finger gyrates in a circle and the hips swivel to the above-mentioned vocal accompaniment.
As for the no-huddle controversy, Levy's argument was that the Bengals' hurry-up offense is a device to confuse the defense into being penalized for having too many players on the field. It "violates the spirit of the rules," said Levy. Would his team resort to trickery to counter it, as earlier Bengal opponents had done? "We're not going to fake injuries," Levy said coyly, "but somebody might get hurt."
Enter NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle and supervisor of officials Art McNally, who announced on Sunday morning that both teams had "agreed" to 1) not fake injuries and 2) not quick-snap to try to draw a yellow flag. How the officials were to ascertain 1) who was faking and 2) intent, was anybody's guess. Looks like they'll have to look at this up in the polygraph booth, Merlin.