The Cincinnati Bengals follow a head coach who went chasing his strong safety Sunday afternoon with a Gatorade bucket. Sam Wyche also ordered his most relevant play Sunday with the sleight of his hand and a kick of the turf. Upon seeing this signal, backup quarterback Turk Schonert mosied onto the field, snuck up behind center on what was supposed to be a punt and handed off for a first down.
When rookie fullback Ickey Woods subsequently plowed for the one-yard score that clinched a 21-10 victory over the Buffalo Bills, it meant Cincinnati will be returning to its second Super Bowl this decade, a rematch of 1982 with the San Francisco 49ers in Miami's Joe Robbie Stadium, Jan. 22.Hurry as they might on offense, the Bengals accomplished the victory with a slow-you-down defense that intercepted Bills quarterback Jim Kelly three times and ravaged what there was of any lingering Buffalo running attack (45 rushing yards in all). On third down conversions, the Bills were zero for 10. "The Houston Oilers thought we were a finesse team," said quarterback Boomer Esiason afterward, "but we're finessing all the way to the Super Bowl."
The Bengals were more than a bit perturbed when, less than two hours before the game, NFL officials informed them that their quick-snap offense would be scrutinized for unsportsmanlike principles. Over the last three years, the Bengals have been using a no-huddle, quick-snap attack that often trapped defenses into penalties. "Then," Wyche said, "1 hour, 50 minutes before the championship game, they told us we couldn't use it."
But the Bengals adjusted, and later prospered from a referee's pivotal decision. The play was orchestrated neither by Esiason nor by Woods, who did bump his way for 102 yards on 29 carries. Instead, it was wide receiver Tim McGee's cut blocks of cornerback Derrick Burroughs that led to the put-away touchdown.
Just after the fake punt gained a first down at the Bills' 27, the Bengals bowled down to the 5 with a bevy of runs and passes. On second-and-goal from the 5, however, linebacker Shane Conlan burrowed through a block and tossed Woods for a four-yard loss. But downfield in the end zone McGee was blocking Burroughs face-to-face.
All day long, McGee had blocked Burroughs at the knees and at the ankles. He felt he was too small to block him high, but Burroughs took exception to the chop blocks because he'd had previous ankle troubles. And on the play previous to Conlan's big hit, a McGee chop block had missed, and Burroughs stepped on the wide receiver's chest to say, "I should step on your face." Referees warned Burroughs right then to cut it out.
While Conlan was celebrating his tackle that would have set up a third and nine, Burroughs threw an accurate forearm to McGee's face. Not only did this land the Bengals a first and goal and the subsequent touchdown to make it 21-10 with 14:56 to play, it landed McGee an extra $10 and Burroughs on the bench; he was ejected by the referee.
Burroughs declined comment afterward, though teammate Leonard Smith said he never heard any warning from the referees and added, "I think it's kind of harsh to eject a guy at a critical point in the game. But that was the turning point. We had stopped them, and they got another crack at it."
As for McGee, he said there's a team-wide rule that any time a wide receiver flattens a defensive back, he gets $10 from the team piggy bank.
Meantime, Buffalo Coach Marv Levy's season-long motto had been, "Don't be dumb, don't be dirty," and Burroughs seemingly forgot. "I'm not going to point any fingers, but no doubt today we were dumb and we were dirty," quarterback Kelly said.
Near mutiny came next for the Bills, who had a lively postgame shouting match in their locker room. NBC-TV evacuated. Reportedly, Levy had asked his players to come forward for a wrap-up speech, though not everyone came, including punt returner Erroll Tucker, a former Ute star. Tackle Joe Devlin, who prides himself on being a team figurehead, said, "Everybody up," and when Tucker balked, Devlin said, "When I talk, you listen."
Tucker's reported response was, "I don't need this," and he was presumably referring to Levy's chat. The coach apparently had upset players with his conservatism and nagging, and Devlin and Tucker ended up shoving each other, though no blows reportedly landed.
In the other locker room, the man his players are now calling Miami Wyche was winking at his quarterback, Esiason, and saying, "Isn't this the greatest?" Esiason said, "No, I've had better feelings," and then they laughed.
Esiason, who wore his University of Maryland sweatshirt under his uniform Sunday, was not stellar out there. He was 11 of 20 for 94 yards and two interceptions, and his one touchdown pass, of 15 yards to running back James Brooks that made it 14-7 near halftime, was a Billy Kilmer quail that Brooks hoped would reach him this decade.
Speculation also is continuing that Esiason is not particularly healthy, and he admitted a swollen ankle has limited his mobility.