Even at 0-3, Bengals' Wyche keeps perspective about game

FOOTBALL PHILOSOPHER

September 19, 1991|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Correspondent

HERNDON, Va. -- Sam Wyche was telling the story yesterday about the time his daughter, Kerry, was heckled by a fan four years ago during the Cincinnati Bengals' 4-11 season.

"My then 14-year-old blonde-haired daughter, a cute little girl, was sitting in the stands listening to the fans curse me out," the Bengals coach said. "She finally turned to someone sitting behind her and said, 'Be quiet. Quit yelling at the coach. He's doing the best he can.'

"They said, 'What are you, his daughter or something?' She turned around and said, 'Yes, he is my father.' And this person stood up and screamed, 'Well, that makes you a slut and a whore, wouldn't it?' "

Wyche used the story to illustrate how fans can get out of hand.

"This game is not worth that to me. It's not worth that to my family," he said.

A year later, the team was 6-0 on the way to the Super Bowl when he came out of the locker room after a game.

"This same guy, a big fat guy, who was easily recognized by my daughter, was standing with a pennant saying: 'Boy, you're a great coach. Sign my pennant.' I signed it and got into the car and I thought my daughter was going to have a fit, screaming and hollering: 'I can't believe you signed it, Dad. That's the guy who called me a slut and a whore.' I hit the brakes and went back as fast as I could, but he was gone. This game can never be that important to put a little girl through that."

Wyche has been having philosophical discussions about the game since he said, "Winning isn't everything," after his team slid to 0-3 Sunday with a 14-13 loss to the Cleveland Browns.

He has been lampooned for that comment, but he said yesterday, "My quotes have been manipulated and taken out of context."

So he tried to explain it again.

"Winning can't be everything. The effort to win is," he said.

Wyche acknowledged that his comments aren't well received in some quarters. After all, Vince Lombardi is supposed to have said, "Winning is the only thing."

Wyche said he was told by one writer, "You're scaring a few people because you're telling it like maybe it ought to be told, and you're worrying the establishment."

Wyche said, "I think probably this would be a worry for the establishment that makes their living off keeping the game bigger than life."

The NFL has turned pro football into a billion-dollar business by making it bigger than life.

Wyche suggests that golf and tennis present a better alternative.

He said that one hears compliments after a golf or tennis match instead of "What went wrong? Why did you lose?"

He said, "I think that's why golf and tennis has that classy aura about it -- because the players and fans recognize everyone's effort."

Wyche also virtually paraphrased the Grantland Rice line that it's "not that you won or lost, but how you played the game."

"I don't care if it's the NFL or the local junior high school, the important thing is not whether you win or lose, because you're not going to win every game," Wyche said. "The important thing is that you made the effort to win."

Wyche admitted he feels "awful" when he loses, but said: "I think a lot of the fans and a lot of the writers want to see you figuratively die in front of their eyes. They want to see the blood oozing in order to get their full satisfaction. We've lost our senses here. We've lost our perspective of what this game is all about."

"I agree with a lot of things he said," coach Joe Gibbs of the Washington Redskins said, as he prepared to meet Wyche's 0-3 Bengals on Sunday at Riverfront Stadium.

But Gibbs then launched into a discussion of how "it's going to make it tough for us" because there's so much pressure on the Bengals in the wake of their start.

This isn't the first time Wyche has gone against the grain. Last year, he started a crusade to keep female sportswriters out of the locker room and was fined almost $30,000 for barring a woman in violation of league rules.

If nothing else, Wyche's philosophical discussions have deflected talk about why the team is 0-3.

Wyche said he wasn't making excuses, but he said injuries have been a major problem. Ickey Woods is on the injured reserve list, and the offensive line has been riddled with injuries. The Bengals suffered another one yesterday when running back James Brooks was lost for Sunday's game with an ankle injury in practice.

Even though winning may not be everything, Wyche said he knows that coaches who don't win become former coaches.

"If you're not secure in your ability, I guess maybe you crawl back into your hole and you don't speak your mind. I'm not frankly worried about being unemployed. I'll be doing something. I'll get a job. It may be in or out of coaching. It may be in or out of business. It may be in or out of the media," he said.

Meanwhile, Wyche does a lot of work with the homeless and finds solace among them.

He said he drove to a homeless area Monday night and talked with them for a while.

"I needed it to see some friendly faces, people who say, 'You're a good coach,' " Wyche said.

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