AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: BENGALS 21, BILLS 10 : Bengals, 49ers Bolt Into Super Bowl : Cincinnati and Woods Strut by Bills, 21-10, for AFC Crown
After a weekend of threats, counter-threats, conciliation and mediation, the American Football Conference managed to squeeze in its championship, but when they finally kicked it off, it ran right to form:
Buffalo shuffled off.
Been nice knowing you, oh defensive stalwarts.
The Bengals trampled the Bills under cleated feet again, tearing off another 175 yards on the ground. Ickey Woods had 102 of them and scored twice, which meant he could do an encore of the Ickey Shuffle, with his brand-new “Woo Woo” move, and the Bengals won, 21-10, which means they’ll play the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.
The last time these teams met, the Bengals ran for 232 yards, so you could say the Bills improved, but not enough.
The Bengals had the ball for 39:29 to the Bills’ 20:31. Last time it was 41:29 to 18:31, which highlights a problem in beating the Bengals-- they don’t let you have the football a whole lot.
So were these young Bengals overwhelmed?
“This was like fighting Mike Tyson--with us as Mike Tyson,” said their talkative quarterback, Boomer Esiason.
“This guy he knocked out--Mitch Green? Green kept saying, ‘I’m going to beat him, I’m going to beat him, I’m great, this is my time.’ Then they met again on the street and Tyson decked him with two shots.
“In this time period, this guy is never going to beat Mike Tyson. And this year, from preseason to now, the Buffalo Bills weren’t going to beat us. We just kept saying to ourselves, ‘We’re Mike Tyson in our stadium.’ If it was Rich Stadium, it might be a different story, I don’t know. But they weren’t going to beat us here. No one was gonna beat us here.”
And that was how the Bengals took the field Sunday, knowing they were the hosts with the most.
Of course, they’d suffered a little setback, when National Football League Commissioner Pete Rozelle made an 11th-hour decision to bar the quick-snap part of their no-huddle offense.
A week ago, Seattle’s Chuck Knox had his players fake injuries against the Bengals to get substitutes in, and late last week, Bill Coach Marv Levy started to sound as if he might do the same thing.
So the league stepped in and announced a bizarre “agreement” between the combatants:
“1) Neither team will feign injuries . . .
“2) . . . An offensive play that occurs before the 2-minute period of each half will be nullified and replayed if it is deemed by the game officials that the offense gained an unreasonable and unfair advantage by a quick snap of the ball.”
In other words, Sam Wyche, who invented the full-time, no-huddle offense--"I think it’s innovative,” he said, modestly--took it right in his pride of authorship.
Did he take it lying down?
“We had an upsetting time,” Wyche said. “We found out 1:50 before kickoff that we were not going to be allowed to play the style . . . that got us into this championship game.”
(His voice rising, indignantly) “ Prior to the AFC Championship game ?
“If they’re going to announce that, do it Monday, before the Bengals practice it all week. It would have been the same as if they went to Buffalo and said, ‘You can’t give the ball to Robb Riddick down there by the goal line.’ ”
Had Wyche argued with the league officials?
“Seems to me, my voice did peak there at one point, yeah,” he said, smiling.
In fact, the story of the league’s decision broke late Saturday night and was bannered across the top of the front page of the Cincinnati Enquirer Sunday morning. At 9 a.m. Sunday, Wyche met with Esiason, gave him the bad news--and told him not to worry about it.
What did the Bengals have to worry about, losing a trick play?
Does Mike Tyson worry that his left jab isn’t working?
“I think we might have done them a favor,” said Levy later. “This way they just played good football, without all that jazzed-up stuff.”
So they finally played.
In the beginning, the Bengals ran . . . and the Bills stuffed them.
The teams traded early touchdown drives, with Bill quarterback Jim Kelly starting both. From his own 9-yard line, he threw his second interception of the still-young game to Bengal cornerback Eric Thomas. The Bengals put together a 19-yard drive, with Ickey shuffling the last yard for a 7-0 lead.
All you need to know about Kelly is that he may not be red-hot right now, but he’s still tough. He immediately drove his own team 56 yards for a tying touchdown, getting all the yardage with 4 completions, including a 9-yard touchdown pass play to Andre Reed.
And then the Bengals’ rushing attack cut loose.
Woods’ first nine runs went for 3, 1, 0, 6, -1, -2, 4, 1 and 0 yards.
Then, on a mid-second-quarter drive, on second and 10 at the Cincinnati 26, he busted loose for 12 yards off right guard.
After that, it was see you later, huddle, no huddle, Sam Wyche or no Sam Wyche.
“The Bills were coming up to the line of scrimmage a little more,” Esiason said. “And we started throwing a little more. And that loosened that deal up a little bit.
“When Ickey got away on a couple of his jaunts, about 10 or 12 yards, I knew: Here we go again. Run it right, run it left.
“Why do we run so well? Probably because we have 300-pound linemen and 240-pound backs that run like a 4.5 (40-yard dash). We’ve got a little scatback who runs about a 4.4. We’ve got a tight end who can block and we’ve got receivers that, when they go deep, they’ve got to keep safeties back off the line of scrimmage.
“In the beginning of the year, everybody knew we had a good running game and we had to deal with eight men around the line of scrimmage. Then we started throwing the ball.
“Now, all of a sudden, we’ve got to deal with six guys on the line of scrimmage and five guys in the secondary--so now we’re running the ball.
“I mean, I’ve never seen holes like this. I mean, these are 5-yard holes. In all the years I’ve played football, I’ve never seen holes in the opposing defenses like I’ve seen the last 5-6 weeks. I mean, it’s incredible.”
And he isn’t exaggerating that much, either.
The Bengals marched 74 yards in 11 plays--8 runs--and went ahead, 14-7, after Esiason’s 10-yard scoring pass play to scatback James Brooks.
The Bills cut it to 14-10 at the half on Scott Norwood’s 39-yard field goal.
Was this game going to turn around? Not on your inevitability.
The Bengals bottled the Bills up for the entire third period, in which 29 of the 33 plays were run in Buffalo territory.
And Wyche even got one of his innovations in.
It was a fake punt, on fourth and 4 at the Bills 33, with backup quarterback Turk Schonert sneaking behind center to take the snap and handing off to Stanley Wilson, who ripped up the middle for 6 yards and a first down.
Wyche said he checked the play out in advance with the officials, to make sure that that confounded Levy didn’t complain about it, too.
“It’s part of what’s called strategy ,” said Wyche, with withering sarcasm.
“Some coaches ought to figure that one out themselves.”
Seven plays later, Woods dove over from the 1, making it 21-10 and the shuffling was on in earnest.
Woods explained later that the new part, where he and several teammates wag their fingers and shimmy, is called the “Woo Woo.”
He said he started doing it on a dance floor recently, and teammate Eric Thomas started doing it.
“I started the Woo Woo and then Eric started with the Woo Woo,” Woods said. “And then we invited some of the other guys to do the Woo Woo.”
Ickey! Woo Woo! America is about to get such an earful, it will wish it had never raised a curious eyebrow.
Do you know what time it is boys, girls and Bengals?
It’s Super Bowl time!