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Wyche Is Champion of Homeless : Bengal Coach Helps Publicize Plight of Needy

Associated Press

Cincinnati Bengal Coach Sam Wyche says his involvement in helping homeless people is genuine, but his time grows limited as the football season approaches.

So, he hopes others will get involved with the homeless, while he prepares the Bengals for their encore to a Super Bowl football season.

It was that Super Bowl exposure and Wyche’s overnight popularity as a speaker that gave him the idea to publicize the needs of the homeless. He made 20 speeches during the off-season, and figures he helped generate perhaps $100,000 in corporate donations, or discounted supplies, to aid homeless people and shelters that serve them.

But Wyche, 44, an Atlanta native and former journeyman quarterback in the National Football League, doesn’t overestimate his contribution.

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“The real heroes are the people who work in the shelters,” he said. “I was just a newcomer, Johnny-come-lately. I don’t swing much weight. . . . But after the season we had, there was a microphone in front of my face and I wanted to do something with it.”

Wyche, father of two teen-agers, was stirred to action by thinking about the numbers of homeless people he would see on downtown Cincinnati streets early Sunday mornings as he drove to Riverfront Stadium to prepare for home games last season.

“The more I got involved and into it, I saw the need, and it’ll never go away,” Wyche told reporters at a Bengals’ preseason media lunch in mid-July. “Those people who don’t earn much money need a place to live. There’s a need for low-income housing. . . . There’s a nice marriage there for low-income housing and the growth of our city.”

Wyche’s office became a collection point for some private contributions, which he forwarded to shelters and organizations serving Cincinnati’s homeless people.

He also has helped gather and pass along discounted items contributed to shelters, such as fans and underwear. Wyche said his Riverfront Stadium office recently was a temporary collection place for 2,400 pairs of irregularly manufactured underwear, which were passed along to agencies for the needy.

“Right now, underwear is my life,” he quipped.

He said he was pleased by the number of people who became involved in campaigns to help the homeless. At Wyche’s urging, Cincinnati newspapers and broadcast stations engaged in a series of news reports highlighting the needs and problems of the homeless.

Some Bengals players, including quarterback Boomer Esiason, have contributed money as well, Wyche said.

“Everybody has their favorite charity. This is mine,” Wyche said.

Wyche said, however, that with the NFL season upon him, he will have to cut back his involvement with the homeless. He said that in one week of the off-season, he gave speeches in Naples, Fla., Cincinnati, Lexington, Ky., and Scottsdale, Ariz., to raise money for the homeless.

“I probably burned the candle a little too thin. I can’t get that run down. . . . The interest will be there. The time won’t.”

Still, Wyche said he learned a great deal in his talks and shared meals with homeless folks in shelters.

“It gives you some perspective, there’s no doubt about it,” he said.


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