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Off-Field Dissension Runs Equal to Bengals' On-Field Confusion

October 03, 1987|TOM FRIEND | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Here's Boomer sitting in the middle of the street.

Here comes the Cincinnati Bengal team bus, but Boomer won't get out of the way.

Here comes the police, but Boomer stays put.

"Who's the leader here?" says a policeman.

"Sam Wyche is our coach, but he's not here," says a picketing Bengal player. "By the way, Mr. Policeman, what would you have done with six seconds left?"

Solidarity might be alive and well in Cincinnati, but the head coach, Sam Wyche, is losing popularity. He and Boomer Esiason, his quarterback, haven't seen eye to eye for a couple of weeks now.

Two weeks ago, the Bengals led the San Francisco 49ers by six points with six seconds left. It was fourth and 25 at the Bengal 30-yard line, and there was a timeout. According to ear-witnesses, Wyche and Esiason held the following conversation:

Wyche: "Let's punt."

Esiason: "Let's not. What if they block it?"

Turk Schonert, a reserve quarterback, then put in his two cents' worth.

"Why don't we take a safety?" he said.

Wyche ignored him.

So Esiason trotted onto the field and handed off, and the 49ers took over with one second left. Joe Montana threw a "Hail Mary" pass that Jerry Rice hauled in. The Bengals lost, and then--to make matters worse--went on strike.

At first, none of the Bengal players blamed Wyche for the loss, but, a few days into the strike, Wyche called Esiason "immature" for sitting in front of the bus.

That changed things.

Wyche and Esiason had a chat on the picket line a few days later, and ear-witnesses say it went like this:

Wyche: "You guys going to work out on your own?"

Esiason: "No, we don't have any equipment, no footballs or pads."

Wyche walked away in a huff. And later, he told reporters: "You're making a million dollars a year, and you can't break down and buy a football?"

Esiason's reaction: "I hope (Wyche) can afford (footballs) after this year."

In the meantime, Wyche has a brand new team and brand new quarterback for Sunday's non-union game against the Chargers. Sources who have seen the team practice say Wyche wishes Esiason would come back.

Apparently, Wyche hasn't even decided on a starting quarterback. His options are Adrian Breen, a Cincinnati high school hero who was cut by the St. Louis Cardinals in August, and Dave Walter, an 11th-rounder out of Michigan Tech who was cut by the New York Giants.

The Bengals have always been innovative on offense, but not with this team. Wyche has said they will stay on the ground with such running backs as Pat Franklin (eight games with Tampa Bay in 1986) and Marc Logan, a fifth-round pick from last April's draft.

Apparently because Wyche says he isn't sure what to expect, defense is their strong point. Reggie Williams, a 12th-year linebacker and the team captain, is the only Bengal to have crossed the picket line, and he will start.

His striking teammates aren't enthusiastic. They were carrying around a sign the other day that read, "Way to be a Captain we can count on!"

Safety Robert Jackson told the Cincinnati Enquirer: "If (Reggie's) trying to be Moses, he's not. He's not going to lead anybody else in. Everybody here is making his own decision."

Wyche and his personnel department have had a difficult time fielding a team. Two of their wide receivers, Tom Brown and Rodney Tweet, were intimidated by picketing players and left town; two of their defensive backs failed their physicals.

When that happened, the Bengals received a phone call from an agent who said he had a pretty good defensive back out of San Diego State named Mark Guerra. The agent said Guerra had previously been in Miami's training camp, so the Bengals signed him.

Dick LeBeau, a defensive coach, put Guerra at free safety, and, during practice, he told Guerra to play "the deep middle."

Guerra asked: "Coach, what's a deep middle?"

LeBeau did a double-take, but explained. A few days later, Guerra, who was suddenly listed at No. 2 on the depth chart, told LeBeau: "I've got free safety down, coach. How about giving me a shot at strong safety?"

LeBeau became really suspicious. Guerra, who is about 5-feet 10-inches tall, wasn't even built like a player. LeBeau called down to Miami, and Miami's defensive coordinator, Chuck Studley, had never heard of Guerra. San Diego State had never heard of him, either.

He was an imposter.

In the meantime, Esiason and the striking Bengal players have begun working out on their own.

On the final play of their first practice, Esiason gave the ball to running back James Brooks, who retreated to the end zone to take a safety.

As he ran, the rest of the team counted down: "Six, five, four three, two, one . . . "

Charger Notes The Chargers signed another linebacker Friday: Chuck Faucette of Maryland, who had been waived by the Giants in training camp. The Chargers also released four players: linebackers Kevin Polston and Fred Jones, cornerback Lyle Pickens and guard Jim McCullough. . . . Coach Al Saunders said all 54 players will make the trip today to Cincinnati, though only 45 are allowed to suit up. "They've all been here for a while, and they've all worked hard," Saunders said. "They all deserve to be part of what we're doing."

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