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MAGIC BACK FOR BENGALS' WYCHE : Less Work, More Sleep Do Trick for Coach

November 11, 1988|BOB OATES | Times Staff Writer

In the words of their father, Joe, who lives in Atlanta, Sam and Bubba Wyche compare favorably as good-looking, look-alike athletes.

Sam, a former quarterback, is a candid, pleasant, big blond who weighs 220 and stands more than 6-3. And that goes also, presumably, for former quarterback Bubba Wyche, an Atlanta businessman who at 42 is 15 months younger than Sam.

Joe said that one day long ago in Atlanta, his boys began their athletic careers together trying out for the same Little League team. That day, Sam, 11, fielded every grounder hit to him at third base, where he enjoyed himself hugely until Bubba, 9, took his turn and misplayed many of the same balls.

That upset Sam.

"So I went out there again, and purposely missed a few," he said. "I didn't want Bubba to feel bad."

It is in the record that Bubba's unhappiness was short-lived. When the manager made out the lineup card a day later, Bubba was at third base, and Sam was on the bench.

"That taught me," said Sam. "Never let up."

And since then, he said, he hasn't. Or as his father, a former fast-food chain executive, said: "That set fire to Sam."

On fire for the last 30 years, Sam has been distinguished all that time by his aggressiveness. "I'm a hard-try guy," he said.

From Georgia, where Joe Wyche, 69, has been building a 2-story, 5-bedroom, lake-side resort house for the whole family, he said: "Sam was always the first guy at (football) practice. Then at home, he was the first to hit the books. He'd dive into his homework, and study like mad until bedtime."

Still, for years, Sam couldn't shake Bubba, because, said Joe, "everything came easy to Bubba."

In their high school years, there was an afternoon when a football game program graphically illustrated the problem.

Doubling as backup quarterback and defensive backfield starter, Sam had returned for his senior season to the same team that Bubba had just joined as a sophomore quarterback.

Nonetheless, on the day of the first game, when the 3-deep lineups were printed in the program's centerfold, Sam discovered that the coach had listed Bubba as the team's No. 2 quarterback.

Sam was listed as No. 3.

"Your kid brother--that was pretty hard to swallow," Sam said.

He swallowed it, though, that and more. For Bubba went from high school to Tennessee and played quarterback for 4 years, leading the Volunteers over Alabama at Birmingham 1 season--when Bear Bryant and Kenny Stabler were Crimson Tide heroes--and taking Tennessee to the Cotton Bowl.

In those years, unfortunately for the Wyche family, nobody wanted Bubba's big brother. There wasn't a nibble for hard-try Sam, until, finally, swallowing his pride, he walked on at Furman.

There he told the coach he was a quarterback. And there, as a freshman, he proved as good as his word in his first game.

When the mighty Florida State freshman team took little Furman lightly, Sam threw 2 touchdown passes and scored the third in a 21-14 upset.

"That one game set up my whole life," said Sam. "It led to a scholarship, which led to everything else."

By everything else he meant, among other things, a graduate year at South Carolina, where he earned a master's degree in business administration, followed by a year in the Continental League, then a tryout with the expansion Cincinnati Bengals in 1970, and, finally, a job as a quarterback on the Bengal team, where he was molded by his two most influential future employers, Bill Walsh and Paul Brown.

At last, Sam had caught Bubba, who played in Canada on a Grey Cup team, but never in the NFL.

Inflamed by his more talented brother, Sam lasted 7 years as an NFL quarterback.

Sam's wife agrees that if his family fired him up, Furman set him up.

"You see, Sam and I met at Furman," Jane Wyche said.

Their children are Zak, 17, and Kerry, 15. Their Cincinnati home is a century-old carriage house with a tennis court in the front yard. Sam plays tennis every Friday--in season and out, weather permitting--sometimes with Jane.

"He always wins," she said. "I wouldn't dare beat him."

Their San Francisco friends remember that as a tennis player, Wyche didn't always win there. He didn't always beat Bill Walsh in the years when he worked for the 49ers as their offensive coordinator.

Walsh and Wyche played their most famous match one day at training camp, on a team travel day, when Walsh thought he could get in a fast set before flight time. As the entire 49er squad sat waiting on the team bus, Wyche kept holding serve.

Nearly 2 hours later, both players were on the edge of exhaustion when Walsh finally broke through, just in time to catch the plane.

"If I'd won that set, I swear, Bill would have missed the kickoff," said Wyche.

Jane Wyche remembers the last Sunday of the off-season last July with more fondness than any tennis game, or anything else that's happened since.

"We went to Muncie (Ind.)," she said.

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