It was shocking. A scandalous breach of etiquette. Beatrice Fairfax, or whoever oversees public manners and morals these days, would be mortified.
I'm referring to the unconscionable behavior of the coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, Sam Wyche.
Perhaps you noticed over the weekend. He shattered the football coaches' code in a thousand pieces--well, 60 anyway.
First of all, he beat Houston, 61-7. You heard me. Poured it on. I mean, with a trowel.
Los Angeles Times Tuesday December 26, 1989 Home Edition Sports Part C Page 11 Column 6 Sports Desk 3 inches; 86 words Type of Material: Correction; Column
Just for the record: In a recent column when I alluded to Nuremberg as an example of a place where people were oppressed and abused, I didn't--God forbid!--mean the defendants there. I was referring to the Nuremberg that was the cradle of Nazism, the site of the obscene Nuremberg laws and the place for Hitler's horror rallies and the place where his terrorist Brownshirts first practiced the art of kicking, killing and torturing their fellow human beings, so infamous it's the reason the war crime trials were put there in the first place. Nuremberg was a symbol for terror long before it became a symbol for retribution.
With a 45-0 lead, they tried an \o7 onside\f7 kick. Match that around football for cruelty. With 21 seconds to go, with a 58-7 lead, they kicked a field goal!
We haven't seen this kind of runaway kicking a man when he was down since Nuremberg.
But then, what I really liked were the postgame quotes. They belong in a time capsule.
You know what you're supposed to say when you give an opponent that kind of humiliating butt-kicking? You're supposed to moan that you tried to hold the score down by putting in the fourth string but "You know how kids are--there was no holding them." You wear a long face and do a lot of "Tsks, tsks."
Not Coach Wyche. He got up on a podium to say he wished there had been a fifth quarter. He wanted a hundred points. He was sorry Houston got seven.
Now, there is a form and protocol to be observed among coaches. It is customary to say of your defeated rival, "He is a great coach, his offense is superb, it just couldn't get untracked today." It's even considered good manners to add, "We were lucky."
Know what Coach Wyche said of the coach he just slaughtered in Riverfront? "Drop me a note if you find somebody who likes this guy, will you?"
You ever heard that kind of locker room talk? Neither has anybody else.
The team he beat didn't escape, either. Wyche characterized their play as "sorry." In alluding to game next week against the Cleveland Browns, which will be a division decider, he predicted, "They will be just as sorry as they were today." He added: "We know one thing: Cleveland won't quit." He implied Houston would and, in fact, had that very afternoon.
Now, this goes so far beyond the norms of coaches' behavior as to constitute aberration. Custom calls for a coach in this situation to soften the damage he has done to his opponent's team and morale with soothing words and to put a man's head on his shoulder and pat him on the back with a "There, there. Don't cry."
There is even precedent for holding down a score when you have everything running your way and the game out of reach. I remember a watershed game in Alabama once, I believe the first integrated game ever played there, when the USC Trojans ran roughshod over the Alabama Crimson Tide. It did more to integrate Alabama football than all the lawyers in Washington. Bear Bryant didn't wait for a court order after that game. But I remember the final score, 42-21, could just as easily have been, oh, say, 61-7.
Running up a score is not always a good idea. Red Sanders' UCLA team blew Stanford out of the Coliseum once, 72-0, and the next thing anybody knew, the conference was in smithereens, blown apart by conflicting accusations.
Notre Dame's Ara Parseghian came into the Coliseum one year smarting because he was under ridicule for settling for a tie with Michigan State the week before, and he made USC pay, 51-0. It would be seven years before he beat USC again and, in fact, only beat them once in the rest of his career. Conversely, when USC came back from a 24-0 first-half--one minute to go--deficit to win, 55-24, the Trojans had those 55 points with 13 minutes left to play, when Coach John McKay called off the horses.
Sam Wyche's behavior is symptomatic of the modern gladiator, anyway. It was just a question of time before it seeped up through the coaches' ranks. Frank Merriwell lost his standing as a role model years ago. Spiking the ball, end zone dances, sack dances, gloating, taunting and schoolyard bullying have long since become standard competitive practices.
The real world is no different. Advertising that used to circumspectly avoid even acknowledging competitors, now not only names them but knocks them.
Coaches used to be guys who stood around wringing their hands and fearing the worst. "Stagg Fears Purdue" used to be a famous standing headline, not "Stagg Sneers Purdue." Frank Leahy used to moan he couldn't see how he could make a first down. Coaches were named, "Gloomy Gus," or "Weeping Willie," and the line was that you recognized a coach by the soggy towel he was carrying.
It may be they were hypocrites. They told their teams one thing in the locker room--"These guys will quit, keep after them," or "Run up the score on these bums, I hate their coach"--and another thing in public.
Ancient history teaches us it's not wise to rile up an opponent. Androcles removed the thorn from the paw of the lion, and when he got thrown into the arena with him, the lion didn't run up the score.
Wyche's theory seems to be to \o7 put\f7 the thorn in the lion's paw. His only postgame regret was that his kicker missed one extra point, which would have made the score 62-7.
Of course, when you beat someone, 61-7, you can't go around hoping no one will notice. You might as well gloat. I mean, what are you going to do--send flowers?