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An Unusual Rivalry

Sam Wyche after a victory.
Sam Wyche after a victory.

Every team has its rival; a nemesis so hated just the mere mention makes one's skin crawl.  Normally those teams are from the same region, ala the Ohio State Buckeyes and that team up north.  Or they are intradivisional like the Evil Empire from New York and the Boston Red Sox.  Or they may come from the same state such as our beloved Bengals and the stinky Browns.  No matter the reason, you call them your rival.

At times, a rivalry blossoms from unlikely ranks in a sports organization.  Sometimes it may come down to individual players such as Magic Johnson and Larry Bird or Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.  And on occasion, a rivalry will surface between coaches.  At one time there was such a rivalry that included one of the most innovative coaches in the NFL who was a member of the Bengals against an antagonist from a team within the division.  During the late 80's and early 90's this rivalry brewed between Sam Wyche and Houston Oilers head coach Jerry Glanville to the point of unknown hatred for each other.

Sam Wyche was known as an innovator ushering in the No-huddle offense as a base offense or having 12-13 players in the huddle between plays.  These actions caused the NFL to adopt rules to thwart the advantages it created.  Plus, he was known to be very controversial, proclaiming to the home crowd during a game against the Seattle Seahawks that "you don't live in Cleveland, you live in Cincinnati" as bottles were being tossed onto the field in protest of a bad call.

The rivalry seemed to start during the 1988 season when they split the season series by large margin of victories.  The Bengals won the first meeting of that year 44-21 and the Oilers won 41-6 in the last meeting of that year.  Things got testy when Wyche took exception to the 41-6 loss feeling that Glanville had intentionally run up the score.

The first meeting between Cincinnati and Houston the following season was an Oilers triumph of 26-24 at the Astrodome, which may not have helped stoke the rivalry fire.  However, the Bengals had their revenge, whooping the Oilers 61-7 at Riverfront. It was ugly from the beginning and got worse as the game went on.  Leading 45-0 in the third quarter, Wyche felt an onside kick was in order.  It was executed perfectly with Ira Hillary snatching the kick before being run out of bounds at the Oilers 34 yard line.

Leading 52-0 after three quarters, the Bengals continued the onslaught by passing on first down and converting fourth down plays.  They even kicked a field goal with 34 seconds remaining in the game.  To say that Sam Wyche was not sending a message and running up the score would not be an accurate statement.  He basically admitted it during the post game news conference.

Wyche immediately declared Glanville a "phony" stating "I don't like phonies." Continuing his rant about Glanville, he said that when Jerry sees "the camera rolling, he puts his arm around you and starts smiling behind those dark glasses."  He felt the Oilers were a talented team, but called them "undisciplined" and that "you have to be ready to get kicked and the score run up on you.  And that is exactly what happened today."  Wyche even states he felt "sorry for the Houston players having to put up with him." You can't say the Wyche never minced words concerning an opponent.

This rivalry continued for a couple of years later and into Wyches' last season with the Bengals.  I had started dating my wife, who is from Houston and an Oilers fan (at that time, now she is a Bengals fan, what influence) and was able to get us tickets to the 1991 game in Houston.  I think I may have been the only person at the Astrodome wearing stripes.  What I remember most about the game was during the TV timeouts, the scoreboard would show each coach with the fans responding proportionately with a jeer or cheer.  When Wyche was shown, jeers abound.  Glanville, cheers a plenty.  And it grew louder and louder as the game progressed.  The game itself was not much of a memory as the Bengals lost 35-3.

Rivalries come in various forms in every sport.  They may start with just a simple comment of dislike for the opposition or the teams consistently play for a championship.  Now matter the reason, they have a way of grabbing those involved.