How good was the no-huddle offense back in the day? How good was Boomer Esiason at orchestrating Bruce Coslet's system? A system, once called "the cutting edge of the game" that earned Coslet, a former mentor to Bill Walsh, a head coaching gig with the New York Jets after the 1989 season? It was unfair and grossly advantous for the Bengals. Sweet, sweet music.
Teams began employing unconventional methods to slow Cincinnati. Just act like you're hurt, said those tricksy Seattle Seahawks. Players would feign injuries and take their time getting off the field, allowing the opposing defense to regroup. The Seattle Seahawks did it several times during the AFC Divisional game in '88, and didn't even bother hiding that fact. From the Seattle Times following a 1990 game that reminisces Cincinnati's AFC Divisional game against the Seahawks.
The Cincinnati Bengals claimed that Chuck Knox ordered a fake injury to stop play in the first quarter, but they were not about to begrudge the Seahawk coach his due. It worked.
Reminiscent of the 1988 Seattle-Cincinnati playoff game in which Seahawk defensive linemen Joe Nash and Ken Clarke mysteriously collapsed six times - thus halting the Bengals' no-huddle offense - Jeff Bryant suddenly fell down on the Cincinnati side of the ball on a play Seattle appeared to want changed.
Bryant walked off on his own and returned for the next series.
"When he fell down, I turned to Joe Nash and said, 'I guess it's his turn this year, huh?' '' Bengal center Bruce Kozerski said. "He just smiled and shrugged his shoulders.''
1) It wasn't illegal (yet)
2) You play to win the game
3) It still didn't work.
Seattle was smoked like a Cheech and Chong video on New Year's Eve, allowing 254 yards rushing with Ickey Woods (123 yards rushing) leading the way. James Brooks added 72 yards rushing and Stanley Wilson scored twice.
The Bengals won that '88 Divisional Round game against Seattle, 21-13, advancing to the AFC Championship game and hosting the up-and-coming Buffalo Bills at Riverfront Stadium on Jan. 8, 1989. Recognizing that the Bengals no-huddle offense was virtually unstoppable with the type of speed that would make the current Oregon's offense look labored, head coach Marvin Levy contemplated using Seattle's tactic -- it wasn't against the rules and it helped slow Cincinnati's no-huddle.
A snippet from the "To the NFL: You sure Started Somethin':
An hour before the game, (Bengals head coach Sam) Wyche said the NFL had come to them after the Bills complained about the no-huddle offense and said they would drop a 15-yard penalty flag every time they used it. Whych told them, "If they wanted to answer to the public for changing the competitive balance of the AFC Championship game that was up to them, but were using it. They never dropped the flag."
Seriously... can you possibly imagine that conversation happening in today's game?
A compromise was reached. Per the Los Angeles Times:
"1) Neither team will feign injuries...
"2) ... An offensive play that occurs before the 2-minute period of each half will be nullified and replayed if it is deemed by the game officials that the offense gained an unreasonable and unfair advantage by a quick snap of the ball."
Yet for as much as Cincinnati's offense boosted as being one of the best in the business, it was the Bengals defense that held Jim Kelly to 14 of 30 passing with three interceptions and limited Thurman Thomas to six yards on four carries. It wasn't the razor sharp cold of the '82 championship game, where wind chills bit at 38-59 below zero. And the single-digit wind chills against the Bills wasn't as advantageous as it was against San Diego, considering that Buffalo tends to see worse.
Ickey Woods had 102 yards rushing and two touchdowns during Cincinnati's 21-10 win over the Bills, securing the AFC Championship and punching their ticket to the Super Bowl. Between the 175 yards rushing on 50 carries by Cincinnati and a spectacular defense that held Buffalo to only 11 first downs, Cincinnati dominated with a time of possession nearing 40 minutes. The same defense held Buffalo to under 10 yards on nine of 12 possessions. It was the defense that held the Bills to five punts and an interception in the second half, and that was after securing an interception on two of the first three possessions by Buffalo.
From Mark Heisler of the Los Angeles Times on Jan. 9, 1989.
Ickey shuffled. Buffalo shuffled off. Been nice knowing you, oh defensive stalwarts.
The Bengals trampled the Bills under cleated feet again, tearing off another 175 yards on the ground. Ickey Woods had 102 of them and scored twice, which meant he could do an encore of the Ickey Shuffle, with his brand-new "Woo Woo" move, and the Bengals won, 21-10, which means they'll play the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.
The starting lineup of the '88 AFC Championship game: