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Bengals and Good-Bye to Coaching

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How could something that started out as Paul Browns pure love for the game of football turn out with what we have now? Well after reading this I have a better understanding. Especially why Mike Brown doesn't feel the need for a GM, and he keeps it a tight, family run organization. I know it's a longer read here than most guys, but it's really worth the time.

Here's Part I...

Bengals and Good-Bye to Coaching - Paul Brown

When I stepped back onto the sidelines as head coach of the Bengals in 1968, it felt as if I had never been away. It was as if six years had vanished in an instant. There they were: the feelings of tension and anticipation as I waited to run onto the field with my team before the game...the rumble of the crowd...the almost-involuntary actions of the players as they slapped and prodded one another in their final acts of preparation...the backdrop of goal posts, scoreboard and white chalk lines over the green field...the black-and-white striped shirts of the officials...the air of anticipation as our kicking team ran onto the field-nothing had changed. I was a bit more excited and exhilarated because I had lived for the moment when all of this would return to my life, but once I dispatched the first play into the game, it was just as it always had been- a chess game between ‘him’ and me, a never-ending battle to do the right thing at the right time for the greatest possible number of times.

There was one difference, though, the plays might have been correct, the strategies sound and the desire total, but this team wasn’t the Browns, or the Buckeyes, or even the Massillon Tigers. It was the Cincinnati Bengals, a group of green and growing young men- hardly more than college team- together for just two months, still learning to know and like each other and trying to become skilled in a system that had once been used by far more talented and experienced players.

For all that, however, we won three games-the most ever by a first-year expansion team in the NFL- and I was very satisfied with our efforts and our achievements. We had begun to grow, our players maintained a respect for each other and they stayed together through some tough times. No one ever let me down or gave up in any game, and that is all any coach can ask. There were no surprises or disappointments for me in that first season. In fact, what Vince Lombardi had told me two years before was true-it was easier to build a team than have to maintain one as contender. In Cleveland we had never enjoyed the luxury of a patient and gradual approach to becoming a championship team.

Mike and I took the eight-page merger agreement, boiled it down to a concise report and presented it to each of the AFL owners. In it, we listed five points we felt would be most crucial to our case:

1. A financial summary of the visitor’s share of the gate receipts for all twenty-six teams, which showed the AFL teams, took home one-third less than the NFL teams.

2. A chart of AFL and NFL stadium seating capacities, which showed that only two AFL teams ranked in the top half.

3. Proof that NFL teams had a better average season ticket sale.

4. Home ticket sale attendance and receipts from rivalries within the NFL, which gave that league the edge.

5. Television ratings showing the NFL’s games had consistently higher ratings because its terms were in the larger markets and reached more homes.

When we went to Palms Springs for our meeting, no one said too much to me until Gerry Phipps, the owner of the Denver Broncos, asked me to walk along with him the day before the meetings opened and spell out all my points in detail. He seemed very interested in my thinking and invited me to join a group of AFL owners at dinner that evening; again I laid out our arguments. When I had finished, Phil Iselin of the New York Jets said, “You’re right, and I’m sticking with you.” With Phipps and Iselin in my corner, and the other AFL owners began to come around, and we succeeded in stopping the stampede within our own league.

Soon we had the AFL owners solidly lined up behind us, and it was time to tackle the NFL. I stood up at our meeting and said,” We will find out legally just what our position is regarding the specific performance clause in the merger agreement.” The word legally was like a stick of dynamite, and the meetings were hurriedly adjourned, to convene again in early May in New York. In the meantime, the NFL owners knew they had to come up with a presentable plan.

In the time between the meetings, many of the owners rethought their positions and realized it had to be a 13-13 split, instead of the 16-10. The question was; How? They had my original realignment proposal, but the AFL owners, still proud and feisty after their league’s Super Bowl victory and their successful fight to force a merger with the NFL, still wanted to retain as much of their league’s identity as they could and felt that three of the NFL teams must join them, rather than have their own teams scattered about.

When the meetings reconvened in the first week of May, the deadlock continued. Finally, the commissioner sent both groups of owners into separate meeting rooms at the NFL headquarters on Park Avenue and convened his now-famous “locked door” marathon bargaining session, which eventually lasted more than forty hours. Those rooms were something to behold: People slept on chairs and on the floor, no one shaved, collars rumpled, ties went askew or were discarded altogether and tempers got shorter as each exhausting hour passed. Each team had to keep its own voting member present at all times, but since Mike and I both had voting power, we took turns getting some rest at our hotel, which kept us fresh and our mental resources sharp, so our position never weakened. Some of the others had to endure the hardship of living in one room for nearly two days. My most vivid memory of that time was Lamar Hunt sleeping on the hallway couch-a white flower across his chest that someone had placed there.

The pressure was on the NFL to come up with a solution. Art Modell was adamant that his team and some other old-line NFL teams would not move. “It would emasculate the NFL if the Browns were to leave,” he stated publicly. However, Al Davis of Oakland finally came up with the answer, which was that the three teams that came into the AFL’s group paid for moving-and when the price was put at $3 million, Pittsburg and Cleveland, I was told, were the first to volunteer. The fact that they switched together also made it more palatable because they were natural rivals.

Commissioner Rozelle then proposed the St. Louis Cardinals as the third team, but with $3 million at stake, there was no dearth of volunteers, and when we suggested the Baltimore Colts, the Colts snapped at the opportunity. “Have you ever seen a barracuda?” I joked.

The three teams were presented to the AFL owners, and in less than ninety minutes we had our alignments worked out and the commissioner’s approval. It seemed almost pro forma when Pete brought representatives from the three teams into our owners’ meeting so we could review the setup and hold a formal vote for its consent-and then, to our surprise, Al Davis suddenly turned around and voted against it. It seems he wanted to have a veto over the ultimate realignment form for the entire league. Since unanimous consent was required, we suddenly had no agreement. The uproar was enormous, fueled by tempers tight from nearly forty hours without sleep. Al’s reasons made absolutely no sense to the rest of us, so after going to the NFL meeting to explain what had happened, I contacted Commissioner Rozelle, his top aide, Jim Kensil, and Art Rooney to see if we couldn’t find a way to break the impasse. After careful discussion, we came up with a plan we thought could work.

When the session reconvened, Lamar Hunt, who had used Al Davis for his proxy the first time around, this time spoke for himself and voted “yes” for the alignment. Then, instead of Davis, Wayne Valley, another owner of the Raiders, took control-and he too voted affirmatively. It was unanimous, a total victory, particularly for the commissioner, who had been on the spot to deliver an equitable solution that everyone-owners, fans and networks-could accept.

The end results of the 13-13 merger are evident today in the sport’s tremendous prosperity, as well as in the success of our own franchise. We are in the same division as Cleveland and Pittsburg, and our games against each other bring in the biggest crowds of the season. Under the fourteen-game schedule format that began in 1970. Our fans got to see NFL teams, as promised, including the Browns and Steelers every year, the Colts every other year and three other NFL opponents. Under the new sixteen-game format, half our games are against former NFL teams. In the meantime, the American Conference has also become the dominate force in the NFL during the seventies, and the problems and ill feelings that existed among the owners when this agreement was being hammered out all have been set aside long ago and are now the subject of good-natured jokes.

Meanwhile, merger or not, we had another football season coming up. Our draft in 1969 had brought us some tremendous players, including our top pick. Greg Cook, a quarterback from the University Of Cincinnati. I had seen him play several games at UC and couldn’t help noticing his physical talents-quick feet, a fine throwing arm for both long and short passes and superior all-around athletic skills. He also had that indomitable quality that all great quarterbacks possess-like Otto Graham, he instilled so much confidence in his teammates they believed he could find a way to win.

Greg had tremendous exuberance when things were going well, and when they weren’t, he made no excuses. He was totally unflappable in tight situations-could stand and face the fiercest pass rush without flinching-but he also had enough mobility to roll out of trouble and still keep his pass play alive or take off and run for whatever yardage he could monster. He was the first young quarterback I had been able to select and have confidence in since we had picked Y.A. Title in 1948. When Greg played in the College All-Star game against the New York Jets that summer, he was selected as the most valuable player. His coach in that game was ironically Otto Graham.

We had to battle to get Greg, however. A friend of mine tipped me off that the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League were so interested in getting him that their owner and coached had chartered a plane and were flying into Cincinnati in hopes of signing him. I was in New York attending a league meeting, but this was an emergency situation so I had one of our assistants coaches bring him to me, so I could discuss a contract on the spot. Things progressed rapidly, and Greg signed before returning to Cincinnati. The Canadian League people never did see him; after waiting several hours in an apartment, they gave up and returned home.

I knew we were pressing a bit in 1969, when we elected to allow a rookie to be our starting quarterback, but he had such outstanding qualities I didn’t consider it an inordinate risk. Furthermore, his passing skills would allow us to begin building our passing game, something we had not been able to do in our first season, so though I knew he would make mistakes, we tied our future in him.

It was then, in the cruelest of misfortunes that a series of injuries cut him down. His first injury came our third game of the season against Kansas City when he was sandwiched between Willie Lanier and Bobby bell and hurt his shoulder. He recovered from within a month, however, and finished the season with some fine performances as our starting quarterback even winning the honor of rookie of the year. Then in the off season pickup basketball game, he went up for a rebound with both arms, someone grab his right arm and pulled it back and the rotor cuff muscle in his right shoulder was damaged beyond reclamation. He again hurt his shoulder playing water polo, and though we finally sent him to Cleveland for surgery to try to repair the torn muscle, Greg was never the same after that. He did develop a good throwing motion again, but his other skills became rusty. I think too, that he had lost confidence and could not face trying to succeed with diminished skills. He left our training camp a couple of times without a word to anyone. On each occasion I’d find a note under my door in the morning, telling me that he just couldn’t go on anymore.

Cook was not the only a great player to come from that draft. Our first eight choices all played for us that season, including linebacker Bill Bergey, our second pick on the recommendation of my son Robin, who had seen him play several times in Arkansas. Ken Riley, a defensive back who is still with the Bengals, was a sixth round pick, while our seventh choice, Royce Berry, played for us for seven years and became our defensive captain. Two other players, wide receiver Speedy Thomas and guard Guy Dennis, each spent four years with us, helping us widen the foundation that became the bulwark of our future success. We also obtained kicker Horst Muhlmann, the team’s all-time leading scorer in a trade with Kansas City after Hank Scharm decided he could not displace Jan Stenerud. When we went to training camp that summer of 1969, we had no linking of what would happen to Cook, and our mood was upbeat. We knew we could win some games with a great young quarterback; we had improved our kicking with Muhlmann and our defense with Bergy, Berry and Riley; and we still had the spirit and determination that had carried us through our first season. In our opening meeting, I told the players, “We’re no longer an expansion team. We might be the newest team in professional football, but we’re grown-up now”.

I don’t think our players really understood that fact until Cook, in only his third game, directed us to a 25-13 victory over the Steelers in the preseason. Pittsburg, with Chuck Noll in his first year as head coach, threw blitz after blitz at Greg, but he seemed to beat them all. When he followed that with a victory over Denver in our final preseason game, our guys finally believed we had no reason to take a back seat to anyone in pro football.

None of us was prepared, though, for the death of Frank Buncom, our starting right linebacker, the night before our season opener against Miami. Only twenty-eight years old, he died in his sleep at our hotel in Cincinnati. It was not a football related death-in fact, I told that Frank’s father died in the same manner-but it was a terrible ordeal for our players to overcome, and we played with a heavy heart, though well enough to defeat Miami. I told later that week the victory was the three hundredth of my career.

We also won our next two games, including a 24-19 victory over Kansas City, despite Cook’s injury. For the second time our players carried me off the field after the win, and a few days later I received a letter from President Richard Nixon, in which he said: “I’ve been a fan of Paul Brown since the days of the Browns-Rams championship games…..

A football season in much like a political campaign, it takes a lot of work to develop a winning spirit. The Bengals made it through the primaries with flying colors. While I have to remain impartial, you can be sure I shall be following the action in the days ahead….

Those days pretty much depended on Cook’s shoulder regaining its strength, and after sitting out two games, he came back and led us to a whopping 31-17 victory over the Oakland Raiders, the defending AFL champions. The following week he put on a tremendous show as we tied the Houston Oilers, 31-31, thanks to Muhlmann’s 18-yard field goal in the final twenty-two seconds. Greg had been the whole show, on third and thirty, he ran a quarterback draw for 30 yards and a first down, and then passed 14 yards to Crabtree to set up Muhlmann’s tie-making field goal.

That was our final thrust of the season, though. We finished with a 4-9-1 record-and I was picked AFL coach of the year. I certainly appreciated the honor because it helped solidify our team for the next year: for competition in the realigned National Football League’s American Conference, for our sparkling new stadium….and, for the first time ever, for our game against the Cleveland Browns.

We actually played the Browns three times in 1970, but our first one, in the preseason at Riverfront Stadium, was the one that caught everyone’s imagination. We had flooded with ticket orders, in fact, ever since the first announcement of the game in 1968. It was no secret how intense I felt about the game, though not as much as later in the year, for regular-season meeting, but I tried to keep everything as normal as possible during our workouts at training camp.

I never said a word about making any special efforts on my behalf because many players had been young teenagers when I had left the Browns, and it would have been silly for me to have tried to make this a crusade. Nevertheless, every player on that team has told me there was something special about our practices then.

When we started the 1968 season, I hoped very much that we could avoid the glare of the public limelight and the attendant pressures which often caused even experienced teams to falter. That didn’t happen, however. Our very first game was scheduled for national television by NBC because the network had committed itself to an early-season game, and none of the other teams in the AFL wanted it. Only three games had been scheduled that first weekend in September 1968, and I always felt they decided to throw us to the wolves against a team of proved quality. I even called Julian Goodman, NBC’s president, and explained, “We’re just an expansion team, and we’ve been together for only a few weeks. We don’t have a sporting chance in this game, and I’m afraid your network will get a black eye that could damage your image for the rest of the season”

“I understand your plight,” he told me, “and I sympathize with you, bit there is nothing we can do about it. The league made the schedule, and we must accept whatever game they give us for that date. I couldn’t change it even if I wanted to.”

“If we embarrass you and your network then, you’ll know I was concerned beforehand and warned you about it,” I said. He thanked me, but nothing changed, and even though we wouldn’t share in the television receipts, we had to be a party to this scheduling. I was less worried about NBC’s fate than about what might happen to us should we play badly and be embarrassed on national television. It was a difficult way to start, but it was just one more thing that went with being an expansion team.

As it turned out, we were not embarrassed and, in fact, plated the Chargers to a standstill for nearly three-quarters of the game. We started Dewey Warren at quarterback because John Stofa, our only experienced passer, was injured. Dewey was a crowd pleaser because he had a certain swagger about him that made it appear he was exceeding his talent level. This quality, plus our deepgut determination, and the Chargers’ failure to take us too seriously made the game closer than it should have been. Our offense took the opening kickoff and marched for a touchdown, with Paul Robinson going the last seven yards and we left the field at the half with a 10-10 tie. We still trailed only 17-13 deep in the second half, when the Chargers finally broke open the game with a pair of touchdown passes by John Hadl, and we lost, 29-13.

I was pleased with what I had seen, “You gave everything that you had,” I told our players afterward. “I thank you for your effort. It’s a real credit to you. You played a team that all of us knew outmanned us, but your still young, and your future is ahead of you. Let’s not be discouraged in losing; just let us get ready to fight the next game.”

Those players took my words to heart because we astounded everyone and won our next two games, including our home opener against Denver. We certainly didn’t sneak up on them, as we had the Chargers, because the Broncos had barely beaten us in the preseason game. We went against each other just as fiercely this time, and the score was tied, 10-10, as the last quarter began. Then, after making a first down on a fourth-and-inches play. Stofa threw a 54-yard touchdown pass to Warren McVea. It was a true team effort because Rod Sherman, one of our flankers, who had to miss this game because of an injury, had told McVea that one of the Broncos’ defensive backs usually took the first fake by a receiver. Sure enough, McVea gave him a quick move and then sped into the clear for Stofa’s pass. A few minutes later Paul Robinson came out of the game to replace a lost shoe, and while he was lacing up, his replacement, Essex Johnson, ran 34 yards for our last touchdown. When the game ended, I was hoisted onto the shoulders of my players and carried off the field. In the locker room, our captains presented me with the game ball, and the whole day was made even more special because Katy was there, and the victory was hers, too.

The Buffalo Bills came to Nippert Stadium the following week, and Al Beauchamp and Charley King each returned second-half interceptions for touchdown that brought us from behind for a 34-23 victory. The biggest play of the game was a broken double reverse play, in which Stofa was hand the ball to one of the running backs, who would then hand it to McVea. Stofa missed the first handoff, kept going with the ball until McVea came along and then handed him the ball himself. The play’s different look seemed to confuse Buffalo and Warren scampered 80 yards far a touchdown that gave us an early lead. We had to rely on plays like these to shake up defenses because we were not strong enough yet to control the game. During the year we would pull out all the stops, even throwing our triple-pass flea flicker from the end zone-and completing it for a first down. We used everything and anything.

We lost to the Broncos, 10-7, the second time we played them that season, but I remember that game for another reason-all of us narrowly escaped death on our return flight to Cincinnati. We were forced to land at Des Moines, Iowa, for a short time because bad weather had temporarily closed Cincinnati’s airport and, as we were ready to take off, another plane landed ahead of us. Instead of turning off the runway, however, the other plane just stopped. We were already under way, and our pilot had to pour on the power to get us above the stopped plane. Years later, when hundreds were killed in a similar situation at Tenerife, in the Canaries, I thought back to that moment in Des Moines and how close we had come to a similar catastrophe.

Our season was a series of “near misses” because the following week, when we played Miami and lost, 24-22, a missed 19-yard field goal by Dale Livingston at the end of the first half turned out to be the difference. I had always taken those field goals for granted when Lou Groza was our kicker in Cleveland and often hadn’t even bothered to watch because they were so automatic. They weren’t automatic anymore. As it was, we almost got a tie because Warren’s touchdown pass to Bob Trumpy brought us within two points of the Dolphins at the end of the game. The AFL had its two-point conversion rule at that time, and Warren’s pass for the two points was batted around in the air between receivers and the defensive backs until finally fell incomplete. The rule has since been eliminated, but I thought it made the game more interesting for the fans.

We also sandwiched an exciting game against Kansas City between our losses to Denver and Miami and forced the Chiefs’ great defense into a pair of goal line strands to preserve a 13-3 victory. Our losing skein ultimately reached seven before we defeated the Dolphins, 38-21, on a blistering hot day in Miami for our third victory.

One of our last games of the season was against the Patriots in Boston, where John Kissell, who now worked in the recreation department in Nashua, New Hampshire, and his wife met us at our hotel.

“Who’s officiating the game?” he asked me.

I told him, and he said, “You’re going to get screwed. Boston’s coach plays poker with those guys once a week”.

Sure enough, when Boston missed an easy field goal in the game, the officials ruled that we had twelve men on the field-that never showed on our films-and they made it on the second try. It seemed that every time we got something going that day, we were penalized.

After the game I met John and his wife, and he said, “What did I tell you? I knew it was going to happen.”

He certainly had, so after viewing the films and seeing how many nonpenalties had been called, I called the league office and protested strongly enough so that the situation was never repeated.

That first season had brought me back to where I belonged, but sadly, it was Katy’s last because she died very suddenly of a heart attack the following April while undergoing surgery in California. Suddenly I was alone because I never thought she would die. The first thing I thought was, “I must take her home”, and we arranged for her burial back in Massillon. That was home, the one place, above all else, I felt she would have wanted for a final resting place. I go back each year and tend her grave site, and afterward I often go over to the Massillon stadium and sit and replay the grand moments we experienced during our years living there. It renews my spirit and brings me close again to a person and place I loved so much.

In the midst of this sudden ordeal, the future of professional football was being decided, and I was right in the middle of the struggle-the “blueberry in the milk”, as someone described my role. In the spring of 1969 the final plans for aligning the AFL and NFL were being hammered out because the merger had to be implemented by the start of the 1970 season. Instead of adhering to the terms of the original sentiment for retaining their own identities, meaning the NFL would keep its sixteen teams and the AFL its ten.

That was not what we had been promised when our franchise had been awarded, however, and my lawyer-son, Mike, and I pointed to the provision of the “specific performance” clause and insisted that the real merger of both leagues be spelled out there. The clause stipulated a unified schedule of regular-season games between teams from both leagues, recognizing factors of geography, natural rivalries, stadium size, would have common scheduling, share equal television revenues and have the same chance in building through the draft. Otherwise, we weren’t giving our fans all we had promised when our franchise was born.

The sentiment against the realignment, however, seemed to have the somewhat neutral support of Commissioner Rozelle, who was willing to go along with what the majority of the owners wished. The NFL owners were content with the status quo because they had the big television markets, their sixteen teams had an edge in numbers in drafting the future stars and they knew they could get only stronger while the AFL teams got weaker. On the other hand, many in the AFL went along because the Jets’ victory over Baltimore in the Super Bowl only a couple of months before had given them a false sense of independence and strength.

I refused to go along with either of them, and though many of my friends among the NFL’s owners tried to convince me to change my position, I never wavered and insisted that the terms of the original merger agreement be honored. It was a long, bitter and sometimes lonely struggle, and because these matters reached deep into the pocketbooks of every owner, it produced some of the bitterest infighting professional football had ever endured.

To win the fight, I knew I first had to convince the AFL owners that they were not really getting what they paid $18 million for three years earlier, when the merger agreement had first been drawn up. Consequently, I wrote a memo to their realignment committee-Ralph Wilson, Lamar Hunt and Bill Sullivan-and said:

We can understand the AFL’s pride in the Super Bowl victory. Nevertheless, financial facts, not pride, should be considered. The AFL/NFL agreement is specific on realignment and it calls for a thorough mixing of present AFL clubs in order to evenly distribute the financially weak franchise among the strong. I can see keeping as much of a vestige of the league as possible, but I am fighting for my franchise.

Simple inter-league play does not create new divisions or groupings. What I want to emphasize is that we’re open to any alignment that gives everybody an equal shot at victory and profits. I’ll guarantee you one thing: If the leagues retain their present identities, the NFL will continue to control the major TV markets and the AFL franchise never will be worth as much. I don’t blame some of the NFL clubs for wanting to keep their cozy little four-team groupings,

But at the time of the merger, when everyone was afraid of going under, the AFL paid dearly.

I don’t want to ruin the effect of the Super Bowl. There will always be a Super Bowl, no matter how it’s arrived at……..But if you leave the merger, and allow the NFL to keep sixteen teams, and AFL to retain ten teams, the NFL will always be stronger simply because it will have sixteen of every twenty-six draft picks.

I then presented my own plan my own plan for realignment, which split both leagues into four divisions. One included the New York Jets, Philadelphia, Pittsburg, and Cleveland, Buffalo, Cincinnati and Detroit.; the second contained the New York Giants, Washington, Baltimore, Chicago, Minnesota, Green Bay and Boston; the third, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Denver, Kansas City and St Louis; and the fourth, Oakland, San Diego, Dallas, New Orleans, Atlanta and Miami.

That arrangement kept together geographic rivals and teams with equal TV value, as well as those that paid comparable receipts to visiting teams. I pointed out that I wasn’t against designating two leagues “American” and “National” if that helped preserve the Super Bowl, but I urged everyone not to worry about lessening the impact of that game. It would be world championship no matter what the leagues were named.

The strong feelings for this first game were evident everywhere. The Browns arrived at their hotel in downtown Cincinnati to find the lobby dressed up with rug resembling a football playing surface; the assistant managers attired in the striped shirts and white knickers worn by, complete with yellow flags hanging from their pockets; all the waitresses wearing numbered football jerseys; and continual showings of football highlight films in the lobby. It was a combination of college homecoming game and Super Bowl to Cincinnati fans; my friends in Cleveland have told me the intensity there was nearly as great, with one exception: Everyone in Cincinnati knew where his loyalty lay; in Cleveland the feelings for the home team’s former coach were also quite strong.

I tried to be as nonchalant as I could on the night of the game, and though I knew that eight years had passed since I had last coached the Browns and that only four players still remained from my 1962 team, it was a jolt walking onto the field and seeing those brown jerseys, white arm stripes, solid orange helmets and white pants. My first thought was: “They certainly look familiar.” I could not help recalling where those colors had come from and how much of my heart and my life had been invested in those suits.

Of course, it was all business once the game began, and we did not start well, as we fell behind, 14-0, in the first quarter. After Jess Phillip’s touchdown had narrowed the score, however, Ken Avery recovered a fumble by Leroy Kelly, and in two plays, Sam Wyche drove across to tie the score.

Then we went ahead, 17-14, at the half, when Bergey’s blitz of Bill Nelson caused an interception by Ken Riley and set up Muhlmann’s field goal. The Browns tied the game shortly after the third quarter began, but when Avery blitzed Nelson again, the wobbly pass was intercepted by Royce Berry, and he returned it for a touchdown. Wyche passed Chip Myers early in the fourth quarter for our final touchdown, and we came away with a 31-24 victory, though our defense had to battle to the end to keep the Browns from scoring.

After the game Bob Johnson handed me the game ball, and I was touched, but I knew that, no matter how much I relished that moment, the two regular-season games against the Browns would be more important. In the first of them, before nearly 84, 000 fans in Cleveland, we led, 20-16, going into the final quarter, before the Browns scored two touchdowns and beat us, 30-27. I was disappointed, but even more disappointed when an incident regarding me and Blanton Collier was misrepresented.

Standing on the field before the game, I pointedly told Collier that win or lose, I would go directly to our dressing room when the game ended because of a league directive designed to avoid an increasing number of nasty incidents by fans on the field after games.

“If there are any congratulations to be tendered, I’m offering them now”. I said very specifically.

Collier, of course, was deaf, and I don’t know whether he heard me, but I do know that Tom

Gray, our equipment manager, who had come over to say hello to him and was standing nearby,

Told me later he had heard every word. Immediately after the game Collier complained that he had walked onto the field to shake hands and I had gone to the dressing room, and some of the Cleveland media made a big deal about it, insinuating that I obviously still harbored ill feelings about our past association. That made me look bad, even though I tried to explain, and I still feel I was undeservedly criticized for something that was clearly not my fault.

There was no problem later that year, when we met back in Cincinnati, however, and when I ran off the field following our 14-10 victory, I took off my hat and waved it to the crowd-something I don’t even remember doing-because I was so exhilarated at our victory over a team with better talent and deeper resources. I can’t recall our team’s ever fighting harder against great odds than in this game. The turning point was our first defense’s stopping the Browns inside our 10 yard line in the first quarter and forcing them to kick a field goal for a 10-0 lead when a touchdown might have pushed the game out of control. We scored twice in the second half, keyed by Willie Lee Jone’s sack of Mike Phipps that began our comeback, and our defense battled for its life to hold that lead. One of my friends told me afterward that I looked as if I were eighteen years old the way I ran off the field, and I told him, “That’s exactly how I felt.” I confess to having tears in my eyes when our players handed me the game ball for the second time.

Playing Cleveland three times, and winning twice in front of our fans, would be enough for any season,, but 1970 was a monumental year for us in other ways as well .It started out with the players being forced to stay out of training camp because of a labor dispute, and it finished in the American Conference play-offs.We bridged those two extremes without Greg Cook, but with the gritty job of quarterbacking by Virgil Carter, and with the fine defense by our new players, Mike Reid, Lamar Parrish, Ron Carpenter, Nick Roman, and Sandy Durko. Reid was our first round pick and though he was bothered by injuries during his rookie season, he was out-standing. A very emotional player and highly motivated to excel, though he did not like to practice. Reid, next to Bill Willis, was the fastest defensive lineman for the length of the football who ever play on our teams.

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Here's Part II:

Bengals and Good-Bye to Coaching - Paul Brown

Mike gave us several good years, but acclaim he received for playing the piano with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra steered him toward a full-time career in music, instead, so he left the Bengals after five seasons, determined to write the big song. I also felt his unwillingness to subject himself to some of the physical pain which goes with football affected his decision.

Carter was godsend to us in 1970, especially considering that we only picked him up two weeks before the season began, after he had been cut by the Buffalo Bills. He was an accurate short passer when he came to us, but he could not throw the ball deep with authority—he had a tendency to loop his passes and allow receivers to run under them—and we convinced him that by lowering the ball trajectory, he could throw with more velocity and even greater accuracy. Combining this with a special roll-out type of offense, we designed for him, we had an attack that no one could figure out until the season was almost over and our drive for the division title had ended. His leadership qualities and his courage were even more impressive. In our next to last game against Houston, Carter suffered some broken bones in his ribs and had his tongue ripped open by what was considered to be a deliberate attempt by one of the Oilers’ lineman to knock him out of the game. He could hardly speak for a week while his tongue mended, yet he was superb in our 45-7 victory over the Patriots that clinched the division title, and he battled valiantly the following week, when, with the broken ribs that nearly prevented him from turning his body, he played against the Colts.

We weren’t really ready yet to play in a title game against a team like Baltimore. The team, coaches by Don McCafferty, who played for me at Ohio State, was deeper, more experienced and more talented then we were, but it was a splendid opportunity to get our players used to the feeling of playing under championship pressure. Such a feeling is contagious; once you feel it, the more you like it, and the more you want to feel it again. Of course to some of our players it was exciting just to be on the same field as Johnny Unitas or even seeing him at close range because he had been their idol for years.

We arrived in Baltimore on Christmas Day, but were when we went to Memorial Stadium, I think the kids were a bit surprised to see what amounted to a dirt field, frozen solid and barren-looking this was not their idea of what an NFL, play-off field should look like, but there was nothing we could do about it. The next day was one of the coldest, bitterest days I can remember, made even more so by our fortunes in the game. The Colts controlled us from start to finish. They had figured out that Carter could not throw normally because of his broken ribs, and as a result, our offense did little. Unitas passed for two long touchdowns, the last putting the game away in the fourth quarter, and Baltimore won, 17-0. The Colts, of course, went on to win the Super Bowl V, but I was particularly gratified that we had gotten as far as we did because it put to rest for all time any insinuations still left over from the Cleveland years that the game of football had passed me by. That year I also received my second straight coach of the year award.

The draft the next spring produced mixed results but proved a bonanza for the Bengals in one very important respect-we finally got the quarterback we had been waiting for: Ken Anderson. Ken ranks just behind Otto Graham as my best quarterback ever. He has all of Otto’s physical talents, as well as that one tremendously important attribute for any topflight quarterback –stability is the basis for leadership, and leadership is a quality that transcends even a powerful arm or swift feet. A quarterback can never be a problem child in my system. I don’t take away the fact that fine quarterbacks like Bobby Layne and Sonny Jurgensen had their own life-styles, but Graham and Anderson epitomize the kind of man I’ve always wanted to build with. I’ve rarely met a player with better attitude toward other people than Ken. He is purposeful, poised, well rounded and one of the pleasantest men I’ve ever known in any business, I’ve had a wonderful relationship with him ever since his first season with the Bengals.

In fact, we were lucky to get him because Norm Van Brocklin, then head coach at Atlanta, had also targeted him as a solid prospect. He felt, however, that because Ken came from a small college, Augustana, he would be around for a few rounds while the Falcons strengthened themselves at other positions. Bill Walsh and my son Mike had gone to Augustana to look at Ken and worked him out. Their reports had been unanimous in their enthusiasm, and after we had made our first two selections, a pair of offensive linemen, I began to get concerned that if we felt so highly about him, others might, too, and select him ahead of us.

“I’m not going to gamble any longer,” I said to my staff. “If you still feel he is a great prospect, we’ll take him now.”

They all nodded, and that was it. If there was any gamble in taking someone from such a small school, it was simply that he hadn’t been exposed to the pressure of big-time competition. As it turned out, it never bothered him a bit because he had been born with poise, and from the start, he looked like a veteran: perfectly relaxed, able to assimilate everything that we taught him, an all-around player.

He had to be all those things because in his first season Kenny got crash course in NFL football that stepped up his progress several years. We still didn’t know whether Greg Cook would be able to play, and we knew we could not be totally successful with Virgil Carter’s limited passing range. When Virgil separated his shoulder in our third game against Green Bay and Cook was still recuperating, we knew we had no choice. Sooner or later Ken would have to go through a learning period, and it looked as if 1971 would have to be that year.

In the preseason of 1971, we took off on a hot streak, won five and tied one of six games, and we bombarded the Philadelphia Eagles in the opener, everyone’s expectations went skyrocketing. I had never deluded myself after our division championship in 1970 that we were still anything but a young, developing team that had to endure more growing pains before we became a bona fide contender-but nothing prepared me for the rash of misfortunes that was about to turn our season upside down.

As we went into the Green Bay, our record was 1-1, and though we lost Carter with his separated shoulder, Anderson did a fine job of keeping us in the game. Then, with just one play left from inside the Packer’s five-yard line and trailing, 13-10, we had to decide whether to kick a field goal and settle for a tie or to try to score on the fourth down and win the game. “I know what you guys want to do,” I said to our players.“Go for the TD!” they shouted, so we went in a quarterback keeper play for Ken that sent a convoy of blockers out in front of him as he rolled around right end. That was some way to welcome a young quarterback to the NFL: giving him the pressure of winning or losing a game on one final play. The play worked perfectly, however, except that Ken, from lack of experience and not yet knowing his blockers, mistakenly cut inside near the goal line and was tackled before he reached the end zone. Had he stayed outside, he would have trotted over through the path his blockers had cleared for those final few yards.

Some said after the game that I had actually asked our players for an opinion on what to do, and many saw this as a sign that I had mellowed and was changing the way I ran a game. The players knew better, however. It was simple that they had fought so hard-under upsetting circumstances-I felt that consideration should be given to them as to whether they wanted to try to win the game or go off with a tie. Their decision didn’t surprise me, and I think I would have been disappointed had they settled for the tie.

Those “upsetting circumstances” had nothing to do with the action of the game itself, but with a freak injury. Ken Dyer, a tall, lanky, hard-hitting defensive back had tackled the Packer’s big fullback, John Brockington, but as he did so, he had turned his head the wrong way, and in an instant, the shock from the contact had paralyzed his body from his shoulders to his toes. We all were stunned as he was carried off the field on a stretcher, and his fate was more on our minds that day than losing the game. The doctors at first feared that he might die, but that crisis passed, and then they felt he might never walk again because he had snapped a vertebra near his neck and his nerves was damaged. Luckily Ken could eat and talk, and his mind had been unaffected by the injury, so when the other dangers had passed, he began his rehabilitation.

Ken’s recovery is a remarkable and heartwarming story of how one man had to start almost from scratch and learn how to move again. We checked every day on his progress, and I even arranged for our game to be piped in by special radio line so he could follow his team. Dan Devine, the Packers’ coach, who was on crutches himself after suffering a broken leg on the sidelines in his season’s opening game, also visited him often, and I am very grateful for that kindness.

At one point during his rehabilitation Ken’s right leg suddenly turned blue and felt ice-cold. Ken thought it was a cramp and had his wife, Peggy, massage it to try to bring back some feeling. When it didn’t improve, she buzzed for a nurse, who, immediately upon seeing it, summoned a doctor. The problem turned out to be a blood clot, and the worst thing you can do with a clot is rub it. The doctors were afraid for a time that the clot might ultimately travel to his heart and kill Ken or become infected and cause possible amputation of his leg. He was forced to stop his rehabilitation program and became so ill he lost nearly forty pounds until the condition was cleared up. When he resumed his rehabilitation program to regain the use of all his extremities, his wife did not know how he was doing until one day he wrote on a piece of paper, “Go to hell.”

“I knew then,” Peggy told us later, “that he had his spirit back and he was going to be all right.”

Shortly before Christmas 1971 he walked out of the hospital, and Ken today is just fine. It is a pleasure to see that big, smiling face when he walks through our locker room on his periodic visits, but it was terrifying experience for all of us then. It was also a reminder that the dangers weren’t only on the playing field because when I saw Devine on crutches at that game, I couldn’t help thinking how close I myself had come during those many years to getting injured. On one occasion I was talking to Bill Johnson and not watching a punt when an official, following the ball’s trajectory as it sailed out of bounds, plowed into me, during a game at Nippert Stadium against Kansas City, a wedge of players came rolling into me on the sidelines, but luckily I jumped high enough for them to roll under me and just sat down on top of them. In both instances, I was unhurt but more alert from then on.

The Green Bay game was a good example of how things went that season-a couple of yards, or a dropped pass, or a broken play, or a crippling injury were the difference between winning and losing time and again. Against Oakland, for instance, we had fought from a 17-0 deficit and tied the score, 24-24, with the ball at the Raiders’ 10-yard line, when Anderson suffered a hip pointer that forced him to come out of the game. Our only available man was Dave Lewis, a punter who had been a quarterback in college, but who was strictly a last-chance guy with us. In two plays, he had us on the third-yard line, and we sent in the quarterback keeper play, feeling a big man like Lewis could almost dive into the end zone and score. He didn’t make it, however, and we had to kick a field goal. It was the crucial difference because then George Blanda led one of his famed last-minute drives, and Oakland won, 31-27. The week before, we had had a 24-20 lead against Cleveland when we had lost a fumble, which the Browns turned into the winning touchdown in the final thirty-two seconds.

Perhaps our game in Houston during this seven-game losing streak best epitomized our entire season. Our chartered plane was several hours late and caused us to miss our day-before workout at the Astrodome. Next, the bus driver from the airport got lost; then we even had trouble getting into the Astrodome on the day of the game because the security guard didn’t know who the Bengals were! After the game we discovered that our locker room had been broken into and some of the players had had money stolen. And when we arrived home, some of the players’ cars had been towed for being parked in the wrong location. Worst than that, we had lost the game to the Oilers, 10-6, in what I believe was the poorest professional football game I have ever seen-on the part of both teams.

I had never been through a season like that before, and though Carter came back and helped snap our losing streak by leading us to three straight wins, it was a relief to see it all end and have a chance for a fresh start in 1972. Our record also put us back in a favorable drafting position, so we resumed building our team, particularly our defense, and chose Shane White, a big defensive end from California, and defensive back Tommy Casanova from LSU, on our first two picks.

We had sent our defensive line coach, Chuck Studley, to California to work out White, test him and see what kind of person he was, and Chuck had given him a good rating, so we were glad to get him. He played well for us for four years, but unfortunately, like so many other players who come from the West Coast, he began making public statements about being traded to a West Coast team. We tried to make a deal but couldn’t do it to our satisfaction, so finally, we got our first-round pick back when we traded him to Buffalo after the 1975 season. I was very disappointed in White’s attitude, but I’ll never forget his saying after he left us, “Those Browns, Paul and Mike, all they ever think about is the team and winning.” What else were we supposed to think about?

Casanova was a splendid strong safety for us until he retired after the 1977 season to finish his medical studies. He would have been a first-round pick, but everyone was afraid he would forgo pro football for medical school. We agreed to allow him to finish his year’s studies at LSU before reporting to training camp, and the decision proved to be good for us. That draft also brought us Jim LeClair, who finally replaced Bergey as middle linebacker when we traded Bill to Philadelphia after he had signed a World Football League contract. Jim has already made the Pro Bowl team and has many more seasons ahead of him.

All this young defensive talent kept us in contention through most of the 1972 season, and we finished right behind the NFL champion Miami Dolphins as the AFC’s top defensive team. We vied with Pittsburg and Cleveland for the AFC Central title until the next-to-last game, when the Browns defeated us, 27-24. Earlier that summer more than 84,000 people had watched us play Cleveland in a preseason game at Ohio Stadium and in our three games that year against the Browns we played before more than 225,000 people. We have since discontinued the preseason game because both of us felt playing two games in the regular season was enough competition between our teams.

We finished the 1972 season with a resounding 61-17 victory over Houston, and with Ken Anderson playing quarterback full time, I finally felt our team was ready to become a legitimate contender. Our defensive team was solid, we had a quarterback who could throw the ball with strength and accuracy and, to top it off, Isaac Curtis, our first-round pick of the 1973 draft, was a world-class sprinter who could both catch and run with the ball. Isaac has since become one of the great stars of our era: a big man at 195 pounds, with the grace and balance of a ballet dancer and the hands of Dante Lavelli. I’ve often seen defensive backs start running with him and think they have him covered, only to have him turn on the “afterburners” in his legs and leave them looking as if they were standing still.

Curtis, who was caught forty-five passes for more than 800 yards and nine touchdowns in his rookie season, was one of the springboards that brought us our second division title in 1973. Anderson had matured as a quarterback after just two seasons, Essex Johnson was at his peak and Booby Clark excelled as a rookie. Berry, Reid and White all also had their best seasons for us on defense.

That defense showed its real mettle in our first game against the Steelers, when it held Pittsburg to only 138 yards and seven points. That turned our season around and gave our young players the confidence that they could beat a division champion. After struggling through a mediocre 4-4 record, we whipped through our last six games and captured the title. It was almost a replay of 1970, except that we had a better team, as did our close rivals, the Steelers and Cleveland Browns. And this time, unlike 1971, we won the tight games, by whatever means necessary. Against Buffalo, Muhlmann’s field goal in the final seconds was the difference, and we held O.J. Simpson, who was that year had a record-setting 2,003 yards, to 99 yards; we beat the Jets, 20-14, as Joe Namath allowed the clock to run out while he waited for a center snap with the ball on our 1-foot line; and we played our best game in beating the Minnesota Vikings, 27-0. The Vikings went on to play in Super Bowl VIII.

Unfortunately, when we played the Dolphins in the first round of the AFC play-offs, our luck ran out before we even got started. Essex Johnson, who had gained 997 yards that season, torqued his knee on his second running play-without even being touched by a player-and was lost for the game. With our best running back gone, the Dolphins’ defense concentrated on Clark and succeeded in shutting down our passing game by mauling Curtis before he could get five or six yards downfield. We trailed only 21-16 at the half, but with our offense so hampered, we could not control the ball, and we lost, 34-16.

Miami’s style of pass coverage later became a subject of controversy. Developed by Don Shula and then taken up by Chuck Noll at Pittsburg, who used to coach for Don, it was an offshoot of the bump-and-run, that started at the line of scrimmage and then continued downfield, with one or two defensive backs harassing a receiver until the timing of his pass pattern was broken. Shula termed it “rerouting the receiver.” The theory for allowing it was that the defensive man could not be certain if the play would be a run or a pass, but that was false. Actually, defenders know early and intuitively what the play will be. In our play-off game the Dolphins made certain that Curtis could not get downfield because he was cut, grabbed, pushed and totally neutralized. After that game I worked hard on the NFL’s Competition Committee to change the rule and allow only limited contract because this style of defense was hurting our game.

“What good is it for us to have performers who aren’t allowed to perform?” I asked the committee. “The fans want to see receivers get downfield so the passer will have someone to throw to. Unless we change, we are not taking advantage of these great athletes.”

Gradually the rule has been changed to limited contact, although I still think contact should be eliminated altogether, unless a running play is in progress. This matter is under constant review and always pits the teams with offensive-minded coaches against those who are defensively oriented. The adaptation of the rule, incidentally, has become known as the Curtis Rule, even though I wasn’t thinking of just one player or one team when I was pushing for the change.

Though such football matters and coaching the Bengals had consumed most of my time and attention in the years after Katy died, my life away from football was pretty barren. I played a lot of golf during the winter in La Jolla, as well as bridge and gin rummy with our friends, but I was living only for myself, an empty existence. I came home each night and cooked my own supper, watched television if there was something worthwhile on or read before going to bed. If I was with friends on social occasions, it was always unaccompanied, and when the evening ended, I went home again to an empty house. I noticed this void particularly after games, most especially after victory, when everyone scattered to enjoy himself and I was left on my own. I did not expect my sons to look after me, because they had their own families and friends, and though I was always welcome to join them, I felt it would be better if I went on my way. All this change in June 1973, when I married my present wife Mary who was a widow with four grown children including twin daughters. Her husband had died only two years after Katy, in 1969 and she had moves back to London Ohio where her parents had lived. John Sawyer had also lived in London at the same time and knowing where to look for a secretary he suggested she apply; and she did and was hired. As I got to know her in our day-to-day association I noticed how happy nature brightened our office, and then our friendship blossomed and grew until we got married. I soon found that having twin teenage daughters around our home was quite different from having three sons, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, even if we couldn’t always understand the words to their songs and often wondered why had to be played so loudly. Some of my happiest moments when Mary and the two girls met me after I returned from a game or a business trip, and I know bogged more than a few eyes as we all trooped arm in arm through the airport, laughing and chatting together.

My new life was a welcome relief from the problems which beset professional football early in 1974, when the World Football League began actively pursuing our players and causing economic turmoil because of their outrageous salaries and bonuses. Some of our teams have still not recovered from it. The WFL’s first big coup was signing Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield from NFL champion Dolphins, and it wasn’t too long thereafter that Bill Bergey walked into my office and said he was about to sign a WFL contract with the league’s Washington entry. We tried to dissuade him from signing, but he never gave us a chance to make a counterproposal because, as we found out later, he had actually already signed the contract, even though he had two more seasons remaining on his Bengals’ pact.

We took Bill to court to try to enforce and to void the other teams. Even if we could not win the case, as with the Canadian League case several years before, we felt litigation might force other players to think twice before signing with the World League, and thus slow down the wholesale raiding of our rosters. We lost the case and succeeded in that secondary aim, as we had expected, but the decision left us with a player under contract both of us and to another team. That was anathema to everything I believed in, and I could not possibly see how the welfare of our team was being served by this situation..

Meanwhile, during the litigation process, the WFL’s Washington franchise had been moved because the man who had signed Bill and bragged about being able to pay him more than $100,000 a year really had little money and was happy to be able to sell Bergey’s contract to the owner of another team for $10,000. That team, however, also had no money and wanted to rid itself of all such high-priced contracts.

One day, we had a call from the second team, telling us it was willing to accept $20,000 to tears up Bergey’s contract. The man who called, however, wanted the money in small Bills under the table. We told him we never do business in that manner and were not interested. I mentioned the incident to Mike McCormack who then was coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and soon after got a phone call from Leonard Tose, the Eagles’ owner, who said he would consider making a deal with us for Bergey and that he would take care of Bergey’s WFL contract on his own.

“This kind of thing doesn’t bother me.” Tose said. “I’m in the trucking business, and this goes on all the time in my world. What do you want for Bergey?”

We finally decided on two first- and second-round draft picks, a deal Tose made himself, McCormack later told me he understood that Leonard did indeed pay the $20,000 to get the other contract destroyed. I was severely criticized in Cincinnati for allowing Bergey to get away, but I certainly wasn’t going to go against my principles and pay money under the table, especially to keep a player who had no business signing a contract with another team in the first place. Later Bill would say to me, “Coach, I really liked living in Cincinnati, and miss the Bengals because I miss the way things are done there. I guess you can call what I did a mistake, but the money was there. I was young, and got carried away.”

We felt that losing Bergey was not a major problem, however, because we believed LeClair could step in and play with the same excellence. Unfortunately LeClair developed a bone spur in his foot, in 1974, which prevented him from playing for the full season, and his problem was just symptomatic of what happen to us that year. We lost eight starters, including such players as Ken Anderson, Boobie Clark, Essex Johnson, Vernon Holland, Bob Johnson and LeClair, and finished the season with just thirty-four players healthy enough to dress for the final game. I had never experienced such a devastating spate of injuries.

We were only a half game behind the division-leading Steelers, having beaten them, 17-10, with only 5 games to play, when it began. Anderson completed a record twenty of twenty-two passes against Pittsburgh, but his supporting cast disappeared over the next couple of games, and even Ken went down our next to last match, and we finished with a 7-7 record. After we lost to Pittsburgh in the final game, then were some ill-conceived comments that we had not made an effort to win, but we’d never had a chance going into the game. By that time Wayne Clark, who had thrown fewer than 100 passes in five NFL seasons, was our only quarterback, and if anything happened to him, our punter Dave Green, would have been forced to play the position.

We threw only eight passes in the game and were accused of running the ball so we could get the game over with quickly. We tried to make as good a game of it as we could, though, and as for not passing, I don’t believe Wayne really wanted to throw the ball; during the afternoon, we sent in some plays which he checked off to runs, so I think he had convinced himself that he faced a hopeless situation.

The game was on national television on the final Saturday of the season, and I kept the commissioner informed of our plight and what we intended to do, just in case there were national repercussions. There were none, however, just some comments in Cincinnati.

Even with the rash of injuries in 1974, we had played well enough to be contenders for most of the season, so there was a great air of anticipation for 1975. That anticipation was dampened somewhat, however, by yet another players strike, which forced a delay in the start of training camp. These actions had become tiresome and demoralizing issues for me, but I was pleased that our players were the only ones, as a team, to vote against the strike. Of course, I was painted by the union leadership as working to convince our players to go against the action, but I never tried to sway our players one way or the other. All I did was keep them abreast of what was happening by reading or posting the information we received from the league office and from AP sports wire that our radio people had hooked up for their own use.

I allowed our players to hold their own meetings, and most people didn’t realize that it was the leadership core on the team itself that was against the action and these men worked among the other players to discourage it. I didn’t have to say a word, and in fact, some of our veterans came into camp voluntarily and worked out with our rookie players. Some, like Pat Matson, the players’ representative, paraded outside carrying picket signs, but they never got much sympathy when people saw them driving Lincoln Continentals and read about them making $80,000 dollars a year. When a new contract was finally signed, freedom was not even a factor. It was strictly a monetary settlement, mandated by those who were running the union and hiring its expensive law firm.

In the end I think the strike actually helped the spirit on our team because our guys had to stick together in the face of the opposition from most other teams in the NFL. We also added ten rookies that year, , a young and happy group, and they gave us great zest to play. They brought a spirit of competition and enthusiasm with them and made it difficult for anyone not to get caught up in it. They pushed our veterans so hard that we won our first six games, and by the halfway mark we were in a three way tie for the AFC Central lead with Pittsburgh and Houston. Our passing game was so devastating that in a 33-24 victory over Buffalo, Anderson completed thirty of forty-six passes for 447 yards--- and not one pass intercepted.

We finished the year with an 11-3 record, second place in our division to Pittsburgh, the eventual Super Bowl champion, but good enough to qualify as the AFC’s wildcard team in the playoffs against Western Division champion Oakland Raiders, whom we had beaten, 14-10, during the season. I was happy ---but knew deep down within me that this might be my last game as a head coach. I said nothing to the players, though.

Facing off against Oakland we were behind, 31-14, early in the fourth quarter, when Ken Riley’s interception set up a 25-yard touchdown pass to Charlie Joiner, and then 5 minutes later, Isaac Curtis took a ball from Oakland defensive back Neal Colzie in the end zone and brought us to within three points with about five minutes left to play. Soon after, Ron Carpenter fell on Ken Stabler’s fumble at Oakland’s 37-yard line, and I thought we really had a chance to win. We called a crossing pattern pass to Joiner, which had worked earlier, but as Anderson was about to throw the ball---and Joiner was in the clear---Ken was sacked by Raiders linebacker Ted Hendricks, who had slipped off Boobie Clark’s block. That was our last gasp. Three more passes netted only six yards, and the season was over. The game still might have been ours, though, had Ken been able to get off that first down pass.

I’m sure that as our players replayed that game, they were sure they would return in 1976 for another try at the Super Bowl, and if they had asked me three months before, I probably would have agreed. When the season had started, I had not thought about retiring, but the idea was kindled as we continued to be successful. The entire season had been a happy, wonderful experience for me, and I had always thought that when I did finish coaching, I wanted to go out on a high C. By 1975 I was satisfied with what I had achieved since returning to the game.

Also, as I have noted at the beginning of this book, professional football had changed drastically since I had come back. The thoughts of the 1975 strike were still very vivid, and having had to go thought player walkouts four times in 8 years had been very discouraging. I think the disappointment from the Bergey incident also colored my decision because I saw that loyalty was becoming less and less important. In Bill’s case, we had been very patient for the first three years while he made his mistakes and become a good player, and I had believed in him because he had seemed to be so enthusiastic about playing for us.

There were other problem areas as well. I had found that regardless of how successful we were, the media seem to be happy unless they could dig up some problems or criticize us. I’ll never forget flying to a game in our chartered plane and over hearing one of the Cincinnati writers saying to the man sitting next to him.” I sure hope the Bengals lose tomorrow, I can write better if they do.” Another media member, a beginning radio broadcaster, said ,”I’m sorry, coach, I hate to attack you, but my superiors think that is the quickest way to advance my career.” I couldn’t understand that attitude because after all, we represented Cincinnati, and certainly life was to short for me to live in this type of atmosphere. Much of the pleasure of the game was gone.

The increasing influence of some players’ agents had also become a problem. As opposed to relatives, college coaches or bona fide lawyers, these people literally lived off other people’s efforts, and I had no respect for them at all. I never dealt with them personally, but my son Mike did, and their influence was pervasive. Some told their players to complain publicly and demand to be traded because it would get them more public attention; others never even saw their clients play football and made unreasonable demand on the team simply so they could get more money from their percentage of the deal. I always thought the player’s loyalty should be to our team and our community, not to some agent who just used him.

We have always wanted to be fair and honest in our dealings with our players because we know that if we aren’t we won’t have their full heart and effort. We try to guide them and to help them stay within their financial capabilities, but we are not a bank that the irresponsible can use when they don’t meet their normal obligations. For instance, we’ve had a player who didn’t pay their income tax then come to us and want to renegotiate their contract so they could meet their obligations. When we’ve refused, they’ve gone out and called us cheap and “insensitive” to their needs.

As the 1975 season wound down. I looked at all these factors and decided it was time to stop coaching. After the play-off game I spent the next two weeks putting everything in order. Bill Johnson was my choice for head coach. I felt he shared my general coaching beliefs, even though he apparently felt otherwise about some of them. In the middle of his third season, of his own volition, he resigned. And Homer Rice, an assistant, was elevated to the head coach job. Homer has done a superlative job of putting the pieces back together, but in all fairness to Bill, injuries at key positions had been disastrous. I know that when I appointed both, there were other assistants who thought they should have gotten the job, but I could appoint only one man, and I wanted to make the choice early, without any speculation, to avoid division within our organization.

Bill agreed that Mike McCormack and Charley Winner would be worthy additions to our coaching staff, and he arranged for them to be hired. After that there was nothing to do but make the announcement, and I know I shocked Al Heim, our energetic public relations director, when I called him at home on New Years Day in 1976 and told him to tell the media. I gave a brief statement, hung up the phone and then disappeared from public view until the news had been digested.

I have not regretted the decision because I am well satisfied with my forty-five years as a coach. I can look back and feel that I never worked a day in my life because what I did wasn’t work—it was fun. And as I look back over those many years, I find that no matter how people and times have changed, the words of Dean Elizabeth Hamilton of Miami University still ring true:

“The eternal verities will always prevail. Such things as truth, honesty, character and loyalty will never change.”

I have tried to live my whole life by those words—and it has made me a happy man.

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Great find, Billy. Happy New year!

Thanks Dave. I spent over an hour just reading it twice because I found it so insightful into todays Bengals management. Plus it kept me out of the bars on New Years Eve. Happy New Year to you, and all Bengalszoners too! :sure::cheers:

Be safe everyone.

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Makes you wonder what the old man would say if he were around.

I think that would be that todays game has passed him, and his organization by. Pauls son Mike Brown was steeped in the workings of an older NFL, and simply doesn't seem to be up to todays requirements to keep the Bengals a consistently winning team. In other words, you can teach an old dog a few new tricks, but usually not enough to win at Westminster.

In defense of Mike and Katy, which is highly unusual for me, they are just going with what they know, learned from watching their father run the organization. Unfortunately what worked in the '60's and 70's seems archaic fourty year later.

Bottom line? All we can hope is that these old dogs can learn at least another couple tricks to return this team to the playoffs, because they aren't going away any time soon. Please bow your heads in prayer... prayingsmileydd6.gif

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