It looks as though it may be a long time between drinks for Paul Brown. The Cincinnati Bengal coach, general manager and part owner (left), who denies himself his usual predinner martinis during the pro football season because he expects his players to do the same, must be thinking Super Bowl after watching his club demolish the Philadelphia Eagles 37-14 last weekend in the season opener at Riverfront Stadium. When Brown had a chance to check the other scores around the conference, a Super Bowl trip—and another month of abstinence—seemed even more feasible. Oakland and Kansas City, both contenders, lost and Miami, reputedly a strong team, was tied by lowly Denver.
While the Eagles are certainly no powerhouse, they do have a stout defense, and the young Bengals, after playing an overly cautious first half, ripped Philadelphia apart in a spectacular second half that kept 55,880 fans in an uproar.
Cincinnati's statistics were awesome: Virgil Carter completed 22 of 30 passes for 273 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. The running backs added 236 yards on 35 rushes for an average of 6.7 yards per carry. And Ken Anderson, the rookie quarterback from Augustana College, made good use of the couple of minutes he was in by completing two of three passes for 37 yards and running once for 16.
The play that established the Bengals' domination was the second of the third period. At that point Cincinnati was leading 10-7 and had the ball on its own 10-yard line, second and nine. Brown, as always, sent in the play.
September 26, 1971
"We thought it might work because we noted that the Philadelphia strong safety was run-conscious," Carter said after the game. "It's a play action pass. The strong safety is supposed to help out the cornerback deep on pass coverage or come up in support against the run. So we faked Essex Johnson into the line and Speedy Thomas went right by the cornerback. The safety took the run fake, and when Thomas beat the corner he was all by himself."
Carter, who has been criticized for his inability to throw long, uncorked a perfect pass that traveled 40 or more yards in the air and hit Thomas in full stride. "It was just a footrace then," Thomas said later. "Somebody caught up with me at about the five-yard line but I stiff-armed him and went on in."
In the old days, Brown's Cleveland teams were a bit on the conservative side; now he has become a gambler. For example, in the first half the Bengals had a fourth and two on the Eagle five-yard line. In Horst Muhlmann, a German import who is one of the two or three best placekickers in the NFL, Brown had a certain three points, but he chose to go for the first down, and Fred Willis, a rookie back from Boston College, got it by half the length of the football. On the next play Carter passed to Eric Crabtree for Cincinnati's first touchdown, another unorthodox call.
Crabtree figured in still another surprising play in the fourth period after the Eagles had scored to make it 27-14. This time the Bengals were on their own 32, first and 10, a good situation for a pass, especially since Carter was throwing so well. Instead, the call was a pitch-out to Johnson, a speedster Brown often saves for use in the second half when the opposition is tired.
Crabtree's assignment was to block back on the linebacker, and he did it perfectly. Ernie Wright, a huge offensive tackle, swung wide to take out the cornerback. "I heard Essex hollering, 'Run, Ernie, run,' " Wright said after the game, grinning hugely. "Heck, I was already running as hard as a 31-year-old man can. I got a piece of the back and Essex cut to the inside and he was gone." It was a beautiful, twisting run in which Johnson twice broke tackles and reversed his field three times, and it carried 68 yards for a touchdown.
While the Bengal offense provided most of the fireworks, the defense did its job, too. Spearheading a pass rush that dumped Eagle Quarterback Pete Liske three times and harassed him into three interceptions was Mike Reid, an All-America tackle from Penn State who is now in his second season. Although he missed the last three exhibition games with a knee injury, he played with a quickness and agility reminiscent of Henry Jordan during his All-Pro seasons with Green Bay. Oftener than not, Reid made a welcome mat of unfortunate Mark Nordquist, the guard who was playing on him. Reid is noted for his ability as a piano player and has given concerts with the Cincinnati Symphony. On Sunday he played Nordquist like a drum.
"I just had a good day," Reid said afterward. "I'm not big enough [6'3", 258 pounds] to overpower people, so I depend on my quickness more than anything else. That worked for me during the first half, so I just kept trying to beat them off the line."
A knot of reporters had gathered around him, and Wright, whose locker is next to Reid's, shook his head in simulated disgust. "Get that Reid," he hollered. "Man plays 'one game in four and everybody wants to talk to him."
Everybody wanted to talk to Brown, too. "They made a few mistakes," he said, "but all young clubs make mistakes, and I expect them. We saw a lot of good things out there this afternoon. They showed poise and confidence. Every time it looked like the Eagles would catch up, they took the play away again."
According to Brown, the Bengals changed from tabby cats to tigers in about 11 seconds, or as long as it took Lemar Parrish to run 95 yards against the Buffalo Bills in the eighth game of the 1970 season. Cincinnati had won its opener 31-21 from Oakland with Sam Wyche at quarterback. Then it dropped six straight, including a 38-3 drubbing by Detroit and a 20-0 thumping by Washington. So when the Bengals fell behind the Bills 14-13 it seemed as though they were well on their way to last place. But Parrish returned the following kick-off for a touchdown and Cincinnati, inspired, went on to win 43-14. It also won the next six in a row and the championship of the AFC Central Division.
"Those early losses were mostly close games and we got beat by some good teams," Virgil Carter said the day before the Philadelphia game. Carter had been acquired from Buffalo for a sixth draft choice a month before the 1970 season began after being waived by the Bears, who liked his lip even less than his arm. "Things just weren't going our way," Carter added, "but we weren't getting killed. And we just weren't smart enough to know that you can't win a division title after losing six in a row."
Ernie Wright, who is one of only four players left on the team from the original veteran draft of 1968, is the elder statesman of the squad. "An old-line club would have given up after losing six straight," he said. "These kids played like they didn't know they had lost at all. They just wanted to look good. And they stayed real loose. This is always a real loose club. There never was any pressure put on us the Tuesday after we lost. Paul Brown would go over the game and point out our mistakes as a team, but he never said anything about it after that. Some coaches on a Thursday might still be saying, 'You played a bad game last week.' Not Brown."
The maturation of Carter, who took over at quarterback in the fourth game of the 1970 season, had a good deal to do with the closing surge and the Bengals' 5-0-1 exhibition record this year. "He's a fine young man," Brown said one day last week as he sat in his small office at the Bengal practice field, his feet on his desk. He looked happy—and far less intense than when he coached the Cleveland Browns (1946-62). "Carter is the best quarterback I have ever had at analyzing a game in progress," he went on. "When he comes off the field, he can tell me exactly what went wrong on any play, and when we check the movies later he's right. When he left the Bears the rap on him was that he couldn't throw the long ball but, believe me, he can throw as far and as accurately as any coach could want."
"I gave the Bears a lot of verbal trouble," says Carter, "so when they wanted to get rid of me they used the long-ball thing as an excuse. I can throw long, but why should I? Everybody plays zone defenses now, and if you throw into a deep zone you get intercepted. When that happened with the Bears the quarterback coach, who spent about one day a week with the team, would say, 'Virgil, don't throw interceptions!' Which is a real big help.
"If I throw an interception here, Bill Walsh, our quarterback coach, goes over the play with me in the film and points out exactly why it went wrong. He does the same thing with Ken Anderson. Walsh is as creative a man as I have ever seen and he tells you positive things. For instance, on one of our pass patterns near the goal line he showed me and Ken that the only way to complete the ball was to throw it low and to the outside of the receiver. Ken called the pattern in the exhibition game down in Miami and threw low and outside to Crabtree, and Eric caught the ball for a touchdown. If he had thrown it anywhere else, it would have been intercepted."
Carter and Anderson worked out equally at quarterback during the week leading up to the Philadelphia game. The practice sessions were short—usually an hour and 15 minutes—an old Brown custom, but more lighthearted than those he held at Cleveland. "These are kids and they like to have fun," Brown said. "I don't mind that. I'm back in football to have fun, too."
On the afternoon before the game, practice lasted only 30 minutes. Usually this practice is devoted to the special teams, but on this day Brown was working on some razzle-dazzle, including an end around and a complicated double reverse that winds up with the quarterback swinging wide and throwing deep.
Jess Phillips, a starting running back, arrived 15 minutes late, but Brown paid no attention to him. "I thought practice was for 1:30," he said sheepishly. A few minutes later Crabtree showed up with the same excuse, and Paul Robinson, the other running back, hollered. "You guys better get your watches set right. You're making Paul Brown a rich man!" (Late arrival for practice carries an automatic $50 fine.)
Greg Cook, the starting quarterback in 1969 who sat out last season and will miss this one after two operations to correct a shoulder injury, watched the workout with Chip Myers, a wide receiver who managed to break both arms in an exhibition game.
Hanging from the side of a viaduct that overlooks the practice field was a banner reading CARTER CLUB, and Crabtree pointed it out to Cook and laughed. "What happened to all them signs used to read COOK IS BETTER THAN NA-MATH?" he asked. "Man, you been here about long enough to collect your five-year pension and you been in about four games. Guess it just proves white players can't go in the clutch."
"When I came here from San Diego," Ernie Wright had said earlier, "I didn't know if I would last 10 minutes. I know Jim Brown real well and I wasn't at all sure I could get along with Paul Brown. But everything I heard was completely wrong. He's as honest as a man can be and he treats everyone squarely. Lot of people with the power he has you can't even approach. But you can always talk to Paul Brown. Maybe you can't change his mind, but you can still talk to him. Playing for him has enriched my life and I enjoy it."
The practice was meticulously organized and went off crisply, the units operating with precision and enthusiasm. Cook shook his head. "What a difference," he said. "I remember going to the first Bengal training camp in 1968, when I was a senior at the University of Cincinnati, and being surprised at how slow and overweight the club looked. Now they're all lean and hungry. We look like a real good football team."
"We are just about on the schedule I set when we started," Brown said after the practice. "I'm not like most of the other coaches in the league because I have my own money invested in this club and my sons are in the organization. [Mike Brown is the assistant general manager and Pete is director of player personnel.] I'm not trying for immediate success by trading draft choices for veterans who might be able to help me for a couple of years. We're building on youth, and that takes time. We try to have a younger player behind a veteran wherever we can. Rufus Mayes is an example of what I mean. He's in his third year and he plays behind the offensive tackle and guard. He's just 23 and by the time Ernie Wright is ready to retire Mayes will be ready to step in. We want to build for continuing success."
Brown interrupted himself, got up, leaned out the window and called to a player walking toward his car. "Take care of yourself, Sandy," he said. "I may have been a little hard on you a while ago, but it was for your own good."
Brown sat down and smiled. "Sandy Durko is one of our defensive backs," he explained. "I don't know if you noticed, but he got a little too enthusiastic in dummy scrimmage and hurt his knee hitting a receiver he shouldn't have hit at all. I emphasize to all the players that they should never take a chance on getting hurt on a Saturday. No real professional ever does. I'll never forget one year with Cleveland, the Saturday before we were to play the Detroit Lions for the world championship. Tommy O'Connell was my starting quarterback that year, but he had broken his leg earlier in the season and was still limping badly, so Milt Plum was the only healthy quarterback I had. At the end of practice, horsing around, Plum asked one of the players to throw him a long pass on the way to the dressing room. He was running under control, but the ball was overthrown and he accelerated all at once trying to catch it and popped a hamstring. With two crippled quarterbacks, we lost."
Last weekend, with two healthy quarterbacks, the Bengals won, and Brown was wondering how long it will be before he could have that first glorious martini. If Cincinnati keeps winning, it will be in precisely 119 days.