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Hobson's Choice Podcast: Sam recalls first Bengals training camp

Posted Jul 7, 2017

If Paul Brown is the most important person in Bengals history, then Sam Wyche is the second. In the first of our Hobson’s Choice Podcasts celebrating 50 years of Bengaldom, Wyche takes us into that first training camp of 1968 as seen by a rookie backup quarterback.

Sam Wyche: Paul Brown gave him back his 1968 playbook.

It was this week back in 1968 that head coach Paul Brown convened the first Bengals practice in history at the club’s training camp and rookie quarterback Sam Wyche was there at Wilmington College.

“We belonged right away because of the preparation in that first training camp,” says Wyche of the first two months of Brown’s Baby Bengals as the AFL’s expansion team in the latest Hobson’s Choice podcast.

There’s no one like Wyche, 72, who can fling you down memory lane to that first orange-and-black summer like one of his passes as Brown’s backup quarterback in the first three seasons of existence. At the end of each season he coached, Brown collected the playbook of the player he thought took the best notes and he called for Wyche’s book at the end of the franchise’s first season.

So if Brown is the most important person in the history of the franchise, and he is, then that means Wyche is the second.

Not only did Wyche come off the bench in his last game as a Bengal in 1970 to lead them to a win in the season finale over the Boston Patriots to secure the team’s first division title and post-season berth, he returned 14 years later to Cincinnati as a cutting-edge innovator who birthed the no huddle and a Super Bowl appearance in eight seasons as head coach.

“The team molded pretty quick,” Wyche says of that first camp. “We knew it was a short fuse … If you got cut by an expansion team, there were very few teams that would pick you up.”

One of Wyche’s indelible memories from that summer is Brown writing on the blackboard, “Why?” and underlining it.

“If you know why, then you’ll remember what to do, you’ll know when to do it, and if you know when to do it you’ll know how because we’re going to practice it all week long and have you ready to play,” Wyche recalls of the man they called The Master’s approach. “That was the message and he repeated it over and over in that first training camp.”

Other podcast highlights:

-When Brown hired Wyche as his head coach in 1984, he gave him back his 1968 playbook and one thing still stands out.

“He would say, ‘Men, I want you to be courteous to the ladies that are serving in the dining hall. They’re working hard and they’re tired as well. You say please and thank you,’” Wyche says. “It surprised me because I thought we were getting ready for football games here and you’re coaching everybody on the details of what they should do between practices getting ready for those games.”

-Wyche bonded almost immediately that camp with receivers coach Bill Walsh, the future Hall-of-Fame head coach with the 49ers. Walsh always had his dorm room door opened at Wilmington’s Pickett Hall, where Brown prohibited air conditioners, and Wyche almost always stopped by after the morning practice to begin a relationship that weaved through his four years as a Walsh assistant and culminated when they met in Super Bowl XXIII after the 1988 season.

“The West Coast Offense was pretty much started in that 1968 Cincinnati Bengals team,” says Wyche, who can still remember the southpaw Walsh driving home a point slapping his left hand off his right palm.

-Wyche remembers the thousands of fans that showed up that first camp and how many of them came from Cleveland Browns’ territory and how their allegiance to Paul Brown made them automatically Bengals fans: “You didn’t have to have too manty T-shirt giveaway days to do it … Paul was a star.”

-There was a lot of young talent in that first camp, particularly a 12th-round tight end named Bob Trumpy, a future four-time Pro Bowler. Trumpy was such a natural receiver that Wyche believes his long touchdown pass to Trumpy in the regular season that year was the first time a tight end ever caught a ball split out as the widest receiver.

-Wyche’s 275-page memoir, Third down and forever, is due on book shelves, in airports, and on Amazon.com at the end of the month.

-It’s a heck of a story because he’s 10 months out of a heart transplant and keeps defying his doctors. He’s had five biopsies that say his new heart is fine with no sign of rejection. And he just completed a 2.5-hour drive from his Pickens, S.C., home to play in Arizona head coach Bruce Arians’ golf tournament, where spent 4.5 hours in a grueling sun.

“I felt 20 and 30 years younger,” Wyche says of the day he got the heart that has made him the Forever Bengal.

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