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Fulcher Two Stay

Bengals safety David Fulcher is out in coverage against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 6, 1988. The Bengals won 42-7.
Bengals safety David Fulcher is out in coverage against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 6, 1988. The Bengals won 42-7.

David Fulcher

It may not be Alexander Graham Bell's "Watson, come here," or Neil Armstrong's "One giant leap for mankind." But Dick LeBeau's "Fulcher Two Stay" safety blitz from the Bengals playbook of the late 1980s ushered in a new era, too and became just as groundbreaking in the world of professional football.

It is believed to be the first zone blitz call ever and 25 years later Sunday's Super Bowl pitting the NFL's two top defenses in Pittsburgh and Green Bay displays how the scheme has evolved like Graham's telephone and Armstrong's lunar module. The Steelers' LeBeau, inventor of the zone blitz, and the Packers' Dom Capers, his associate back in Pittsburgh during the blitz's first heyday of the early '90s with a young assistant named Marvin Lewis, are now using iPhones and Hubble telescopes.

But for David Dwayne Fulcher, it all still looks an awful lot like that simple first call from his rookie year of 1986 fresh out of the third round out of Arizona State.

"Fulcher meant I was blitzing, but it was going to stay Cover 2 zone coverage depending on the formation," Fulcher recalls this week. "Depending on which side I was on, the cornerback would rotate into the middle of the field to become the safety and the outside linebacker would drop off into his spot."

Like all great innovations, the keys are in the simplicity and standing the test of time.

Just ask former Bengals Pro Bowl quarterback Ken Anderson, the just-retired Steelers quarterbacks coach who won four NFL passing titles in the decade before LeBeau doodled the zone blitz on an airplane napkin while on a scouting trip for the Bengals in the mid-'80s.

"In the old days," Anderson says, "when they blitzed you knew all you were going to get was single (safety) high coverage. And that was it. Man-to-man. But when Dick came up with the zone blitz, now there were people in the zones."

When LeBeau left the Bengals in the wake of head coach Sam Wyche's departure after the 1992 season, he became the secondary coach on rookie head coach Bill Cowher's staff in Pittsburgh that included Saints refugee Capers as the coordinator and Lewis in his first NFL season as the linebackers coach. "Fulcher Two Stay" mushroomed into "Blitzburgh" with outside linebackers blitzing and defensive ends dropping into pass coverage and all hell breaking loose as the Steelers dominated the early '90s.

Cowher would become a legend while Capers would start two expansion teams as a head coach, Lewis would rebuild the Bengals, and LeBeau would be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame by a generation of selectors that knew him as the man who countered the modern passing game. After six more seasons in Cincinnati, three as head coach, LeBeau returned to Blitzburgh and only Capers stands between him and a third Super Bowl ring in six seasons.

"We've been sworn to secrecy," says Lewis with a big smile of those days. "It's great to see."

Lewis, with a Dick LeBeau football card in his cubicle, soaked it all in. LeBeau the idea man. Capers the notebook-laden detail guy. Cowher the energetic head coach. Lewis, by the way, does dead-on impersonations of all three.

"When Dick stared doing it back in Cincinnati, he didn't feel like they were big and strong enough to rush the quarterback," Lewis says. "He wanted to find a way he could fool the protection and still have zone coverage so you could break on the football and not get your back turned as much. You get the ball out of the quarterback's hands as quickly as you can and break on the ball."

LeBeau built on his concept with their help and there it was a week ago in the NFC title game. Lewis was amazed that Fox analyst Troy Aikman was saying he was surprised the Packers weren't blitzing much in the second half. From what Lewis could see, that's all Capers was doing with his subtle coverages.

Especially on Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji's interception return for a TD.

"Double Sting," says Lewis of the same blitz he says LeBeau used for outside linebacker James Harrison's pick and TD in the Super Bowl two years ago.

Basically, Double Sting is a blitz off each edge with interior people dropping into coverage. Against Chicago, outside linebacker Clay Matthews and cornerback Sam Shields blitzed while Raji dropped into the middle and right into the path of a checkdown pass to the running back.


Same concept. Different guys. More guys. The revolution continues.

"Out of 60 plays, we maybe ran it 10 to 15 times," Fulcher says. "I was always the guy and the offense never really accounted for me. They would put a back on me or nobody and I could handle the running back pretty well. We used it on passing downs, but now they use it in base."

Fulcher only had 8.5 career sacks, but at 240 pounds he caused cutting-edge havoc. His 31 interceptions are third-most in Bengals history and his three Pro Bowls are the most by any Bengal but cornerback Lemar Parrish.

He was Troy Polamalu before Troy Polamalu and the game changed. With Fulcher the first generation linebacker-safety that spawned the Steve Atwaters, the offenses began moving away from Smurf receivers to the tall playmakers that could run. But like LeBeau gives Polamalu carte blanche all over the field, he unleashed Fulcher in the run game.

"Obviously we're different players," Fulcher says. "He's amazing at 200 pounds. I couldn't do what Troy does in the pass game and I could do things he can't do in the run. I was always sticking my head in there in the middle. Dick gave me the green light and I had a signal with the corners just before the snap if I wanted to blitz.

"Dick told me, "I'm going to build this defense around you,' and that gave me a lot of confidence because he had confidence in me."

LeBeau, a student of history and Civil War buff, always makes sure the Steelers know Fulcher before one of their pitched battles at Paul Brown Stadium. Fulcher is the NFL rep policing uniforms and when he's on the field before games LeBeau will grab Polamalu, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and say, "Here's my safety then and here's my safety now."

He's still got that first blitz somewhere because whenever LeBeau introduces Fulcher to a Steeler, he says, "Here's the Fulcher."

"To be on the same field with a guy like Polamalu, it's a thrill; he really is something," Fulcher says. "He's pretty soft-spoken and doesn't say much. But some of the other guys come up and can't believe I played safety at this size."

At 46, Fulcher has been as versatile off the field. After retiring he worked for a mortgage company, and then took a crack at the memorabilia business before working with disadvantaged children. Now he's settled running his own firm, "Mentoring Against Negative Action," and one of his clients is Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis.

Fulcher teaches a two-month course on life skills to inmates who sign up in the Hamilton County Justice Center and is trying to find financial backing to help them find jobs when they get out. He's had Lewis, among others in the community, speak to his classes and is looking to keep it growing.

"This is what I want to do for the rest of my life; I think it's making a difference to these guys," he says. "I feel like I've got a great relationship with the sheriff and that this is one of the programs he doesn't want to cut."

He'll here watching the Super Bowl, like Edison watching the light show at halftime.

Because, in the end, Fulcher did stay.

"I watch Steelers' games now and I tell my friends that's the stuff we were doing," he says.

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