12-22-02, 11:45 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
What's in a name?
The Bengals' first win of the home season in their 2002 Cincinnati finale as Nicolas Luchey (that's LOO-chee, not LOO-shay as Paul Brown Stadium announcer Tom Kinder would have it), got named everyone's player of the game when his first 12 carries of the season came in the fourth quarter of the Bengals' 20-13 win over the Saints.
"I don't know who Loo-shay is," Luchey said. "That's a French name. They've been doing it every week, so it wasn't a big deal."
On Sunday, the French quartered New Orleans as the 270-pound Luchey bowled the Saints to the brink of play-off elimination on a three-yard touchdown run with 1:46 left in the game, capping a monster 12-play, 64-yard drive in which he carried six straight times for the final 36 yards.
Luchey, who has lined up at tight end, fullback, and H-Back for the Bengals this season, added running back to his resume in a surreal fourth quarter Corey Dillon (bruised left elbow) and Brandon Bennett (ribs) went down. Luchey, who never scored a touchdown as Nick Williams in three previous NFL seasons before changing his name in August, made a name for himself one game away from free agency.
He did it with simple isolation plays to the left and right that conjured up images of boyhood hero Jerome Bettis. Both are Detroit guys and that's where James Nicolas Williams grew up. His name is now James Nicolas Williams Luchey because Luchey sought the family name of his biological grandfather.
"I like to be the hitter, not the hittee," Luchey said. "I like to run the ball. I feel like I can run the ball. There's nothing better than running through guys, to me. For me, Bettis was a guy growing up that I went to go see when I was in Little League and middle school. I've been a Bettis fan all my life. My (running style) is a lot similar. I get hyped off the same way he does. Just running through people. It's fun."
As the third-string running back, Luchey's job is to play the other team's running back in practice. He outrushed the guy he played this week, NFC rushing leader Deuce McAllister, 59-26, and he played so well that the post-game talk-show rumor mills got way ahead of themselves about Luchey's emergence making Dillon expendable in a trade to Oakland for the Raiders' two first-round picks.
Yes, Dillon is a West Coast guy and has a stated goal of going to the Super Bowl. But memo to the Talk Masters:
Williams is also a free agent and it's doubtful the Bengals would or could move Dillon because he would count about $7 million against the salary cap in '03 and his 126 yards on 18 carries Sunday showed what makes him one
of the best backs in the league despite his two fumbles.
And, like quarterback Jon Kitna said, "Our guy is number 28."
But on Sunday, the guy was Luchey even though he hadn't run the ball in a game two days shy of two years.
"It's been a long time coming," Luchey said. "It's nice to be able to show what you know you can do."
Luchey said it was no big deal. Each practice he figures he gets five to 10 plays in a row, and so his heart rate wasn't out of the ordinary. But that's been a sore point with the coaches who are forever on his back for coming into training camp overweight (once in the 290 range) and seemingly always coming up with a nagging injury because of the extra baggage.
"We always kid him about his weight," said right tackle Willie Anderson. "But he's one of the most talented guys you'll find in football as far as being a big guy who can move, who can adjust. That's one of the reasons the Bengals always kept him around. He's a big guy who can block and he's a very good runner."
Since Sean Brewer went down the third week of the season, the club had been trying to get a blocking tight end in here because that made Williams, already the backup fullback and H-Back, the second tight end and that cut into his versatility. They finally got a blocker at tight end last month in the person of Tony Stewart.
One of the things that meant is they didn't have to worry about keeping Luchey exclusively at tight end in case of injury and it was the presence of Stewart Sunday that made it that much easier to put Luchey at running back. He had started three of the previous four games as the second tight end.
For the most part, the Bengals hammered Luchey behind one tight end, fullback Lorenzo Neal isolated on a linebacker, and wide receiver Ron Dugans going in motion and isolating on the safety. They basically just changed the formation in what amounted to their best blocking back and best blocking receiver blocking for their biggest back.
"In the second half, that was a good changeup for Corey and Brandon," Anderson said. "He was just pounding guys for five yards a carry."
Six of his carries went for at least six yards. On third-and-one, he bolted for 13 and on fourth-and-two he went for seven by making people miss, although the 13-yarder got called back on wide receiver Chad Johnson's hold.
Kitna: "They were the same two plays all the way down the field. I was very surprised they didn't do anything to counteract what we were doing to try to stop that. We switched the formation, but it was the same two plays either way."
People know Luchey is a good blocker, and they know he can catch, and now they know he can pound it. As he watches Luchey head into free agency, Dillon said, "He did his thing. I think he just got a few more coins."
As they did with Neal, the Bengals failed to sign Luchey to a contract extension earlier in the season, but Luchey said his agent plans to keep talking to the club.
"This helps solidify that I'm a versatile player," Luchey said. "I can contribute to a team in many ways, whether at tight end, fullback, or special teams. I feel that helps me out a lot. I'm not exactly sure what is going to happen in free agency."
When Luchey saluted former running back Ickey Woods with "The Shuffle," after the winning touchdown, it just wasn't some name he saw in a yearbook. Running backs coach Jim Anderson often shows his players cut-up videos from the old days.
"I've seen film of these guys back in the day," Luchey said. "They used to fight. To me, today that's what we did. We fought and fought and fought."