This day in '81: Bengals can't kick about home field

Cris Collinsworth

Each week from the bye on, plans to go down the stretch with the 1981 AFC champion Bengals to see what was happening in the newspapers on this date 30 years ago.

DEC. 21: The Queen City is savoring the kings of the AFC as the newspapers and rest of the media pick apart the 30-28 victory in Atlanta the day before.

In three weeks it will be a win of historic proportions because it makes possible the Freezer Bowl, the AFC championship game played in the minus-59 degree wind chill of Riverfront Stadium. But the victory over the Falcons that guarantees the Bengals homefield advantage in the playoffs is greeted coldly in and out of the visitors locker room at Fulton-County Stadium.

In what will turn out to be an Arctic winter, the 39-degree chill of Georgia is summer.

"God don't like ugliness," says a somber Ken Riley, who has been with the team for nearly as long as it has been in existence and still can't seem to celebrate that team-record 12th victory.

"Atlanta's Bad Luck (hurst) saves Bengals victory," screams the main headline of the Cincinnati Enquirer sports section.

Left-footed Mick Luckhurst yanks a bad snap right and his 33-yard field-goal try goes awry with six seconds left, but the Bengals are livid. The Cincinnati Post describes some players chasing the officials off the field snarling, "Get out of here."

Bengals head coach Forrest Gregg is perplexed when he greets the reporters. "I still have not, I repeat, have not received" an explanation of the holding call on cornerback Louis Breeden covering Wallace Francis. Gregg says he called a timeout just to get one. The penalty puts the Falcons in field-goal range and Breeden goes ballistic.

The cornerback the papers call "mild-mannered" throws his helmet to the turf, bumps an official, and has to be restrained. Someone named Mike Moroski, just off a 13-week stay on the injured list with a cracked shoulder, overthrows Francis at midfield, but he's given a new life as he tries to rally the Falcons back from a deficit that was once 24-7.

"He made his move to go inside. He initiated the contact. No way I hold that guy," Breeden says later, a bit calmer. "No way. I've never reacted that way in my life. I guess there's a little insanity in all of us. I don't think that was the real me. I just got upset."

Bengals kicker Jim Breech is also feeling a bit down even though he's one of the heroes. He's three of four on his field goals and breaks Horst Muhlmann's club record for points in a season with 115.

But it turns out that Luckhurst is a good friend and offseason workout partner in California. Both kicked at Cal and while Breech is four years older they have bonded over the kicking sessions at a high school.

"I don't think I could have been happy either way," Breech says. "The one thing I can say is I think it's justified where I think we deserved to win the game."

Football is a funny game. While Luckhurst doesn't blame the low snap, Breech praises the work of holder Steve Kreider. Kreider, the club's third wide receiver, hauls down a high snap from Blair Bush and allows Breech to kick a 20-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that proves to be Cincinnati's last and winning points.

"He was almost standing up. Steve's been great all year," Breech says.

But, naturally, Bengals wide receiver Cris Collinsworth, the rookie from Florida, has the biggest catch of the game. A 74-yard touchdown from quarterback Ken Anderson helps him become the  first Bengals 1,000-yard receiver.

But he drops a ball late in the game and still has his sense of humor intact.

"I was scared they were going to cut me and send me back to pick oranges in Titusville. I thought I blew it at the end of the game," he says.

Marty Williams of The Dayton Daily News offers some insight into the relationship between the 32-year-old Anderson and the 22-year-old Collinsworth as he describes the evolution of the 74-yarder. Early in the game, he approaches the veteran to tell him that Falcons cornerback Kenny Johnson isn't respecting his deep speed.

"We go deep on this guy real quick or I'm not going to do anything all day against this guy; he's laughing at me," Collinsworth tells him.

Collinsworth makes a move on the sideline and Johnson, looking for the pick, bites.

"And the rookie was gone," Williams writes.

The Bengals are off next week, waiting for the winner of the Wild Card game between the Jets and Bills TBA. The betting money is they host Sunday, Jan. 3. at 1 p.m.

"It's been a long, tough year," Collinsworth says. "And I think we've got a lot of people like Eddie Edwards and Kenny Anderson who just have to get healthy. This is going to be a real blessing for us."

Collinsworth knows how he's going to spend the first 48 hours of the off week.

"In the whirlpool," he says.

Outside the team buses, Mark Purdy, the sports columnist of The Enquirer, spots Breech getting on to the bus with an oversized sheepskin boot. It's the one the Falcons gave Luckhurst to keep his kicking foot warm on Sunday. Since the Falcons finish 7-9 and are staying home, Luckhurst gives it to Breech to keep his right foot warm the next month.

"What are friends for?" Purdy asks.

Bring on the playoffs.

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