This day in '81: Bengals duke out Earl

!Pete Johnson

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.

NOV. 2, 1981: Paul Brown used to check in on the sportswriters that covered the Bengals with an endearing, "Hello ink-stained wretches," and on this day they've spilled plenty of ink on the Bengals the morning after their huge 34-21 AFC Central win over the Oilers at Riverfront Stadium.

Until that Sunday, Oilers Hall of Fame running back Earl Campbell had punished the Bengals with his signature vicious runs. But as if to signify there is a new day on the horizon, Campbell exits early and so does Houston from the playoff chase at 4-5 and the Bengals going up two games on the Oilers at 6-3.

"It took three and a half years, seven games, and one-plus quarter, but the Cincinnati Bengals solved Earl Campbell," Mike Dodd writes in The Cincinnati Enquirer. "Let him pull a hamstring muscle and then jump on the Oilers defense so there's no point in playing him in the second half."

For the first time in his pro career Campbell doesn't get 100 yards against Cincinnati but he nearly does with 74 yards in the first 20 minutes before the hamstring balked. The back of the day turns out to be Cincinnati's own bruiser. The 250-pound Pete Johnson gets the game ball with his first 100-yard days of the season, 114 on 26 carries, and a niche in Queen City lore.

Enquirer columnist Mark Purdy baptizes Johnson as "Cincinnati's new cult figure: The Bengals Cisco Kid," and reports a banner fluttering from a plane overhead during the game is the ultimate in "aerial flirtation: Pete Johnson I love you from K."

While his teammates are giving him the business in the postgame locker room, running back Archie Griffin is telling Purdy how and he and quarterback Cornelius Greene hosted Johnson for his recruiting visit to Ohio State.

"They said, 'You've got a real swinger here. You've got to show him a good time,' '' Griffin says. "We're at a party and I remember pretty soon Pete was over in a corner talking to this girl. I think he came to Ohio State because of that girl, but after he got there he never saw her again."

That's OK. Cincy is falling head over heels for Pete after he deals out some Earl-type punishment. And everyone is in love with this offense. Tight end Dan Ross is fascinated how the big man keeps on going. "I think Pete can run forever," he says.

But Ross is becoming a cult figure of his own as one of these new-wave tight ends. After sitting out the week with a sore foot, he gets six more catches and two more TDs on this day and he's got Isaac Curtis numbers while rookie receiver Cris Collinsworth continues to complement Sir Isaac with five catches and an 18-yard TD from Ken Anderson.

Collinsworth really likes that one, given it comes against Houston cornerback Greg Stemrick. Stemrick is a Cincy kid, from Lincoln Heights, and he can't stop talking.

"Unless you've got a real funky paper or work for some underground publication, you couldn't print what he said anyway," Collinsworth says.

Despite getting beat by Collinsworth and run over by Johnson for the first Bengals TD, the 185-pound Stemrick is still going after the game.

"I believe I'm only as good as I believe I am," he says. "When I talk about that it's only because I believe it's the truth and not selling myself on something fake."

Anderson's claim on best player in the NFL is very, very real after he pitches 21-of-30 for 281 yards, three TDs, no picks, and orchestrates the 24-point second quarter. Years from now when Anderson or Houston's Kenny Stabler are debated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, people rarely talk about a game like this.

Stabler throws for 311 yards, but he also throws three picks. He'll end his career with 222 career picks in 184 games while Anderson has 160 in 206. Anderson will also end up with three more career TDs than Stabler.

On this day, the Bengals defensive front jams up Stabler's passing lanes and Greg Hoard of The Enquirer, noting the Bengals came into the game with the NFL's worst ratio of four interceptions out of 242 passes against Oakland, reports interceptions from linebackers Glenn Cameron and Reggie Williams and safety Bo Harris.

"He wasn't getting clear vision down the field," Williams says. "That would bother any quarterback but since Stabler is a lefty and has a  tendency to throw it sidearm, it hurt him more."

The Bengals survive a scare when their emerging Pro Bowl left tackle, sophomore Anthony Muñoz, is carted off the field with knee injury in the fourth quarter. A player falls on it in a pile, much the same way he suffered his knee injuries at USC that wiped out his senior year.

Muñoz comes back to the sidelines, fighting back tears and banging his crutches in frustration. But the preliminary reports are it is just a sprain and he'll be able to go next week in San Diego.

That's the way the breaks are going now. Last week's brutal 17-7 loss to the 1-6 Saints is a distant memory.

"I think last week we grew up a lot. I think everybody was sick about that," says head coach Forrest Gregg. "I think the guys even caught hell from their wives last week. They caught plenty of it from me."

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