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This day in '81: Eddie wakes up D to sack Rams

Linebacker Bo Harris (53), defensive tackle Wilson Whitley (75), and defensive ends Ross Browner (79) and Eddie Edwards (73). (AP photo)

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. 15: It takes a lot for the high-octane Bengals offense to get overshadowed these days, but their defense manages to do it with a suffocating 24-10 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in which they pick off four passes, register six sacks, and knock quarterback Dan Pastorini stone cold out of the game.

The Bengals go to 8-3 and their veteran middle linebacker says exactly what the infant Bengals Nation, born only a few weeks ago, is thinking.

"I can see us going to the Super Bowl," Jim LeClair says after it is over and Cincinnati Enquirer sports columnist Mark Purdy makes sure he identifies him as a "sane and sober 10-year veteran," on a day crazed Riverfront Stadium has a banner unfurled in the upper deck saluting the first year of the new helmet design: "Striped Super Bowl."

The center of attention is Eddie Edwards, the rampaging left end who comes up with three more sacks to give him eight for the season. Mike Dodd of The Enquirer notes that Edwards has to be the first guy to get fined for sleeping through curfew.

With head coach Forrest Gregg cracking down on a team that let the late 1970s float away on a cloud of indifference, players are to report to the hotel the night before the game for dinner, meetings and bed. First, Edwards took a nap.

"I set the alarm for 8 o'clock, but I didn't notice I set it for 8 a.m. instead of 8 p.m.," Edwards tells the writers. "I turned over at 11:15 and I said, 'Oh no.' I didn't get to the hotel until midnight. The guys knew something was wrong when I wasn't at the team meal. I don't miss (any) meals. But hey, I guess that's why I played so well. I got a lot of rest."

There is also a new awakening on defense that will snap the NFL out of a sound sleep and stay with it 30 years into the future. With second-year defensive coordinator Hank Bullough at the controls of a 3-4 defense, he lines up defensive lineman Mike St. Clair behind nose man Wilson Whitley in some passing situations.

"On some plays St. Clair dropped back of the line to throw a very large twist into the pass coverage," Purdy writes of St. Clair's 6-5 frame. "On other plays the line ran stunts to harass Pastorini."

It sounds for all the world like the first crude Xs and Os of Dick LeBeau's cutting edge zone blitzes and fire zones. LeBeau is the 44-year-old Bengals secondary coach who will become the oldest rookie head coach in NFL history for the Bengals in some 20 years or so. But he'll become famous for revolutionizing defense to keep pace with the offenses that are beginning to explode throughout the league.

The Bengals are the epitome of the era with their West Coast offense superbly engineered by a pinpoint passer with record-setting accuracy in Ken Anderson and three Pro Bowl types in wide receivers Isaac Curtis and Cris Collinsworth, and tight end Dan Ross exploiting the new rules designed to open up the game.

But on this day the Bengals need two more picks from red-hot cornerback Louis Breeden because they fail to get 200 yards of offense. No worries. A week after getting two interceptions in San Diego, one a 102-yard TD return, Breeden sets up the day's first touchdown with a 43-yard return to the L.A. 6.

Lonnie Wheeler, the other* Enquirer* sports columnist (the Bengals have become media darlings as well as destiny's), lauds Breeden's virtue as a gambler while also pointing to his speed as a rangy centerfielder in Hamlet, N.C., for Richmond County High School.

But Breeden says it's a lot simpler than that.

"The defensive line is putting good pressure on the quarterback and they're throwing passes they wouldn't otherwise throw," Breeden says.

On the play he gets knocked out of the game, Pastorini never gets a chance to do otherwise and Edwards blows him up.

"I don't remember where I hit him," Edwards says. "He was ducking his head and I sort of came in with my chest."

The other quarterback survives, but not before amazing his teammates and scaring his coach. Anderson comes into the game with a badly bruised left shoulder from the week before from a hit by San Diego's Pete Shaw. Anderson tells the media even though it isn't his throwing shoulder, it has hurt his throwing motion because "you can't rotate your body all the way through. You end up throwing it more with your arm than your body and you don't get as much velocity on it."

But with the Rams shutting down the passing game (a brutal 9-of-21 for 76 yards), Anderson leads the Bengals in rushing with 58 yards on four carries to type out a very big line on his NFL MVP résumé.

"I think he showed tremendous courage today; he gutted it out," Collinsworth says. "They had so many people off the line it was leaving big holes in the middle of the field for Kenny to run it. They were playing a lot of man coverage where they were chasing the backs and doubling the wideouts."

The Cincinnati Post's Greg Hoard observes Anderson doesn't hesitate and takes off on his third snap of the game for 16 yards.

"When he came back to the huddle we just looked at him in amazement," says Pro Bowl right guard Max Montoya. "I wasn't expecting it and I don't think the Rams were."

Asked why take the risk, Anderson says, "They were big first downs for us."

"At least I improved my sliding technique," says Anderson, who continues to get ribbed for not being able to escape hits cleanly.

"I cringed every time he ran," Gregg says. "But he made some good decisions out there. He knew where the first down was and he got out of bounds."

Gregg and Anderson are becoming national celebrities. Two weeks ago they were up at dawn to appear on the Today Show. Now that the Bengals are comfortably in first place in the AFC Central and Denver is coming to town next week, Gregg will find out the next day that NBC wants to interview him and Anderson that Wednesday to tape the pregame show.

"Have them set up by about 12 to do Kenny and I'll do it at 12:15. I have the Denver guys at noon," Gregg tells Bengals PR man Al Heim.

If it sounds like Gregg is in control, he is. Edwards not only gets a game ball, he gets fined and vows to throw his radio out the window.

"It's not the idea of a curfew. It's the idea of enforcing the curfew," LeClair will say the day after the game. "Anybody can set ground rules, but if you don't back them up, what good do they do?"

LeClair will be asked if, perhaps, the rules weren't always enforced around here.

"I would say they were bent," he says. "They're not bent now. If you're late, you're late."

But Eddie is right on time.

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