The Countdown to the Super Bowl flips down the days on Page 1A as Cincinnati careens full force into its first championship game. Super Bowl XVI is headed to Pontiac, Mich., and the Silverdome on Jan. 24, so the Bengals have a week to prepare before their quick flight north six days before the game.
Greg Hoard of The Cincinnati Post writes how the players have become towering celebs in a city that ridiculed them just 18 months before coming off a 4-12 season, and the column captures how the first seeds of Bengalmania have been planted so deeply by this Dream Team.
The painted faces, the orange wigs, the black-and-orange Bengalmobiles have all been born this season along with the chic new Bengals striped helmet.
If this van is a rockin', it must be a Sunday in The Jungle.
The day after the Ice Age Jungle is the scene of the 27-7 win over the Chargers in the AFC championship game amid the minus-59 degree wind chill of Riverfront Stadium, head coach Forrest Gregg is hosting about 30 reporters jammed into the utilitarian Bengals practice facility at Spinney Field and the enormity of the accomplishment sinks in.
He is now 3-0 in three of the coldest games ever and the Bengals are in Super Bowl XVI after being born the season it was still being called the third AFL-NFL championship game.
Mike Dodd of The Cincinnati Enquirer breaks them up with names. The 1962 "Wind Bowl" when Gregg's Packers beat the Giants for the NFL title in New York. The 1967 "Ice Bowl" when the Packers won another NFL championship in Green Bay by overcoming the Cowboys in the final seconds. And now what Dodd calls "The Polar Bowl" in Cincinnati.
The nickname doesn't stick. But the memory does.
"I can't speak for the players, but for pain endured, it was the toughest one for me," says Gregg, who had the luxury of playing tackle in the other two. "When we played in New York in 1962 they had very little grass on that field, it was cold, the ground was frozen and the wind was blowing worse than it was yesterday. We didn't have the cold weather equipment we have now. It was a very uncomfortable game because the ground was frozen and the wind was blowing so hard and the dust was whipping through the air.
"Green Bay in '67 was somewhat similar to the New York game, but the temperature was colder; it was below zero. There wasn't as much wind as yesterday, but that was colder than the New York game and I think we were a little better prepared for it."
Gregg has no plans to move the Bengals indoors this week before they go to Detroit, even though the game is in a dome. Gregg is still mindful of coach Vince Lombardi's first appearance in the playoffs when he took the Packers inside and then ended up losing in Philadelphia on a sloppy field.
But the idea is to still get as much work done before going to Detroit. After a workout Wednesday at Spinney, the Bengals have Thursday off before embarking on a regular Wednesday-Saturday week of practice that is now run Friday through Monday before getting on the plane Monday afternoon.
"Then we'll do it all over again," Gregg says.
Even before it swarms Detroit the national media is seduced by the matchup of the Bengals-49ers after a decade dominated by the Dolphins perfection, the Steelers defense, and the Cowboys glamour.
"So how does the NFL and CBS sell Super 16? 'Tis a puzzlement," wonders Dick Young, the powerful New York columnist. "No Dallas Cowboys, no Pittsburgh Steelers, no Oakland Raiders, no America's Team, no (Al) Davis' dirty tricks, no Mean Joe Greene, no John Matuszak. My God, here it is Super Bowl XVI and we're introducing a brand new product between two teams that have seen a Super Bowl before only on a television set."
Young is downright scary when he predicts that third-year 49ers quarterback Joe Montana "seems to have star quality. That's what this thing needs."
But the Cincinnati scribes know the national guys are also going to fall in love with the gangly rookie receiver out of Florida that this season became the first Bengal with 1,000 receiving yards. Cris Collinsworth shows up for work this week and The Post's Enos Pennington describes how CBS immediately pulls him into a room off to the side. This week is truly the start of a career that nets Collinsworth double-digit Emmys as one of America's premier sports broadcasters in the following three decades.
"He's almost more at home in front of a camera or a recorder mike in his face as he (is) rambling over the middle to catch a Kenny Anderson pass," Pennington writes. "He's the most quotable and quoted of the Bengals and seems destined to be the media darling in Detroit."
Now we see where he gets it.
"If it was the ninth inning and the bases were loaded and two were out, I would want Cris up to bat," Collinsworth's mother tells Pennington. "He's always been a winner."
But CBS is going to have plenty of competition from the homefront. Peter King, the intrepid young TV/Radio sports columnist for* The Cincinnati Enquirer* who will one day be on a Super Bowl broadcast himself, has to be content this week with documenting how the Cincy market is going to blanket the game that takes place in 10 days.
With three decades of technological hindsight, the equipment is prehistoric. But in terms of 21st century budget-cutting, the manpower seems mythic.
"This is unprecedented in the history of WKRC in terms of remote coverage," says Denny Janson, the sports director at Channel 12. "We'll be tough to beat."
In the next few days, Janson, sports reporter Donn Burroughs and news director Rob North are to leave with three cameramen. Soon, news anchor Nick Clooney, sports reporter Walt Maher, and a news reporter are to follow while Burroughs is to return at mid-week to handle coverage from Cincinnati.
King also notes that the always immaculately dressed Janson and Maher have already rented tuxedos for what is being called the Super Bowl Ball on the Saturday night before the game.
But Channel 9 news titan Al Schottelkotte isn't going to hand it over to Janson. King calls it "a patented Al Schottelkotte surge." He'll have access to CNN and CBS cameras and feeds and the freedom to go live from both Pontiac and Detroit. Schottelkotte, the long-time Channel 9 news director and anchor, compares it to a political convention.
"It's what news is all about," he says. "All the drama and the excitement that goes into it."
TV is how most of Bengaldom is going to see this one. Ten days before the game and all the tickets are gone. The papers say the Bengals and 49ers were each allotted 22.5 percent of the Silverdome, or about 17,550 seats at $40 per ticket.
The experts are saying they are going to watch a tight game. Tom Flores, who coached the Raiders to the title the year before, gives Cincinnati "a slight advantage in overall strength. They have better depth and are on a roll."
Dick Vermeil, whose Eagles lost to the Raiders, sticks with the NFC and the Niners: "All know is if you can beat Dallas twice in a season, you've got a football team."
Meanwhile, the honors for quarterback Ken Anderson roll in. A United Press International story spits out, "Ken Anderson is making a clean sweep of this year's NFL Most Valuable Player awards. He added another one Wednesday with the 27th annual Jim Thorpe Award as the league's most outstanding player."
The Newspaper Enterprises Association polled head coaches, captains and player reps of all 28 teams to award the Thorpe. Anderson has already won MVP by the Pro Football Writers, The Sporting News, Pro Football Weekly and the Associated Press, and UPI has named him AFC Player of the Year.
There is some simmering edginess to this matchup. The theme is simple and irresistible. Forty-Niners head coach Bill Walsh playing Anderson, the quarterback he made. Walsh playing the Bengals, the team where Walsh made his own name with the West Coast offense. The team where he thought he would replace Paul Brown as head coach. It was played out the month before when San Francisco came east and throttled the Bengals.
It is too good of a storyline to be repetitive and this week Brown is again explaining how he thought Walsh is a brilliant coach and didn't think he would leave Cincinnati if he gave the job to a senior man on staff, offensive line coach Bill Johnson.
Glenn Dickey, a sports columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle, goes for the jugular early this week. The words are sharp enough that 30 years later in the Bengals archives some of the paragraphs are red-penned. One can almost see Brown or Gregg filing them away.
Or maybe they were just too juicy for a researcher years later to resist.
"The 49ers more than the Bengals (are better suited) to handle the special pressure of Super Bowl week; especially those from the media," Dickey says. "The Bengals are used to an uncritical and gullible media. When Gregg said after losing to the 49ers the Bengals had been down all week, the Cincinnati media faithfully reported that without ever questioning why they weren't ready for such an important game. Wait until the players and Gregg start getting questioned by New York reporters."
Clearly Dickey is capturing some of what the 49ers are feeling and, who knows, maybe even Walsh himself.
More red pen:
"I don't think we'll have trouble preparing for them," Walsh says. "I don't mean that it will be easy to stop them because they have a lot of weapons. But I don't expect any real surprises from them."
More Dickey and more red pen: "The reverse, though, is not true. Walsh changes his game plan so much every week and this time he'll have two weeks to make the changes. ... In the playoffs Walsh has clearly outcoached Ray Perkins and Tom Landry and in nine days Forrest Gregg will be added to the list."
But the real word isn't far away. Hours after winning the AFC title, Bengals wide receiver Steve Kreider's Porsche is in a head-on accident on Kellogg Avenue when an "uninsured 1972 Ford" comes into his lane. He suffers cuts to his head and his wife Nancy is knocked out.
When he shows up at Spinney Field a few days later, Kreider says the injury is nothing more than what an NFL wide receiver gets when he goes over the middle.
He thanks the good Lord and admits, "It puts it all in perspective."
For all the Montanas and the Collinsworths and the remote TV shots, the media has also rediscovered a relic from the glory days of the 1950s, realizing that at age 73 Bengals founder and general manager Paul Brown is still working even though he has been retired from coaching for six seasons.
A banner has flown over Riverfront during the playoff games thanking Browns owner Art Modell. Modell is the man that fired Brown in 1962 as head coach in Cleveland. NBC shows it and Modell is said to have complained to the league.
"In our society today, once you get past 50, people think you're no good for anything anymore; they think you're finished," Brown tells The Detroit Free Press, in town this week to set up the game in its city.
The paper finds that Brown sits in on the Monday morning film sessions in which players are graded and Xs and Os are discussed. He works hand-in-hand with Gregg and his son, assistant general manager Mike Brown, but still has the last word in which players are cut, traded and drafted.
"That (impacts) the franchise, that's up to me," Brown says. "I try to treat Forrest the way I would want to be treated if I was coaching. I stop in and look, but it's their game plan, it's their playbook. If I have an idea, Forrest will talk to me. I always end up saying, 'Do what you want to do and what you see.' He makes the final decision and that's the way I would want it if I was coaching."
Brown took the Bengals to their first three playoff appearances, something he never dreamed when he returned from a six-year exile in 1968. He thought he would coach two or three years to get it going, "take the rap while we're losing," and then head upstairs. "But then we made the playoffs and like a darned fool I stayed eight years."
"When I came back I got a letter from this guy who had followed my career," Brown says. "He said, 'How can you jeopardize your coaching record by coming back with an expansion team when you can't possibly win?'
"I said, 'Hell's fire. I don't care about that. I don't ever look back. I look ahead.' "
So are his team and his city as the Super Bowl calendar flips to Super Sunday in Detroit.