BY GEOFF HOBSON
The danger has passed. So as former Bengals coach Sam Wyche recounted the horror of losing his voice for frightfully long stretches this spring and summer, he was able to roll out a few gags.
"Oh sure, they would have liked it," said Wyche of the Cincinnati sportswriters who would have had to cover a Silent Sam. "They would have been happy in the league office, too."
Wyche can talk now. Not like when he had the most expensive vocal cords in the NFL and racked up the biggest fine in league history at the time when he barked at a female sportswriter.
But he can talk above a whisper. The voice is still a bit hoarse, a bit deeper, but it's so much better than it was four months ago, when a nerve was cut during a medical procedure.
It's even better than a month ago, and for anyone who appreciates candor, wit and football, that's a good feeling.....
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Here's a coach, a broadcaster and an after-dinner speaker who can charm the rubber off the chicken. Words are his currency and yet he couldn't talk across his kitchen or chat in a restaurant.
"It was just a nightmare," Wyche said today after his third round of golf since he took sick after the season. "It was scary, considering it's my livelihood."
But his doctor has told him this week he's a go to make good on his new three-year contract with CBS as an analyst, teaming with Kevin Harlan when the NFL season starts in two months. That's a relief, because Wyche had to bow out of doing arena football league games this spring on Thursday nights on TNN. So maybe it was fitting that part of his rehab included stints at the Vanderbilt Voice Clinic, where Nashville's country and western singers go to get tuned.
Now he's back to doing what he does best, which is opining on a variety of topics:
ABC's firing of Boomer Esiason: "I called him and missed him and he called me and missed me, but what could I say to him? I feel awful. I think he'll be fine, but I still feel awful for Boomer."
The opening of Paul Brown Stadium: "It gives an extra oomph to the crowd and to the team. It's an extra bonus the other guys don't have. I remember back in '88 when we went to the Super Bowl and it was the first year that Spinney Field was expanded and they put that big meeting room in. That's not what you need to be a champion, but it gives you something fresh and new and can erase some of the negativity."
On coaching again: "(Wyche mentor) Paul Wiggin told me I would miss it for the first two years and I would start getting used to it the third year. But it's my fourth year and I still miss it. But it would have to be a situation I knew was right and the people thought I was the best fit."
Wyche's health problems began shortly after the season, when he turned 55. When he couldn't shake double pneumonia after the season, a doctor's visit revealed he had a huge blood clot around each lung. When they went into fix that, they were alarmed to find enlarged lymphnodes. They took out 14 nodes and ruled out cancer, but the nerve to his left vocal cord was damaged after the procedure.
"As long as the right vocal cord can reach the left one, you're OK," Wyche said. "But my left one was getting no instructions and the right one was doing all the work."
About two weeks ago, Wyche underwent his final surgery in which an implant was placed so his left vocal cord was dragged closer to the middle so the right one can reach it easier. Plus, doctors put in a nylon thread that pulls the voice box tighter.
"My doctor says I'll feel better and talk better every week," Wyche said. "CBS has been great about it and I'm thankful this happened during the offseason. I'm feeling better all the time. I'm back running and I'll get back to weightlifting once I heal from this last surgery."
Wyche won 64 games in his eight seasons in Cincinnati (the Bengals have won 40 in the eight since he left), but couldn't get over .500 here (64-68) and in Tampa Bay (23-41). Still, he proved to be innovative and exciting enough that you figure someone in college or in the NFL might give him another shot. What about as an NFL offensive coordinator?
"Yes, but I'd really have to know the head coach well," Wyche said. "I coached one year of college at Indiana and I just loved it and now they seemed to have made the rules so the recruiting isn't as time consuming as it was. It would have to be a situation I know is right and not something where I'd say, 'I'll try it for two or three years.' " But for now, he'll keep a close eye on the Bengals and Buccaneers.
"Those are the two teams I really notice," Wyche said. "The Bengals have got talent in a lot of places (on offense). Every team in the NFL has talent and for every team it comes down to how their quarterback plays."
WARRICK ON PACE:Agent Norm Nixon has given his client strict orders: "No days off until you're finished." Nixon said this week that Bengals first-round pick Peter Warrick planned to work Wednesday, Thursday and today in a bid to finish his community service for the state of Florida. That means he's got nine days left of the 30-day sentence stemming from last fall's petty theft charge. With Warrick allowed to pick up trash every day of the week but Monday, Nixon is confident Warrick will be done by the time training camp opens July 21. When he's done, he can also get $3.47 million of his $8.47 million signing bonus.
LANGUAGE TALK: The agent for third-round pick Ron Dugans is hoping to talk to the Bengals about wording. Specifically, Jim Steiner is looking at the club's Carl Pickens Clause, which is attached to the signing bonus and exposes guaranteed money to the same loyalty standard in player contracts.
But team officials feel good about the language because they are using words straight from the collective bargaining agreement and applying it to the bonus. The second paragraph of a player's contract says he, "agrees to give his best efforts and loyalty to the Club, and to conduct himself on and off the field with appropriate recognition of the fact that the success of professional football depends largely on the public respect for and approval of those associated with the game. . ."
Article 55, section 6 of the CBA says, "The NFL Players Association and Management Council agree that each will use its best efforts to curtail public comments by Club personnel or players which express criticism of any club, its coach, or its operation and policy, or which tend to cast discredit upon a Club, a player, or any other person involved in the operation of a Club, the NFL, the Management Council, or the NFLPA."