Wyche's next big game on river

9-4-01, 1:10 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

It's September and what else is new? Sam Wyche has a big game on Cincinnati's riverfront this Sunday.

"Is there any way," Wyche asked Monday, "they can let us use the other place on Sunday?"

Why not? Wyche has the memories of a lifetime in old Riverfront Stadium, now Cinergy Field. He ran five yards past the Raiders to score Riverfront's first touchdown on Sept. 20, 1970 and in 1988 he coached the Bengals to their second Super Bowl.

Now he comes to Paul Brown Stadium Sunday to test his fragile voice as an analyst when CBS-TV televises the Bengals-Patriots 1 p.m. opener.

CBS wants him to succeed, so they have made him part of a three-man announcing crew with play-by-play man Gus Johnson and fellow analyst Brent Jones. The idea is not to put a strain on Wyche's voice, damaged nearly two years ago when his vocal cords were accidentally cut during surgery.

But there's also the unsaid that Wyche will say. If he loses the battle with crowd noise and can't rise above it like last year, CBS wants someone in the booth who can finish the game with Johnson.

Wyche - a big Jon Kitna guy by the way _ is on a week-to-week contract with CBS. He lasts as long as his voice.

"It's not the first time I've had a week-to-week contract," Wyche said. "I did it in 1988 after the 1987 season. And I guess that turned out all right."

One of the last times Wyche was in Cincinnati this past winter, his appearance

on a radio show spurred talk that he needed a heart transplant. Like any talk around a living legend, it was a bit of a tall tale.

"I've got Dick Cheney's pacemaker," said Wyche, the man who publicly empathized with Clarence Thomas in their rough autumn of '91.

"He uses it weekdays and I get it on the weekends."

But Wyche is suffering from a draining heart disease

known as cardiomyopothy. Medication has reversed the the process and he feels much better than he did around Christmas. But need of a transplant will always loom in the future.

But the heart is fine. It's the unpredictable voice that is making this game another big one for him in Cincinnati. He thought it was fine last year at this time, but it failed him and CBS had to look elsewhere.

Yet things went well during the crew's Aug. 18 rehearsal at the Meadowlands during the Jets-Ravens game.

"My only problem is that at half time people from the team's front offices came into the booth and I talked the whole time," Wyche said. "I should have rested. With three in the booth, I'll get a chance to rest as long as I need. It's competing with the crowd noise that makes it tough for me."

Wyche has been a Kitna fan since he saw the Seattle rookie light up Cinergy Field when Wyche was working the Bengals' pre-season games on TV in 1997. He was taken aback when he did some Seattle games during Mike Holmgren's first year as coach in 1999.

"I was surprised at how cool Mike was about Kitna so early. He must have had a couple of bad practices in a row," Wyche said. "Kitna is one of those physical players, one of those gutty guys. I think teams see them as leaders, not prima donnas."

Wyche said Kitna gets in trouble with the one big interception, but he thinks it showed up more in Seattle as the Seahawks struggled on the cusp of the playoffs.

"He would be playing well and then he'd make the one mistake," Wyche said. "Other quarterbacks on other teams could survive that because of a good defense, or good players around them. Cincinnati is going to be in the tight games.

"I think he's got better players around him in Cincinnati," Wyche said. "They have one of the best backs, if not the best running back in the game. Lorenzo Neal is a terrific blocker and the three receivers are excellent."

Wyche is one of the few guys who isn't concerned that three quarterbacks shared snaps in training camp.

"In the long run, that may be the best thing for Jon Kitna," Wyche said. "Training camp is too long. It's not only about getting ready, but it's also about getting ready to play a long season. The legs are rubber, arms are tired in camp. From the standpoint of depth and being ready to play the whole season, I think that may benefit the Bengals."

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