Unlike the current Cincinnati Bengals team, the 1988 squad spent the weekend following the end of the regular season resting and recovering with a first-round playoff bye.
As the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs, the ’88 Bengals earned what at the time was one of three first-round byes. Buffalo and Seattle also got weekends off, and the Bengals knew the Seahawks would be their opponent in the Divisional Round while the Bills had to wait and see who would win the Houston-Cleveland game (the Oilers did 24-23).
The time off certainly was welcomed by a beat-up Bengals squad.
Head coach Sam Wyche gave quarterback Boomer Esiason, who had a sprained finger and a sprained ankle, the entire week off. Offensive linemen Joe Walter and Bruce Reimers both were injured in the regular-season finale against Washington, while running back Ickey Woods and wide receiver Cris Collinsworth also watched a few workouts from the sideline.
“We’re trying to keep our minds on football, but we’re resting at the same time,” Wyche said early in the week. “We did a lot of mental work, both in the classroom and on the field.”
But Wyche was worried that the lax approach might have a carryover effect, so by later in the week, he was back to his old self.
“He was all over us,” safety David Fulcher said following the Thursday practice nine days before the game. “He was cussin’ us and everything.”
“I probably startled a few guys before we went out on the field,” Wyche said. “I didn’t get made at them, but I did get real serious with them. I could feel the edge starting to slip a little bit.”
In addition to the injuries, Reimers had gone home to Iowa to be with his daughter, who was hospitalized with a viral infection. And nose tackle Tim Krumrie missed a practice to be with his wife, Cheryl, who gave birth to their second child.
Add all of that to the influx of national media and other distractions, and it only intensified with Wyche called “coach’s paranoia.”
“We’re not complaining about any of it,” Wyche said. “But you’ve got to handle it. You’ve got to put it in its right place. My approach to (the players) was ‘Shut up. Square your jaw. We can’t be thinking about anything else. We can’t be thinking about a party in June. We can’t afford to think about anything else but the Seattle Seahawks.
“The problem is it’s a slow, creeping disease that gets yo most when you are not ready.”
The most positive thing that came from the week off was Wyche’s realization that he could earn money for the city’s homeless.
He regularly spent the night before home games at a hotel and then woke at 6 a.m. on game day. He would drive around the city, enjoying the peace and quiet, before visiting a homeless shelter.
Wyche, who did a lot of public speaking in the offseason, got the idea to charge $5,000 and donate the money to the homeless.
“You see the homeless and how many there are, and they are not all bums,” he said. “They are little children. They are elderly. They are able-bodied people who are down and out right now.
“I am semi-hot, and I do a lot of public speaking,” he added. “The idea came to me, ‘Why don’t I go out here and see if I can’t capitalize on the excitement of the year.”
To this day Wyche is still an advocate for the homeless. He still does a lot of public speaking, and he still gives back.