Perhaps there is method to Sam Wyche's laid-back madness

On the occasion of Cincinnati's 14-13 loss in Cleveland last Sunday, Bengals coach Sam Wyche spoke out against the old Vince Lombardi credo that winning is the only thing that matters in sports. In a lengthy diatribe, he chastised fans and reporters alike for placing too much emphasis on winning.

"We're going to have fun," Wyche said at one point. "There's golf to be played and tennis to be served up and other things to be done besides worrying about a football game."


This comes from a moralist who already has demonstrated his willingness to take a stand. Wyche donates time and money to the homeless in Cincinnati. Last year he felt so strongly against having women in the Bengals' locker room that he challenged commissioner Paul Tagliabue's policy and drew a record fine.

This also comes from a man who was quick to run up the score on his bitter rival, former Houston and current Atlanta coach Jerry Glanville, when he has had the chance.


Yesterday, speaking by telephone with the Washington

Redskins' beat writers, Wyche restated his position. He suggested that much of what he said last Sunday was taken out of context. He does care about winning, he said, but not to the degree that it will be detrimental in his life.

"You feel bad enough when you didn't win a game," Wyche said, "but I'm not going to be dazed the way a lot of writers and fans want you to be [after a loss]. They want to see you die, the oozing of blood."

His perspective is as healthy as it is rare. Sports are not life and death, they are not all-important. Still, you can't help but wonder about the timing of his stand and what Wyche's real motive was. Why now? Why not back when the Bengals reached the Super Bowl after the 1988 season? Why not last year when the Bengals made the playoffs for the second time in Wyche's seven-year tenure? In a league where everyone is paid handsomely to win, Wyche's words had a hollow ring to them.

Maybe the answer is self-evident. The Bengals, expected to be a playoff contender, are 0-3. They trail Houston in the AFC Central by three games already. And by drawing attention to himself, maybe Wyche has successfully deflected attention from his struggling players, perhaps giving them another week to regroup before the Redskins come to town this Sunday.

Let's hope that if the Bengals do get turned around, Wyche will not forget his words of wisdom.

* ON THE REBOUND: What a difference a year makes. What a difference a coach makes. That's what they are saying in Cleveland these days, where the Browns are 2-1 and trying to shake the memory of last season's 3-13 disaster under Bud Carson.

Ernie Accorsi, Browns executive vice president and former Colts general manager, isn't ready to say the team is back just yet. "But I know we're pointed in the right direction," Accorsi said. "And he is going to get us there."


"He" is rookie coach Bill Belichick, son of former Navy coach Steve Belichick. Belichick has kept the Browns competitive despite losing three-quarters of his starting defensive backfield to injuries. The Browns have beaten two struggling teams, the Bengals and Patriots, and lost to the Cowboys. This week they get the acid test. Belichick, the former defensive coordinator for the Giants, goes back to the Meadowlands to face his old team.

* GREASING THE SKIDS: It took three weeks -- and three close losses -- for new Tampa coach Richard Williamson to find his way to thin ice. But Buccaneers general manager Phil Krueger already has pressured Williamson to change his offensive scheme from a pass-oriented attack to a running game. That's not exactly a vote of confidence for quarterback Vinny Testaverde, either. One of the problems is that Testaverde holds the ball too long waiting for pass patterns to develop. The result: he was sacked six times by the Bears, and seven times by the Packers. The Bucs, who lead the league in penalties and sacks allowed, have lost their three games by a total of six points.

jTC * CREATIVE DESIGN: It doesn't quite rival the no-huddle offense, but the Raiders have introduced an offensive wrinkle of their own this season: the "Tilt" formation. They stack two extra tackles and a tight end on the left side of the offensive line and operate what essentially is a nine-man line.

"Next thing you know, we'll be taking Jay [quarterback Jay Schroeder] out of the game and putting another lineman in," said James FitzPatrick, one of the two extra tackles. It looks like a goal-line offense, but Raiders coach Art Shell, a former offensive tackle by the way, ran it first-and-10 from his own 20 against the Colts last week.

Then there was the unusual 4-4-3 defensive deployment by the Bears. Confronted with the Giants' ball-control offense, Bears defensive coordinator Vince Tobin came up with a scheme of four linemen and four linebackers. He pulled safety Markus Paul and linebacker Ron Rivera in obvious run situations and inserted two run-stopping linebackers in Ron Cox and Dante Jones.

* AUDIBLES: Eagles wide receiver Calvin Williams, formerly of Dunbar High, is out four to six weeks with a dislocated left shoulder suffered when he stretched for a high, floating pass from quarterback Jim McMahon. Williams and compatriot Fred Barnett both have taken some shots trying to snag McMahon floaters. McMahon, by the way, will get $15,000 for each start he makes this year on top of his $500,000 base salary.


Rams quarterback Jim Everett, who threw 29 touchdown passes in 1989, may never see those days again. He hasn't thrown a TD pass yet this season, and in his last two games is 13-for-33 for 154 yards and one interception. The Rams are returning to their running mode this season . . . The Phoenix Cardinals' version of the no-huddle offense was laughable against Washington. Quarterback Tom Tupa took his time and the Redskins were able to make their substitutions without any trouble . . . 49ers quarterback Joe Montana won't test his injured right elbow for another week and won't play before Oct. 13 at the earliest.