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Popo: The Morning Rush for Friday, Sept. 9

Sam Wyche looks for a new heart
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Posted at 6:56 AM, Sep 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-09 18:38:44-04

It's Friday, Sept. 9:

THE MOST INTERESTING MAN: No, Sam Wyche wasn't "the most interesting man in the world" like that guy in the beer commercial, but Sam was clearly the most interesting and complicated character I've had a chance to cover in Cincinnati.

For those of you who don't recognize the name, Sam played some quarterback for the Bengals from 1968 to 1970, the first three years the Bengals franchise existed.

Then Paul Brown brought him back to replace Forrest Gregg as the Bengals head coach in 1984. He provided us with a steady stream of stories, yuks and controversies through the 1991 season when he either quit or was fired, depending on who you wanted to believe.

Sam is in my thoughts today because he's hooked up in a hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina, hoping for a heart donation and planning for that heart to be transplanted into his chest. He's had congestive heart failure for the past 16 years, and a new heart is his only option.

He talked to reporters by phone Thursday and said he had done 24 laps around the coronary ward. He said he's in good spirits, eating well but can't run away because he has wires and tubes stuck in him.

It sounded like Sam. He never met a microphone he didn't like. Always quick with quip, often funny, sometimes sarcastic, at times biting.

But this is serious stuff. If he doesn't get a donor heart in the next few days, he'll need an artificial heart pump implanted below his heart. That buys him time until a new heart can be found. But of course that's not a sure thing either. Nothing is when you're talking about the heart.

It made me think about Sam's time in Cincinnati. "Wicky Wacky Wyche" is how one coaching staff member referred to him. That would be the Steelers. Chuck Noll refused to shake hands with him after a Bengals win. Sam had that kind of effect on certain people. He and Jerry Glanville had a nasty personal rivalry.

It made coverage of Sam that much more interesting. It was never dull. Of course he's best known as the coach who grabbed the sideline microphone and told fans, "You don't live in Cleveland!" when they were throwing snowballs down onto the field.

He was an innovator. He popularized the no-huddle offense. He had tackle Anthony Munoz catching touchdown passes. Offensively, he was a mad scientist years ahead of his time. He'd fit in perfectly today.

He was an amateur magician who always had something up his sleeve. And he really cared about the Cincinnati community. He would visit the homeless in Over-the-Rhine on game day. It was his way of keeping perspective before getting on stage.

When I heard about his current predicament, I thought about a particularly tough loss to the Browns in Cleveland one Sunday. Somebody asked him if this had been a "do-or-die" game. "Nobody died today," Wyche snapped at us. And he launched into a rant about how "There's golf to be played and tennis to be served up." He said if fans were dissatisfied with the team's play, "They should get a life."

I don't want this to be an obituary for Sam. I'll be praying for him tonight. Just the thought of him brought back pleasant memories. And great football. The Bengals were fun to watch and good enough to make it to the Super Bowl after the 1988 season. They lost to the 49ers in the final 34 seconds. Sam knows how important and how critical every second can be.

He talked about his situation in sports terms Thursday. "You got the bases loaded, one out and you got to the championship and it's up to you to hit the ball." 

I hope he hits it square and far. Sam is only 71. He's too young and too interesting to leave us now. From the press box, I always quietly rooted for Sam when he was a coach. I'm rooting like hell for him these days.

GET updates on Sam Wyche's Facebook page

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: To my wonderful and always challenging son Matthew. He still makes me laugh like no one else. He writes for a small newspaper in Hampton, South Carolina. Read him sometime at hamptoncountyguardian.com.

ANOTHER HAPPY BIRTHDAY: To my terrific little sister Linda, the most adventurous member of the Popovich family. She now lives in Thailand, or is it Cambodia, or is it Malaysia? Does it matter?