Footballs are expected to fly at roughly the same pace as temperatures were falling here today when the Cincinnati Bengals meet the San Diego Chargers for the American Football Conference championship Sunday at 1 p.m. (WRC-TV-4).
"All I can say is we got here throwing the football and we're going to do our best to throw the football, no matter what the weather," Charger Coach Don Coryell said today.
The weather has become a major factor here in a game between two teams that have never advanced to the Super Bowl. An inch of snow fell this morning and the forecast for Sunday calls for possible light flurries and very definite cold--probably about 5 degrees at kickoff with winds of 15 to 20 miles per hour.
But Coryell had another serious concern today--the prospect of 59,000 very vocal, mostly pro-Bengal fans--and he urged the league to take steps to make sure the noise does not disrupt his football team, particularly on offense. Last week against the Bengals here, Buffalo was assessed a critical delay-of-game penalty in the fourth quarter because Bill quarterback Joe Ferguson took too long shouting out signals.
"I think the crowd will be a great factor," said Coryell, whose team is a 4 1/2-point underdog. "I wish the league would do something about it . . . They have to show some sportsmanship, they just have to. In the Orange Bowl last week, our tackles could not hear Dan Fouts' snap count. We couldn't give any audibles. All of that is a real handicap.
"Now you either sit down and wait a half an hour until everybody finishes their beer or you penalize the crowd. If they are so loud they don't allow the other team to run their offense, that isn't right . . . I'd say a five-yard penalty, then five more. They'll quiet down then."
Coryell was asked if his comments would tend to incite the Bengal fans even more. "Look, you are asking the questions and I'm trying to answer your questions with the way I feel."
Don Weiss, executive director of the NFL, said after the press conference that the league had sent a directive out to every team before the final game of the regular season on controlling crowd noise. "We said in effect that we expect the home club, players and coaches, to make their best effort to quiet down the crowd when it was becoming disruptive," Weiss said.
"If they don't make the effort, the officials are empowered to call an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty--15 yards." Weiss added that officials working both the AFC and NFC title games Sunday had been briefed on the matter earlier in the week. And he also indicated the Bengals have been told to eliminate a message from their scoreboard that reads, "Let's Make Some Noise."
Bengal players, meanwhile, are saying their success in stopping the Chargers' record-breaking offense will be directly related to the decibel level of the pop of their tackles. "We've been hitting people all year, and that's why our defense has been so good this year," said cornerback Ken Riley. "They'll catch some passes, but they'll feel it, too."
The Bengals can pitch and catch with the best of teams, and they will be facing a Charger defense that ranked last in the AFC in pass defense. They will also send 250-pound fullback Pete Johnson into the line frequently against a Charger team that was badly bruised and battered in its stirring overtime playoff victory over Miami last week.
Still, Coryell said he expects everyone to play, including tight end Kellen Winslow, who still has a sore shoulder after catching 13 passes last week. The Bengals are healthy and rather confident, too, if only because they defeated San Diego, 40-17, earlier in the season in San Diego.
They sacked Fouts six times that day, had two interceptions and recovered three fumbles. Cornerback Louis Breeden's 102-yard interception return broke open the game, although Fouts did throw for 311 yards.
"But that's ancient history," said Bengal linebacker Jim LeClair. "And I don't think there'll be a letdown by them or us. We both had tough games last week, but this is for the Super Bowl. If you let up now, you're not much of a football player."