He is supposed to be a tough, gruff, stern disciplinarian, a shouter and a screamer, but after the Cincinnati Bengals had defeated the San Diego Chargers Sunday for a trip to the Super Bowl, Coach Forrest Gregg demonstrated that he can be a gushy softy, as well.
"I tell ya, as we walked off the field, I saw Wilson Whitley, and I just hugged him and said, 'Can you believe it, can you believe it, we're going to the Super Bowl,' " Gregg was saying in a corner of the Bengal dressing room.
"I can't tell you how proud I am of this team, how proud I am of what it has done for itself and what it has done for me," Gregg said, with tears in his eyes.
Whether they were tears of joy or a lingering reminder of the awful weather conditions, only Gregg knows for sure. But for now, it doesn't really matter much in Cincinnati, because the Bengals are going to the Super Bowl for the first time in the 14-year history of the franchise.
They are going there mostly because quarterback Ken Anderson was able to handle the elements far better than his Charger counterpart, Dan Fouts.
With temperature at kickoff minus-9 degrees, this was the second-coldest NFL playoff game in history (it was minus 13 for Dallas-Green Bay in 1967). Anderson nevertheless completed 14 of 22 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns, and also ran five times for 39 yards.
Fouts, on the other hand, was 15 for 28 with two interceptions. And even more important, he was not able to complete a pass to tight end Kellen Winslow in the second half, when the Chargers desperately tried to catch up. Winslow led the NFL in receptions this season, and had 13 catches in San Diego's dramatic playoff victory over Miami the week before.
Anderson was asked why he had fewer problems with the cold than Fouts. "I don't know about that," he said. "I threw some flutter balls out there myself. We were just going to go ahead and throw unless something disastrous happened. Fortunately, it didn't. We made our living throwing all year, and we figured we might as well keep doing it."
Anderson said he kept his hands in mittens on the sidelines, made friends with the warm-air blower and had no qualms about sticking his hands in front of his pants while he was on the field. "Anything to keep the circulation going," he said.
Anderson also aimed his touchdown passes at two players who played mostly minor roles for the Bengals this season. Tight end M.L. Harris caught Anderson's first touchdown pass. He had only 13 catches going into the game. Another tight end, Don Bass, caught the final scoring pass in the third quarter. It was his first catch this season.
Bass also recovered a first-period fumble on a kickoff by Charger running back James Brooks deep in Charger territory. Two plays later, Anderson passed to Harris for a touchdown that provided an early 10-0 lead.
For Bass and Anderson it has been a remarkable season. Anderson threw two interceptions early in the Bengals' first game and was benched. Many Bengal fans were hoping that would be permanent, but Gregg returned to Anderson the following week and he justified that support by leading the Bengals to their best season ever.
Bass had offseason knee surgery that kept him on injured reserve until Oct. 9. He has hardly played, used mostly as a backup on special teams, and said yesterday he felt extremely frustrated.
"I wouldn't say I was bitter," he insisted. "We were winning with the guys they had in there, and in that kind of situation, you don't want to rock the boat and make a lot of noise. I was just happy they gave me the chance to play. They told me Saturday morning at 9:30 I'd be on the kickoff team. I don't know why. It's not my job to ask questions. I was just happy to be playing. I feel like a part of the team again, and that's a nice feeling."