NFL nearly nixed no-huddle in late '80s
The no-huddle offense may be very popular in the NFL, but it’s certainly not new.
In the 1980s, Sam Wyche introduced a hurry-up scheme to the NFL as head coach of the Bengals, and took it all the way to within a few minutes of a Super Bowl title. But there was a speed bump, so to speak, to his speedy offense along that road.
Like a good TV announcer, I’ll just get out of the way and let Sam tell the story here, exactly as he told it to me this week when we were talking about the no-huddle, the Eagles and the possibility of the Giants using it more:
“We had been doing it for five years and we beat Buffalo in 1988 in the AFC Championship Game to go to the Super Bowl and that was the year that Marv Levy said he would fake injuries if we tried to use the no-huddle. The Commissioner sent word, told me two hours before the game by the way, two hours, I have it on a tape recorder, that if we used the no-huddle they would penalize us 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. We’d been using it for five years, that’s all we used all season long, we had the number one offense in football, that’s all we practiced all week long, that’s how we got to the AFC Championship. And then two hours before he said ‘You can’t use that.’ I immediately told the NFL delegate along with the referee who was in the office there with me and Mike Brown, I said ‘Go get Pete Rozelle on the phone right now because I want to tell him that he’s interfering with the competitive balance of this game and if we get penalized and lose this ballgame the first thing I’m bringing up in the press conference is this conversation and there are a lot of gamblers out there who aren’t going to be very happy.’ It wasn’t 20 seconds before he came back, he left the room and came back, I’m not exaggerating, I bet it wasn’t 20 seconds. ‘Uh, Commissioner says go ahead and use the no-huddle, no problem.’ End of story, goodbye, gone. I had been notified ahead of time because the league had told NBC who was doing the broadcast that day, the day before they told NBC that they were going to do that. They didn’t tell me. Pete Rozelle later told me in league meetings after that year, he came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder in the general session and said ‘By the way, I want you to know that Paul Brown knew that we were going to do that the day before.’ In other words, he was saying that he had told Paul Brown that he was going to do that. That of course was why Mike Brown was in my office when they came in. But at that point, I knew about it because the commentator for that game was a former teammate of mine and he called me the night before and said ‘Sam, sit down, you’re not going to believe this one.’ He told me what was about to happen so I was prepared for it.”
These days Wyche is a volunteer assistant at Pickens High School in South Carolina where he teaches the players the no-huddle philosophy.
"I don’t know who said you had to go eight yards behind the ball to huddle anyway," he said. "Somebody, Lombardi or Halas or somebody started that, and that’s just the way it stayed."