How Do You Tell When He’s Faking It?

Neil Zender, Seattle Seahawks, Tales from the Vault

Posted by Tiffany…Written by Neil Zender

This week, water cooler talk has been centered around what happened on Monday Night Football when several Giants players allegedly pretended to be hurt in order to slow the Rams’ no-huddle offense.  But the question of “How do you tell when he’s faking it?” is as old as Methuselah.  The most high-profile case occurred on New Year’s Eve in the 1988 playoffs.  Sam Wyche’s 12-4 Cincinnati Bengals were the top seed in the AFC and the talk of the league thanks to an innovative, high-powered No-Huddle Offense.  Wyche’s attack was largely a third down stratagem.  The purpose, unlike the Bills attack that followed in its footsteps, was not to create mismatches on the field but to catch opponents in mid-substitution as nickel backs and linebackers were shuttling on and off the field.  Wyche’s quarterback, Boomer Esiason, would snap the ball – often without bothering to call a play – and catch the defense with too many men on the field, netting Cincinnati 5 penalty yards.

Boomer Esiason (AP)

All season, the Bengals had gained an advantage by stretching the spirit of the rules while rigorously following the letter of them.  In the playoffs, the Seattle Seahawks – a 9-7 team that had barely qualified for the post-season – and their coach, Chuck Knox, gave Wyche a taste of his own medicine.  And that medicine was Joe Nash.

Nash was a fine nose tackle in the golden age of nose tackles.  He was not, however, much of an actor.  The first time Esiason, the league’s MVP, attempted to run the vaunted Hurry-Up, Nash collapsed onto the Riverfront Stadium Astroturf clutching his knee.  Seattle trainers rushed onto the field and helped an ailing Nash to the sidelines only to have him return one play later.  The next time Cincinnati attempted the no-huddle, the 278-pound nose tackle, after a furtive glance towards the Seattle sidelines, lay down on the ground again.  When Wyche protested to the officials, they only laughed.  Cincinnati’s fans, not that anybody could blame them, actually started booing Nash every time he “re-aggravated” his troublesome knee.

In all, Nash’s knee problems forced him to be helped off the field four times.  His backup, Ken Clarke, had to be helped off twice in his own right.  Coincidentally, every injury occurred when the Bengals lined up in the No-Huddle.  “Their Hurry-up didn’t create any problems,” Seattle’s Paul Moyer told reporters matter-of-factly after the game.  “Every time we needed to substitute on third down, Joe’s knee was bothering him.”  The Bengals still won 21-13 and went all the way to the Super Bowl where they lost to Joe Montana and the 49ers.

That off-season, in response to Joe Nash, the NFL banned the faking of injuries.  It also tightened restrictions on the No-Huddle, making Wyche’s practice of using it as a penalty machine, illegal.  Enforcement has proved problematic.

Nobody would confuse Joe Nash’s performance with Olivier – or even Kevin Costner – but he had kept a vastly outmanned Seattle team remotely competitive with the best team in the AFC.  For that reason, and that alone, his ghost haunts us to this day, when it remains extremely difficult to stop an inferior team from resorting to guerrilla tactics.  The Emmy award for best comedic actor went to Michael J. Fox for Family Ties in 1988.  Check out Nash’s performance at the top of this post and see if you think he was snubbed.

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