CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Recognizing his center's somewhat superior intellectual skills in that long-ago summer of 1968, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Sam Wyche often leaned on University of Tennessee great Bob Johnson for help when calling audibles for the expansion franchise.
"I learned pretty quickly that Bob was very smart," Wyche said of his fellow rookie. "So we started this little signal at the line of scrimmage. Right before the snap I'd say, 'Ching, ching.' If Bob thought we had the right play for the opposing defense he'd say, 'Ching, ching' back. When I heard that, I knew that play was money in the bank."
Johnson's brother, Tom, turned to Wyche on Monday to help put money in the Trousdale School's bank through a golf fundraiser at Cleveland Country Club. Founded in 2005 by Tom, his wife Judy and Christin Rose, the Cleveland school seeks to provide an affordable educational experience for high-functioning adults with intellectual disabilities.
Its goal is to teach job skills and social independence for its 30-plus students ages 22 and older, including Tom and Judy's 37-year-old daughter, Sarah, who was born with Down syndrome.
"Previously, those with intellectual disabilities would finish their high school educations at a fifth- or sixth-grade level, which was not quite employable," Tom Johnson said. "Through the Trousdale School, which is the first post-secondary public school program of its kind, we've been able to up that to a seventh- or eighth-grade education level, which is employable. Our goal here is to eventually build dorms, which would allow our students further independence."
Architectural plans for those dorms were on display at the country club as the golfers waited out the rain and the school hoped to raise $50,000 or more from the event to help pad its annual $800,000 budget.
Said Sarah, who works at Cleveland's Montessori School three days a week as part of her job training, of Trousdale: "It teaches us leadership, how to be an example to all and how to be ladies and gentlemen. And one day I'll be able to live there in an apartment."
Bob Johnson's favorite story about Wyche, whose younger brother Bubba quarterbacked the Volunteers in the late 1960s, involves a far earlier moment when the Furman grad reached out to help someone in need.
"We had a kid who worked in the Bengals equipment room who'd just been diagnosed with leukemia. He was going to die," recalled Bob Johnson, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
"Sam, [tight end] Bob Trumpy and I decided to go see him at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital and try to cheer him up. Then Sam says, 'I'll dress up like a woman.'
"So he gets this country print dress and a fall wig and we head to the hospital. Once we got there he looked so strange that Trumpy and I started hanging way back. Then we get in the elevator and Sam lays the fall on his arm and starts petting it like it's a cat or something. Finally, we start down the hall to the kid's room and this short guy in a suit starts staring at Sam and exclaims, 'That's the biggest woman I've ever seen.' But the kid loved it."
Fans of today's high-scoring NFL offenses should love Wyche for perfecting the no-huddle attack as a full-time offense as he coached the Bengals to Super Bowl XXIII.
As for the pro team he feels now runs that attack the best, the 69-year-old amateur magicican said, "I really like a lot of what Philadelphia's doing. I like their tempo. If you just get up there quick, then stand around changing the play, it kind of defeats the purpose."
But every Big Orange fan should forever love Wyche because of his daughter, Kerry.
It seems that one day in 1993 he got a call from her during her time as a UT student and one of the Vols' hostesses for football prospects.
"Coach [Phillip] Fulmer said he thought you might have played in the NFL with this kid's dad," said Wyche, recalling the conversation. "His name's Peyton Manning. Can you tell me some things to say to him so I won't sound like a dumb blonde again? Coach Fulmer says this guy's really good."
Wyche never played with Peyton's dad, Archie, but he apparently gave her some pretty good recruiting tips.
"When I was still doing TV work and I had one of Peyton's games," Wyche said, "he would always say, 'Be sure to tell Kerry hello for me.'"
When it came to selling UT football, it could be said that Fulmer astutely saw Kerry Wyche as money in the bank.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...