The 1988 Cincinnati Bengals began their postseason run to Super Bowl XXIII late in the afternoon on News Year Eve in a game with an Auld Lang Syne theme.
One old acquaintance that won’t be forgotten from the Bengals’ 21-13 victory against Seattle is Seahawks defensive tackle Joe Nash.
His repeated faking of injuries to slow down Cincinnati’s no-huddle offense remains the most vivid memory from the game for Bengals fans and players alike.
“I have nothing to say,” Nash said after the game in which he laid on the field four times pretending to be hurt, only to return for the next play.
Nose tackle Ken Clarke also pulled the trick twice.
“We knew exactly what they were doing,” Bengals wide receiver Cris Collinsworth said. “The thing we were telling them was ‘go ahead and get off the field. You got your timeout. You got your defense on. Let’s get on with the game.’”
Even though the ploy was obvious, Seattle coach Chuck Knox refused to admit it after the game.
“You saw our trainers and our doctors out there,” Knox said.
While there was no rule requiring teams to huddle, there was a rule against faking injuries, which is why the Seahawks had to dance around the truth. But instead of villainizing Nash, Bengals center Bruce Kozerski empathized with him.
“He felt bad about doing it,” Kozerski said. “He didn’t come out and say so, but you could see it in his eyes. Jacob Green said (Nash) was told to do it. That’s not real big-league football.”
The ploy may have achieved its mission of slowing the Bengals offense, but it hardly stopped it. And the Seahawks had no answers for a Cincinnati defense that allowed just 22 rushing yards on 16 carries while forcing three turnovers.
Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason only completed seven passes in the game, but the team rushed for 254 yards and three touchdowns. They gained 165 of the yards in the first half as Stanley Wilson scored on a pair of 3-yard runs and Ickey Woods added a 1-yarder to give Cincinnati a 21-0 lead at the break.
Wilson, who carried seven times for 45 yards for a season-high 6.43 average and doubled his season TD total, said he felt his big game coming.
“I said to myself before the game, ‘Something good is going to happen,’” Wilson said afterward.
“He was the man today,” added Woods, who did most of the heavy lifting with 126 yards on 23 carries.
What made the performance even more impressive was the fact that the Bengals had lost right tackle Joe Walter to a season-ending knee injury in the season finale and left guard Bruce Reimers was playing on a bad ankle.
“It was nothing very fancy, just a couple of plays that have gotten us this far,” Kozerski said. “We’re not going to stray from those. Basically, what we do is run off tackle.”
Seattle managed to put together a couple of late scoring drives to make the game look closer than it was. But it wasn’t nearly enough to offset the Bengals running game, which should have been the biggest story from the game instead of the faked injuries.
After the win, Esiason summed things up with a jab.
“I think Nash is going to have a long time to heal his knee,” he said.
AFC Divisional Playoff
Dec. 31, 1988
Cincinnati Bengals 21, Seattle Seahawks 13
At Riverfront Stadium
Seattle 0 0 0 13 — 13
Cincinnati 7 14 0 0 — 21
C: Stanley Wilson 3 run (Jim Breech kick), 5:49
C: Wilson 3 run (Breech kick), 3:25
C: Ickey Woods 1 run (Breech kick), 7:20
S: John L. Williams 7 pass from Dave Krieg (Norm Johnson kick), 3:20
S: Krieg 1 run (kick failed), 8:55
Seattle – Dave Krieg 24-50-2-297; Cincinnati – Boomer Esiason 7-19-0-108
Seattle – Curt Warner 8-11, John L. Williams 7-10, Dave Krieg 1-1; Cincinnati – Ickey Woods 23-126, James Brooks 13-72, Stanley Wilson 7-45, Boomer Esiason 4-11
Seattle – John L. Williams 11-137, Brian Blades 5-78, Ray Butler 2-40, Steve Largent 2-17, John Spagnola 1-17, Paul Skansi 1-11, Louis Clark 1-8, Curt Warner 1-minus-1; Cincinnati – Rodney Holman 3-44, Cris Collinsworth 1-30, Eddie Brown 1-23, James Brooks 1-9, Riggs 1-2