A broad smile spread across his face as Sam Wyche stepped onto the upper level of the Buffalo Bills coaching box and flashed a thumbs-up. Then he raised two clenched fists and gave them a celebratory shake, the way tennis players often do after winning a tense match. The Kid had just thrown the first touchdown pass as the Buffalo Bills starting quarterback and Wyche, J.P Losman's teacher, judge and confidant, was reveling in the execution.
But you had to wonder. At whom was Wyche directing these gestures? Losman wasn't gazing up from the field. Neither was Jason Peters, the recipient of the 1-yard toss. Was this a personal release, the whistle from the tea kettle, or was there something more? Who was the intended receiver of this emotional outpouring as the Bills took command of their season-opener against the Texans?
Then it all made sense. A few years back Wyche had enough of coaching. He gave broadcasting a whirl and found he enjoyed the job immensely, coveted the freedom that comes with being relieved of 80-hour work weeks. His partners in the three-man booth were Gus Johnson and Brent Jones, the CBS crew assigned to Sunday's game at The Ralph. If all had gone as planned, who knows, they might have been working this game together in the booth alongside where the Bills coaches hunker down.
But Wyche's broadcast career ended when a vocal chord was lacerated during a heart procedure, crippling his voice projection. Eventually he sought a return to coaching and reunited with Mike Mularkey, whom Wyche had once hired as his quality-control coach in Tampa Bay. So when Losman threw his touchdown pass, in some ways culminating nine intensive, exhaustive months of preparation, Wyche made eye contact with Johnson, his former broadcast mate, and shared his glee, as if to acknowledge there's purpose to life's unexpected turns.
Wyche was an ideal mentor for The Kid as Drew Bledsoe departed and the overhaul commenced. The Bills quarterbacks coach has seen it all, or most of it anyway, having played the position, having run the gamut in the coaching ranks. His greatest asset, though, might be his grasp of psychology.
Wyche once entertained me with a nonsensical story he told to his class during a stint as a substitute teacher. The tale was compelling in its goofiness, and when it concluded the students remembered all the tiniest details. Wyche informed them they'd just blown their cover. Never again could they claim they lacked the capacity to learn.
That's the thing about quality teachers. They never cease being attentive students themselves. They're always striving for effective ways to deliver the message, to position their students for success, such as when Wyche approached Losman for a quick conversation Sunday morning with the anticipation mounting.
"I went in and gave him the first three plays," Wyche said. "I said, 'You just think about these first three. Forget everything else. There's nothing else in the universe, just these three. And then when the other ones come along you'll remember them and we'll run 'em. But you just concentrate on (the three).' He executed them perfectly and fell into the flow. It wasn't any brilliant coaching move. It was one of many ways to approach a game, and it worked."
Losman had a dynamic first half that exceeded expectations based on his uncertain, oft-time ineffective preseason performances. He was expecting Wyche to meet him in the locker room at intermission and nit-pick his work, as he'd done during the exhibitions. But there's a time to ready a quarterback for the season, and then there's a time to grant him independence.
"Maybe the best deal is, what I've done in the past is, you get everything ready up until game time and then stay away from him," Wyche said. "Because there's really not a lot you can add to their performance. All you can do is make them a little nervous."
There's more work to do. There always is. But Losman has the look of a quick study.
"I'm really happy for him," Wyche said. "And I think the better word (is) I'm really proud of him. . . . That's a clutch football player. Some guys have to do it a few times before they get that kind of play."