Let's forget the NFL management/labor strife for a few minutes and assume there will be a season this year. And let's assume new 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh follows up on his professed adoration for Bill Walsh and installs Walsh's famous West Coast Offense — a ball-control, high-percentage passing game.
And now let's call it by what maybe should have been its original name: the Midwest Offense.
You may know that before Walsh became a three-time Super Bowl-winning coaching legend in San Francisco in the 1980s, he spent eight years (1968-75) as an offensive architect for the Cincinnati Bengals under legendary head coach Paul Brown. And you may know that Walsh and Brown had a tense relationship and that when Brown, who also was controlling owner of the Bengals, finally retired from the field, he named longtime crony and offensive line coach Bill Johnson, instead of Walsh, to succeed him. But did you know the extent that Walsh's offensive philosophy in Cincinnati manifested itself in San Francisco?
There's a six-minute video at nfl.com that tells an intriguing Walsh-Brown story. In the video, Dave Lapham, a Bengals offensive lineman who played during Walsh's last two years at Cincinnati, says: "To call it the West Coast offense is almost funny because the plays (that Walsh used with the Niners) were the same (he used in Cincinnati). The Midwest Offense might be a better moniker for it."
Bob Trumpy was a four-time Pro Bowl tight end during his 10-year NFL career, all with the Bengals, all but two with Walsh. In the video, Trumpy says: "West Coast offense was born in Cincinnati ... totally the invention of Bill Walsh."
To prove Lapham's and Trumpy's point, the video shows a sampling of plays the Bengals ran under Walsh and plays the 49ers ran under Walsh. Delayed draws, swing passes to the fullback, and the tight end running passing routes designed to find seams down the middle of the field — all Walsh staples in San Francisco — originally were his bread-and-butter calls in Cincinnati. As Lapham says, "the same plays."
Trumpy adds: "One of the most famous plays that the 49ers ever ran — &‘the Catch' — is a play we had ... Q8 option. Walsh loved that play."
The video shows Ken Anderson, Bengals quarterback under Walsh, sprinting right with the option to run and then throwing downfield. It then cuts to Walsh talking to Joe Montana on the sideline during the final seconds of the 1981 NFC Championship. He's calling the play that would become "The Catch."
"We're going to call a sprint option," Walsh tells Montana. "He (Dwight Clark) is going to run to the corner. Got it?" And then we see "The Catch" again. Never gets old.
Narrator Steve Sabol points out the branches on the Paul Brown coaching tree include Super Bowl winners Weeb Ewbank, Don Shula, Chuck Noll and Walsh. Emphasizing the friction, Sabol says, "Walsh was no disciple. He was a rebel."