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It was a bad team that came to the Verizon Center Saturday night to face the Wizards. The Orlando Magic are not going anywhere this year. Yet, like bad teams have done in Washington in recent years, the Magic were threatening to take over the sleep-walking Wizards in the third quarter. But thanks to the bench, it didn’t happen.
Basketball, more than any other sport, is dependent on just one or two players to be the difference between being a good team and a bad team. However, a good bench can make a huge difference. And in this game, a varied trio grabbed the game by the throat and wouldn’t let the Wizards fumble it away. Otto Porter, the third pick of the 2013 draft, who played so seldom last year that some were ready to write him off as a bust, not-yet-30-year-old Kris Humphries, who better known for his nanosecond marriage to Kim Kardashian and 35-year-old Rasual Butler, who came into the league in 2002 and is on his seventh team, combined for 75 and a half big minutes, 39 points and 13 rebounds in the 98-93 win. All three were on the floor in crunch time.
With Bradley Beal and Martel Webster hurt and Glen Rice Jr. seemingly in Coach Randy Wittman’s doghouse, you can’t underestimate the value of this kind of contribution.
Watching the game with my daughter from section 102, thanks to my friend Chuck Harab, who was out of town, I was reminded of how a lesson in bench value was learned the hard way by this franchise 40 seasons ago.
The Washington Bullets went into the 1975 Finals against the Golden State Warriors as favorites. Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes and Phil Chenier were in their primes. Mike Riordan was a scrappy small forward and Kevin Porter was a quick point guard who could make the offense go. They tied for the league lead in wins at 60 with Boston and had knocked out the Celtics in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals. Golden State won only 48 games and had to survive a brutal seven-game series with Chicago in the Western Conference Finals.
Those Bullets not only lost to the Warriors, they were swept in four games. And the difference was the bench.
Yes Rick Barry was the best player on the floor and led the Warriors, averaging 29.5 points a game in the series. Barry played almost every second – 172 minutes. But the Warriors had only two other players spend more than 107 minutes on the floor, rookie Jamal Wilkes and center Clifford Ray, who only concentrated on the defensive end, averaging 10 rebounds a game. Coach Al Attles used six other players – Phil Smith, Derrick Dickey, Jeff Mullins, Charles Johnson, Butch Beard and George Johnson between 60 and 70 minutes.
The Bullets, on the other hand, as good as the above - mentioned starting five was, only Nick Weatherspoon saw significant minutes off the bench. Coach Casey Jones was basically playing six against nine over the course of the game. A check of the box scores shows the Bullets leading at halftime in three of the four games, only to lose all four by a total of 16 points. They ran out of gas in each one.
Old timers may point to Jimmy Jones not being available. He had been the Bullets third guard most of the season and had hurt his knee in the win over the Celtics in the Eastern Finals. He certainly would have helped, but it’s hard to say if he would have made that much of a difference in the Finals.
It’s interesting to note that the next time the Bullets made the Finals – 1978, they were a deeper team than their opponent, the Seattle Supersonics. In addition to Hayes and Unseld teaming with Bobby Dandrige, Kevin Grevey and Tom Henderson - making for a stronger all around group than in 75, they had plenty of bench help. And ironically, a big part of that bench was Charles Johnson “CJ”, who had crushed them off the bench for the Warriors three years earlier. CJ, plus Mitch Kupchak, Larry Wright and rookie Greg Ballard made a huge difference for Coach Dick Motta. Seattle had only seven playing major minutes – Gus Williams, Fred Brown, Dennis Johnson, Jack Sikma, John Johnson, Paul Silas and Marvin Williams. The Bullets won in seven.
A year later, they matched up again in the Finals and Kupchak was hurt. It made a difference. Seattle won in five.
Now a good bench isn’t enough to overcome teams with players like LeBron James and Derrick Rose. As I said, in basketball one or two great players can make all the difference, but a bench you can count on is a big part of the battle.
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With the news coming out the Redskins bye weekend that DeSean Jackson spoke to the team before the Minnesota game, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Art Monk breaking his legendary silence in 1990.
The circumstances couldn’t be more different. Jackson has only played half a season in Washington after being booted out of Philadelphia for not being enough of a team guy. At least that’s the impression Eagles Coach Chip Kelly gave after releasing his leading receiver last spring. Jackson, who coach Jay Gruden says sits in meetings with his “hood on”, while not being a team problem, hasn’t given much indication of being a team leader either. But as he revealed on the Fox NFL pregame show Sunday, he took it upon himself to tell the team that they had to rally around quarterback Robert Griffin III. While Griffin played well against the Vikings, they didn’t win. So, Jackson’s version of the “Win one for the Gipper” speech didn’t exactly go as planned. Still, the fact that he actually gave a speech is a bit of a head-turner.
The Monk team speech came in his 11th year with the Redskins. He’d already become the team’s all time leading receiver and was on his way to what would become a Hall of Fame career. Monk let his work ethic do the talking. Teammate Ron Middleton once observed, “I bet I can count on both hands the number of words I’ve heard him say in the three years that I’ve been here.”
But on December 1, 1990, Middleton and his Redskins teammates heard Monk say plenty as he shocked everybody by simply speaking. This was a Redskins team that had been to the Super Bowl in the previous seven years, winning two. They had missed the playoffs for two straight years and were in danger of missing it for the third straight year. The record was 6-5, including losses in two of the last three games. The first loss was the famed “Body Bag Bowl” defeat in Philadelphia where the Eagles knocked out quarterbacks Jeff Rutledge and Stan Humphries, forcing running back Brian Mitchell to finish the game at QB.
That December night as the Skins prepared themselves for the next day’s game against Miami, Monk decided it was time to speak up. He talked about how he was rededicating himself to the season and hoped his teammates would do the same. It wasn’t so much what was said, but who said it. As Middleton said, “The guy doesn’t talk much, but when he has something to say, it’s profound.”
Monk a year later recalled, “It was a time where we either did it or we were going to be home for Christmas. I thought it was important for us to realize that.”
How much the speech helped is hard to say, but it certainly didn’t hurt. The Redskins went on to clobber the Dolphins 42-20 with Monk catching two touchdown passes. They would go on to win three of the last four to finish the season 10-6. The record was good enough to get into the playoffs and set up a Wild Card Game matchup at Veterans Stadium – the same Vet where they left parts of two quarterbacks and their spirit in the Body Bag Bowl six weeks earlier.
With Monk catching another touchdown passes, the Redskins beat the Eagles 20-6. Though the season ended with a loss in San Francisco the following week, there was a new swagger to the team. That swagger continued into the following season. The Redskins rolled to a 14-2 regular season record and went on to beat Buffalo in the Super Bowl.
Some insist to this day that the Monk speech propelled them there. Will the Jackson speech have the same desired effect? We’ll soon find out.
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If it isn’t already the subject of a blog, just wait, it will be. There’s a New England Patriots fan site called, “Pats Propaganda”. It recently posted an entry titled, “Belichick Hoodie History. Yes indeed, somebody had gone to the trouble of matching the Patriots wins and losses with what Coach Bill Belichick was wearing on the sidelines.
Belichick is of course known for the hooded sweatshirts he wears, some with sleeves cut off. Some even refer to him as “The Hoodie.” From the results tracked by Pats Propaganda, it’s quite clear that gray is the coach’s color, either with or without sleeves.
In 38 games in the gray hoodie with the sleeves cut, he’s 29-9, including 6-4 in the playoffs. With sleeves, he’s an even better 16-2, including 4-0 in the playoffs. When Belichick switches to a different color hoodie, the numbers decline. In a dozen games with the blue hoodie (sleeves cut each time), he’s 7-5. And it’s even worse in the color red, just 3-3 with sleeves. And the one time he wore red with the sleeves cut was Super Bowl XLII – a loss. That was the one against the Giants where David Tyree made the miracle “helmet catch”. It was the first time I’d ever seen him wear a red sweatshirt and actually wondered why Belichick would mess with the football gods and change from his trademark gray.
You can bet your Redskin fandom that George Allen wouldn’t have done that 40 years ago. At a time when many coaches were still dressing like Cowboys Coach Tom Landry in a suit and fedora, Allen wore a Redskins golf shirt when it was warm and a Redskins windbreaker when it was cold. And he always had on the burgundy baseball cap with the gold “R” on the front.
After Allen earned his greatest win as a coach, the 26-3 victory over the Cowboys in the NFC Championship game in 1972, one of the fans who swarmed the field at RFK Stadium grabbed the cap off his head. He unsuccessfully tried to get it back and failed. Allen wasn’t happy about that and later said he would have wanted to wear it in the Super Bowl two weeks later. Wearing another hat he watched his team lose to the Dolphins 14-7.
When Jack Pardee replaced Allen for the 1978 season, he also showed up on the sidelines in golf shirts and windbreakers. However, Pardee who wore his hair in comb over, never wore a hat on the sidelines. A stiff wind might have had that comb over sticking straight up in the air.
By the time Joe Gibbs arrived as coach in 1981, the NFL had wised up to the fact that there was money to be made by selling the same gear coaches wore on the sidelines. They were encouraged to wear anything with team logos. Gibbs always had on the team gear including the burgundy cap with the gold “R” made famous by Allen. Nobody had the chutzpah to try and make Landry trade in his suit for Cowboys gear, but he was out of football after the 1988 season.
In 1993 the NFL began requiring coaches to wear team-issued gear. That became a bit of an issue about 10 years ago. Mike Nolan was the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers at the time. His dad, Dick Nolan, had coached the 49ers in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Like Landry, who coached him when he played for the Giants, Nolan liked to wear a suit on the sidelines.
With his father suffering from Alzheimer’s, Mike Nolan thought he’d pay a nice tribute to his dad and wear a suit on the sidelines. No big deal, right? Wrong. The NFL had an exclusive deal with Reebok to make all their gear and the message back to Mike Nolan was, sorry a deal is a deal.
Well, Jack Del Rio, who was the head coach in Jacksonville heard about it and said he too would like to wear a suit on the sidelines. Discussions followed and finally a solution was found. The coaches could wear suits, but they would have to made by Reebok. Perhaps the athletics apparel company thought they could tap into a new suit market.
The suit idea and the coaches didn’t last. Both Nolan and Del Rio are back to being assistants and dressing in team gear.
Back to Gibbs for one last story. As you know, he retired from coaching early in 1993 and didn’t return until 2004. Much had changed in that time including the popularity of the color black for team gear. No matter what the team’s colors, the NFL sold black colored gear with the appropriate logo.
Gibbs, who’s mind was always on football, never worried too much about colors. He just put on whatever the equipment staff laid out in his office. So he began the 2004 season wearing a black Redskins cap – not the burgundy cap he wore during the 12 years of his first go round.
Nobody seemed to mind when the Skins opened the season by beating Tampa Bay with Gibbs in the black cap. But when the record reached 1-4, some fans began to suggest it must be the cap. That year Steve Czaban and I hosted his weekly show. Fans called in said, “Coach you gotta change the hat.”
Gibbs said he hadn’t even noticed the color, but if it would make the fans happy he’d change back to burgundy. By December he was back to burgundy and the Redskins won three of their last five to finish the year 6-10. Over the next two years with burgundy on top of his head, the Redskins made the playoffs twice – the best three-year run since Gibbs first tenure – all in burgundy.
Belichick and Gibbs have each won three Super Bowls. Great coaching is the main reason, but don’t count out the effect of the colors of hoodies and hats.
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In his Wednesday appearance on the Sports Reporters on Sportstalk 570, Kevin Blackistone called the Redskins win over the Cowboys Monday night, “the most improbable Redskins victory in Dallas since the scab game in 1987.”
I have great respect for Kevin’s perspective on this. Kevin grew up in this area, going to Redskin games at RFK with his family’s season tickets. He also spent 20 years working in Dallas, the last 15 as a sports columnist at the Dallas Morning News. He knows this rivalry from both sides. So, I figured it would be worth a look back at that “scab” game 27 years ago, to compare it on the improbability scale to what Colt McCoy and the Skins accomplished Monday night.
McCoy’s story is incredible. He grew up in a small Texas town, was the star quarterback on his high school team, coached by his dad, and went on to a great college career at the University of Texas. McCoy was drafted by the Cleveland Browns to be their quarterback of the future, but like most of the Browns quarterbacks, lost more than twice as many as he won, and was discarded. To start the year as the Redskins third string quarterback, rise all the way to starter, and then to go back to his home state and knock out the fabled 6-1 Cowboys in front of a nationwide audience – well, that’s tough to top. But let’s give it a shot.
As you may remember, the NFL owners were prepared when the players went out on strike two games into the 1987 season. Each team signed entire rosters of what they called “replacement players.” Redskins general manager Bobby Beathard took the process seriously and brought in 55 players who he thought could win games. Meantime, Coach Joe Gibbs, who had won a Super Bowl after the last strike in 1982, understood what it meant for his team to stay together. Gibbs said to his regulars just before they walked out, “Guys, whatever you decide to do, do it together. If one player crosses the picket line, that breaks everything.
On September 23, 1987, a new training camp opened with new players, who would wear the same NFL uniforms, in the same NFL stadiums and play the same schedule that the league had laid out, and most importantly – play same television schedule the NFL was pulling down millions from with it’s broadcast partners. That of course included Monday Night Football on ABC.
The Redskins replacements, or “Scabskins”, as some called them, beat the St. Louis Cardinals and home and then clobbered the Giants on the road 38-12. The real Redskins stayed together, practicing daily at George Mason University on their own. All of those players could have crossed the picket line and gone back to work for full pay, but not a single player did.
Such harmony didn’t exist around the league, however, as some of the biggest names in the game went back to collect their checks. The owners were winning and the players knew it. October 15th was the day set by the league for the players to report and be eligible to play and be paid for that weekend’s games. The union players agreed to show up, but were then told never mind, they were going with replacements for one more week. The strike had ended, but just to rub their noses in it, the owners made the union players watch the scabs one more week.
The last game of that final replacement week had the “Scabskins” playing in Dallas on Monday Night Football. The Cowboys union players had been among the least united, with 21 regulars crossing the picket line, including future Hall of Famers Tony Dorsett and Randy White. Starting quarterback Danny White had also crossed. The Redskins started Ed Rubbert, who had hooked up with Anthony Allen for 255 yards in receptions in a win over the Cardinals, a Redskin record that still stands. But in reality a large percentage of “America’s Team” was facing a Redskin team that didn’t have a single union player on the field.
It looked like even more of a mismatch in the first quarter when Rubbert went down with a shoulder injury. His backup was another story altogether. Tony Robinson had been star a Tennessee, but after a knee injury ended his senior year early, he was arrested on drug trafficking charges. Jail is where Beathard found Robinson in ’87 and he cut an unusual deal to get him out. If Robinson agreed to serve the last three months of his nine-month sentence after the season ended, he could play for the Redskins on work release. So there he was at Texas Stadium in front of the eyes of the nation, ready and able.
Meantime, the hungry Redskin defenders had incredibly been dominating the Cowboys, sacking White six times in the first half and forcing Dorsett to fumble twice. The Skins were up 3-0 when Robinson began to hit his stride. He threw a 42-yard pass to Craig McEwen and handed a reverse to Ted Wilson, who carried it in for a 17-yard touchdown run and a 10-0 lead. A 39 yard touchdown pass from White pulled the Cowboys within three, but Robinson set up another field goal, forcing Dallas on it’s final drive to go for a touchdown.
With seconds left on the clock, from the Redskins 13 yard line, White threw a pass to Kevin Edwards at the six, but Joe Cofer broke it up and the Skins won 13-7. Robinson had completed 11 of 18 passes for 152 yards. Gibbs was carried off the field and called the post game locker room, “one of the most emotional I’ve ever been in.”
Since the replacement games counted, the regular Redskins were able to return to the field with a 4-1 record, a helpful cushion on their way to winning Super Bowl XXII. The replacement players got no ring, but did collect a $27 thousand winning share.
As part of his work release deal, Robinson was back in jail for that Super Bowl game, betting fellow inmates that his former team would beat Denver – which they did 42-10.
There would be no storybook ending for Robinson. He would spend the next 20 years in and out of jail, never playing another down of professional football. But the story he was a part of caught the attention of Hollywood.
In 2000, “The Replacements” premiered. Keanu Reeves starred as quarterback Shane Falco on the team based on the ‘87 Redskins replacements. And just like the real thing, the movie climaxes with a Monday night win in Dallas.
For what it’s worth, Falco’s jersey number in the movie is 16, just like Colt McCoy – who just like Robinson and the replacement Redskins – may be the real life stuff of Hollywood legend.
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So it has come to this. The 2-5 Redskins are going to Dallas to play the 6-1 Cowboys Monday night. They are 10-point underdogs and should be. Colt McCoy, who started the season as their third-string quarterback, will likely start. And if he does start, it will be the fourth time in the last 22 seasons that the Redskins will have started three different quarterbacks during a season. The previous ones ended at 4-12 (1993), 3-13 (1994) and 7-9 (2002). Not a good sign.
On the Sports Fix on ESPN 980 on Wednesday, Kevin Sheehan asked the question, “Is Dallas week dead?”
Given what we’re looking at for Monday night, THIS Dallas week certainly is. Will it ever be revived? It’s a good question, one that deserves an historical look.
The term “Dallas Week” was coined when George Allen arrived as coach of the Redskins in 1971. At that time, the Cowboys had only been in the league for a decade, but had sprinted ahead of the Skins. After a couple of losses to the Packers in the NFL Championship game in the late 60’s, Dallas had already been to a Super Bowl and looked like the team to beat in the NFC in ’71.
Allen knew it and made it clear to his team that beating Dallas was a key to becoming a winner. They would have to play the Cowboys at least twice a year and those games could very well decide the NFC East winner. Sure enough, in just his third game as coach of the Redskins, he won in Dallas and it was game on. That season and the following five seasons, the two teams split. Although the Redskins won the big one when they beat Dallas at RFK Stadium in the 1972 NFC Championship game, 26-3.
In 1977, Dallas swept the series and not coincidently, the Redskins missed the playoffs and Allen’s run in D.C. was over. In 1979, the Redskins lost that brutal season finale in Dallas where they blew a 13-point lead in the final minutes and lost 35-34. They never recovered and Dallas swept the series in 1980, which ended with Coach Jack Pardee fired.
New coach Joe Gibbs took his lumps in 1981, getting swept by the Cowboys, but he got his revenge a year later. The strike-shortened season meant only game against Dallas, which the Redskins lost. But in the NFC Championship game, the Skins knocked out Cowboys quarterback Danny White and rode John Riggins to a 31-17 win and a trip to the Super Bowl. The victory over Miami in Pasadena a week later is considered by many to be the greatest moment in modern Redskins history.
The Redskin sweep in 1984 was the first-ever in the series. However, in 1985, Dallas bounced back with a sweep of their own, including a 44-14 win in the opener. Again, not coincidently, the Redskins missed the playoffs.
In 1988, the great Tom Landry era in Dallas came to a sad ending with a 3-13 season, but wouldn’t you know it, the man with the hat got the last laugh. That third win, and the last of his Hall of Fame career, was a 24-17 win over the Redskins.
Even worse for the Redskins, the following year, the Cowboys won only one game all year. And that was a win over the Redskins at RFK. And of course, that win kept the 10-6 Redskins out of the playoffs.
In the 90’s, the Redskins won a Super Bowl and the Cowboys won three. Yet in three of those four seasons, they split. And get this – when the Cowboys won their last Super Bowl in 1995 – the Redskins swept for two of their six wins all year.
The last 20 years have seen a few big Redskin wins, including Mark Brunell’s midnight miracle at Cowboys Stadium in 2005, when he threw a pair of touchdown bombs to Santana Moss in the final six minutes for a 14-13 victory. But the series has been dominated by Dallas, which brings us back to the original question – is Dallas week dead?
There are a couple of other factors in the deadening of the series. One – Norv Turner was hired as head coach here in 1994 after a great run in Dallas as the Cowboys offensive coordinator on two Super Bowl championship teams. Darrell Green told me that Norv didn’t endear himself to his new team when he brought in several ex-Cowboys as free agents– none of whom were any good.
And two – free agency as a whole. When it entered the league in 1993, it was game-changer for all rivalries. Bringing in ex-Cowboys was no longer a big deal.
That’s a far cry from the way it used to be. I leave you with yet another Jean Fugett story. The tight end split his eight-year career between Dallas and Washington, finishing here in 1979.
Allen, who had instilled that Cowboy hatred in his players, surprised many of them by signing Fugett away from Dallas in 1976, a year that the NFL experimented with free agency. Tackle Diron Talbert, who Allen had sort of appointed as the chief Cowboy hater, made it clear he didn’t appreciate Fugett’s Cowboy background.
One game Talbert hurt his knee. As he was moaning in pain while being examined, Talbert whined, “Why couldn’t this have happened to Fugett?”
That’s when Dallas week was alive and well.
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Six games into a season where it was hoped the Redskins would return to their late season form of 2012 and become a playoff team, hope is essentially gone. It’s not just the 1-5 record, quarterback Kirk Cousins isn’t proving to be ready for the job and there are questions now about rookie coach Jay Gruden. He may not be the “young Joe Gibbs” that we’ve hoped for since Gibbs’ first retirement in 1993 – and that includes the old Joe Gibbs, who returned from 2004-2007.
So besides Robert Griffin III getting back on the field at some point this year, what’s left to see in this disappointing season? Playoffs aren’t even a long shot, they’re a no shot. However, we’ve seen some Redskin teams over the years produce entertaining finishes to horrible starts that at least have left us hopeful going into the following season. Here are six that stand out in reverse chronological order:
2001 – start: 0-5, finish: 8-8, record the following year: 7-9 – This was the one year of Marty Schottenheimer. After first saying on ESPN that he could never work for an owner like Dan Snyder, Marty did an about face and signed a four year deal worth $10 million. Changing the culture was his first order of business. Dumping player personnel director Vinny Cerrato and free agent bust Dana Stubblefield were among his first moves. He benched starting quarterback Jeff George in the opening day 30-3 loss in San Diego. And two days after losing at Green Bay, 37-0, George was cut. They went the rest of the way with waiver-wire quarterback Tony Banks, who played better than George, but dropped the next three. At 0-5, we started having discussions on the air over what was less likely to happen in the NFL – an 0-16 season or a 16-0. Since that time, both have occurred, but at that time those Skins appeared on their way to the first 0-16 ever. In their sixth game, they trailed Carolina 14-0 midway through the fourth quarter as the Panthers seemed on their way to a game-clinching field goal. But on third down at the Redskins 28, Chris Weinke threw a short pass in the flat that Lavar Arrington picked off and returned 68 yards for a touchdown. That proved to be the spark that jolted the Redskins back to life. They went on to win that game in overtime and rolled through their next four. Incredibly 0-5 had become 5-5 and the Skins were back in the playoff hunt. Division losses in December to Dallas and Philadelphia pretty much killed their postseason hopes. But they finished strong with a 40-10 win at New Orleans and a 20-17 win over the Cardinals to wind up 8-8. However, Marty’s ship had already sailed. Refusing to give up some of the control Snyder had given him when he was hired, he was fired a week after the season ended. Steve Spurrier was hired to take Schottenheimer’s place.
1998 – start: 0-7, finish: 6-10, record the following year: 10-6, NFC East Champs – After just missing the playoffs at 9-7 in ’96 and 8-7-1 in ’97, 1998 was supposed to be a playoff year. General manager Charley Casserly had addressed a big need on the defensive line by dealing for Dan “Big Daddy” Wilkinson and signing free agent Dana Stubblefield, who’d been the NFC defensive player of the year in San Francisco. They opened the season in New York and led the Giants 10-7, but the second half was the beginning of the end. After quarterback Gus Frerotte threw a pick six to Michael Strahan early in the second half, he was benched for Trent Green. With a couple of touchdown passes, Green made the loss a respectable 31-24 and earned the start the following week. But that game was a Monday nighter and the 49ers came to town and blew the Redskins doors off 45-10. Denver came in a couple of weeks later and didn’t even play John Elway. Bubby Brister quarterbacked the 38-16 debacle. They got to 0-6 by losing at winless Philadelphia and then played a putrid game in Minnesota, losing 41-7. At 0-7, what was supposed to be a playoff year looked like it would be an historically bad season. Had owner John Kent Cooke not been tied up trying to hang on to the team as it went up for sale, Norv Turner would likely have been fired. Somehow though, they turned it around. Green started to play well and the Redskins won six of their next eight. They finally ran out of gas in the season finale, losing at Dallas 23-7. But to go from 0-7 to 6-10 proved the team didn’t quit on Norv and he stayed on the job. Green wound up with a big free agent contract in St. Louis and under new owner Dan Snyder, the Redskins won the division in 1999.
1985 – start: 1-3, finish: 10-6, record the following year: 12-4, lost in the NFC Championship game – Coming off three straight division titles, with Super Bowl appearances after the first two, it was a cold slap in the face to lose the opener at Dallas, 44-14. They managed to hang on to a 16-0 lead in week two and beat Houston 16-13, but week three produced only two Mark Moseley field goals in a loss to Philadelphia. After a 45-10 loss in Chicago, it really looked bad. But they won four of the next five to get to 5-4. However, after another loss to Dallas, some thought it may be time to start thinking about benching the aging Joe Theismann. There would be no need for that. On November 18th, Theismann played his last game. That was the Monday night he suffered that gruesome broken leg playing against the Giants. The injury, however, seemed to shock the Giants more than the Redskins and Jay Schroeder stepped in to direct a 23-21 win. A victory in Pittsburgh put the Skins at 7-5 and there was playoff talk again. That ended with a 35-8 loss to San Francisco, but they won their last three. Had the league had more than one Wild Card team in each conference in those days, they would have made the playoffs. Instead, a 10-6 finish with a second-year quarterback would have to do.
1984 – start: 0-2, finish: 11-5, record the following year: 10-6 – An 0-2 start decreases your playoff chances, but it shouldn’t be reason for panic. That year it was. Realize the Redskins had just played in the two previous Super Bowls. They dropped the opener at home to Miami 35-17 as Dan Marino threw five touchdown passes and then lost at San Francisco 37-31. It looked much better at the end of the season when the Dolphins and 49ers met in the Super Bowl. Five straight wins followed before back to back losses on the road at St. Louis and at New York. At 5-4, they needed to make a run and they did. Except for a disappointing loss at Philadelphia, they won the rest of the games, including a pair of nail biters against Dallas and St. Louis. It earned the Redskins a playoff game at home, but they lost to the Bears 23-19, ending their season earlier than they had in three years.
1981 – start: 0-5, finish: 8-8, record the following year: 8-1, Super Bowl Champions – This is the year that all bad start seasons are compared to. It was Joe Gibbs first season on the job and he had plans to install the “Air Coryell” offense that he’d run under head coach Don Coryell in San Diego. After five games they were leading the league in offense, but were 0-5. Gibbs feared he might be fired. But owner Jack Kent Cooke said to the media, “Patience is the key.” That patience would pay off. Gibbs scrapped his offense and designed a new one with a run based attack. It worked. The Redskins went on to win five of their next six and headed to Dallas the week before Thanksgiving with high hopes. A 24-10 loss in that game followed by 21-14 loss at Buffalo ended their playoff dreams, but they won their last two to finish 8-8. The foundation was laid and the next year that team won it’s first Super Bowl.
1980 – start: 1-5, finish: 6-10, record the following year: 8-8 – When John Riggins walked out of training camp, saying he was retiring because his contract demands weren’t being met, the season was pretty much doomed. Part of it was money and part of it was Riggo was still in funk over losing the season finale in 1979 at Dallas 35-34. That loss knocked the Redskins out of the playoffs. Wouldn’t you know it, they opened the 1980 season at home against the same Dallas Cowboys. This time the Redskins were no match, losing 17-3. A win at Giants Stadium followed, but then the season started to unravel. After a 20-17 loss in Denver, speculation that coach Jack Pardee was coaching for his job, got louder. The Redskins were 1-5. Then the defense stepped up with six sacks and two interceptions of Cardinals quarterback Jim Hart in a 23-0 win over St. Louis in week seven which was followed by a win over New Orleans. But then it was back to more losing. A 10-6 loss in Atlanta dropped the season record to 3-10. Then just when it looked like time to pack it in, the Redskins played their best game of the year. They blasted those “Air Coryell” Chargers 40-17 and won their last two against the Giants and Cardinals to get to 6-10. However, the strong finish wasn’t enough to save Pardee’s job. He was fired and replaced by Joe Gibbs. And the rest is history.
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