In the end, the game comes down to one thing: man against man. May the best man win.
~ Sam Huff
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In his weekly appearance on my show, the Sports Reporters on Sportstalk 570, Mel Kiper suggested that the Robert Griffin III era may have already ended. Mel said that if Kirk Cousins is good, maybe comparable to the level that Andy Dalton has played at in Cincinnati, that Griffin may never regain the starting quarterback job.
There are of course, multiple variables, including an injury to Cousins, but it’s something to consider. Cousins is expected to have at least eight starts, while Griffin recovers from a dislocated ankle, to prove that he’s the right man to run Jay Gruden’s offense. And although Gruden has denied a report from Mike Wise in the Washington Post that he has preferred Cousins as his starter all along, there’s no denying that Cousins has looked smoother running that offense so far.
Yes it was against Jacksonville and Jacksonville is terrible, but the whispers out of Redskin Park are that Cousins is definitely more ready right now than RGIII. We should know a lot more after the upcoming games against the Eagles and Giants. As we like to say in the sportsradio business, “we’ll have to see how it all plays out.”
For whatever history is worth, we’ve seen a couple of similar scenarios over the years with the Redskins. One occurred in the 1980’s, the other in the 90’s. One produced a Super Bowl Championship, the other just produced more bad Redskin football.
Like Cousins, Jay Schroeder got his chance to start because of injury – and oh, what an injury it was. The infamous Joe Theismann broken leg in 1985 put Schroeder behind center and he proved to be up to the task. Schroeder not only beat the stunned New York Giants coming off the bench in that Monday nighter, he won four of the last five games of the season as the starter. With only one wild card team in each conference in those days, the Skins missed the playoffs at 10-6.
Theismann’s injury ended his career and it was Schroeder’s team in 1986. The folding of the USFL brought in Doug Williams as the backup, but Schroeder was the unquestioned starter. And he had a great year, throwing for over 4,000 yards and 22 touchdowns. The Redskins finished 12-4 and went all the way to the NFC Championship game before losing to the Giants. Then came the 1987 season.
During the offseason, Williams was nearly traded to the Raiders before coach Joe Gibbs changed his mind at the last minute. The season opened against Philadelphia, Schroeder started, but hurt his shoulder early. Williams came in and threw for 272 yards at the Skins won 34-24. But in week two with Williams starting, they lost at Atlanta. Then the players went on strike.
While they were out, the replacement players went 3-0. So when the season resumed with the regular players in late October, it all looked good for Schroeder and the Skins. He was healthy and taking over a 4-1 team. Schroeder was good enough to beat the Jets and Bills, but after going 16 for 46 with two interceptions in a loss at Philadelphia, he was on shaky ground.
Between injuries and poor play, Schroeder and Williams spent the next six games replacing one another. Finally in the second half of the season finale, Gibbs had enough. Williams was in, Schroeder was out. It worked out pretty well. The Redskins went to the Super Bowl and beat Denver 42-10. Williams was the MVP. And to top it off, the following season, with Schroeder now buried deep in the Gibbs doghouse, the Redskins dealt him to the Raiders for Jim Lachey. Three years later, with Lachey establishing himself as the best left tackle in football, the Redskins won another Super Bowl.
Fast forward to 1994. Gibbs has retired, Norv Turner is the new coach and his choice to be his quarterback is Heath Shuler. They used the third pick of the draft to take him. Just as a flyer in the same draft, they took Gus Frerotte, also a quarterback, in the seventh round.
Shuler held out of his first training camp and really never recovered. Not a quick learner to begin with, he clearly wasn’t ready for the regular season. Veteran John Friesz started the first few games of the season before Shuler got the nod. But after throwing five interceptions in a home loss to Arizona, with nothing to lose, Turner turned to Frerotte.
The result was stunning. Frerotte threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-27 upset at Indianapolis. He was named NFC offensive player of the week! He started the next three games and played fairly well, but lost all three and was benched. Shuler went the rest of the way as the Redskins finished 3-13.
The following year, 1995, Frerotte and Shuler battled for the job with each having his ups and downs. Shuler even quarterbacked a win at Super Bowl bound Dallas, but did nothing to cement the job.
Finally in 1996, Turner put his two third-year quarterbacks head to head in training camp in a winner take all battle. It wasn’t close. Frerotte won the job and played well enough to make the Pro Bowl. Shuler appeared in only one play all season as the Redskins narrowly missed the playoffs at 9-7. At the end of the season, Shuler was shipped to New Orleans.
Unlike Williams, however, there was no Super Bowl fairy tale ending for Frerotte. He never played in a playoff game for Washington and was benched and bounced out of town within two years. He spent the next decade bouncing around the league as a backup.
What happens with Griffin and Cousins? Will it unfold the way Mel thinks it might? Again, as we say in the sportsradio business, “We’ll have to see how it all plays out.”
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The 7pm Saturday night slot on NBC4, during football season, has forever featured Redskins programming. That slot is now occupied by a show called “Redskins Showtime.” It’s hosted by the station’s sports anchor, Dianna Russini, and features two of the ex-Redskins on our staff, Chris Cooley and Doc Walker. They all do a fine job and it’s a good way to get ready for the game the following day.
This past Saturday I was watching it and couldn’t help but think back to the days when the spot occupied by “Showtime” was the home of “Redskins Report.” The quartet of NBC4 Sports Director George Michael, Hall of Famers Sonny Jurgensen and John Riggins plus Michael Wilbon, who was still writing columns for the Washington Post, set the standard. I sent out a tweet recalling that show and was surprised at the Twitter reaction I received.
So, with the season underway, I thought it would be a good time to look back on Redskins shows of that type over the years. I’m relying on my memory and whatever I could find on the inter net, but I’m certainly leaving out a few. I would love to hear from you on recollections of the following and the ones that may have left out:
The Sonny Jurgensen Show – This was likely a Channel 9 production. Sonny spent many years there while he was still playing for the Redskins and after his career ended. I don’t know how many years the show lasted, but I do remember an interview he conducted with Coach Vince Lombardi near the end of the 1969 season – the one year Lombardi coached here.
The Warner Wolf Show – Warner had two go-rounds at Channel 9. The second one in the early and mid 1990’s didn’t go so well. He was let go before the end of his contract. But in the late 60’s and early 70’s, Warner invented modern sportscasting. He brought the fun of the games into the coverage of the games. He was not just the most popular sportscaster in town, he may have been the most popular television personality, period. In 1972, when Jurgensen tore his achillies tendon playing the Giants, coincidently a week later, Warner did the same thing playing touch football. In Warner’s first biography, “Let’s Go to the Videotape”, there’s a photo of Sonny and Warner sitting on the set with their casts and crutches. Not long after that, the show became, “Redskins Sidelines” with a live studio audience.
Redskins Sidelines – It had at least a 20-year run and was a weeknight staple for fans. After Warner left Channel 9 for ABC Network in New York in 1976, Glenn Brenner and Sonny co-hosted the show. They had at least one active player on each week, which got a little uncomfortable when Joe Theismann showed up. Sonny never really liked him. But Glenn and Sonny were great together. And in the 80’s when the Redskins were really good, it was great fun watching everybody celebrate the previous Sunday’s win.
Redskins Playbook – A unique show put together by great producer and director Ernie Baur, who had produced “Redskins Sidelines” at Channel 9 and wanted to do something a little different when he made the move to Channel 5 in the early 80’s. This was shot in the Channel 5 newsroom and featured writers, players and even a betting expert, Gerald Strine. They sat around in loosened ties and shot the bull about the team, with the discussion led by the station’s main sports anchor. Bernie Smilovitz gave way to Joe Fowler, who gave way to Steve Buckhantz. Six years ago, in a book titled “The Great Book of Washington, D.C. Sports Lists”, co-authored by Len Shapiro and uh…Andy Pollin, Buck recalled a special “Playbook” show shot in San Diego as the Redskins prepared for Super Bowl XXII. Baur manged to get Michael, Brenner and Channel 7 anchor Frank Herzog on the set to tape the show. With competition the way it is, something like that may never happen again. Anyway, during one of the breaks, the always funny Brenner, noting that the four prime D.C. sportscasting jobs were sitting on the set said, “If Harvey Smilovitz (the Channel 5 weekend anchor who was back in Washington) rolled a grenade up here, he could take over the whole market.”
Countdown to Kickoff – This was Channel 7’s offering. It ran in the 80’s and into the early 90’s and was hosted by Herzog. Sam Huff was a regular on the show. When the Redskins played on Monday Night Football, Herzog would do the show from 8-9 as a pregame show for MNF.
Redskins Report – This started out as the Joe Gibbs show on Channel 4, hosted by Michael. When Gibbs left after the 1992 season, Richie Petitbon slid in for the one year he coached the Skins. But when Norv Turner replaced Petitbon for 1994, Channel 7 came up with the bigger offer and Norv did the the basic coach’s show with Rennie Knott, who by that time had replaced Herzog. Michael decided to go in a different direction. He’d already managed to get Sonny away from Channel 9 and paired him up with David Aldridge, who was covering the Redskins for the Post at the time, and John Riggins. When Aldridge left for ESPN in the late 90’s, Michael Wilbon moved into his spot. The four independent voices gave you a great look at what was going on with the team every week.
Redskins Saturday Night – I’m not positive this was even the correct name and the channel is uncertain – either 20 or 50. But I do know the show featured former Redskin Pete Wysocki, Doug “Greaseman” Tracht and Tony Kornheiser. It probably only lasted a few years.
I’m sure that’s not the complete list. If anything here is wrong, or I’ve left something out, send me an email at email@example.com. Or call the Sports Reporters on Sportstalk 570 in the morning at 301-230-0980.
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As the 44th anniversary of Vince Lombardi’s death was noted this past week, I couldn’t help but think of Sonny Jurgensen. It was only one season, 1969 that they were together, but it remains etched in the minds of those of us who remember it – Sonny in particular.
I’ve been lucky enough to have a number of conversations over the years with Sonny, both on and off the air. The subject of Lombardi remains near and dear to his heart. He’s said he never got to play in a Super Bowl, but feels that his career reward was getting to play that one season with what many consider the greatest football coach of all time.
Sonny was turning 35 the year Lombardi was hired by Edward Bennett Williams to turn around a losing team. Asked about his veteran quarterback, Lombardi said Sonny’s arm would probably fall off before the Redskins won a championship. But after watching Sonny throw in training camp, Lombardi remarked to an assistant, “If we had him in Green Bay, the NFL would have declared us a monopoly.”
Realize Lombardi had a Hall of Fame quarterback in Green Bay – Bart Starr.
Lombardi was correct about it taking time to build a winner, but Sonny was terrific in ’69. He led the league in passing yardage (3,102) and completion percentage (62%). The Redskins finished 7-5-2, their first winning season in 14 years.
Then Lombardi died of cancer at the age of 57. Sonny went on to play another five years – four of them for George Allen, who hated to throw. Nobody threw it better than Sonny. Had he and Lombardi stayed together another few years, you wonder if the Redskins wouldn’t have had to wait until 1983 to win their first Super Bowl.
Anyway, here it is 50 years since the Eagles foolishly traded him to the Redskins for Norm Snead - 40 years since Sonny played his last season in the NFL. He was 40 years old, had been through multiple surgeries, but still led the NFC in passing percentage at 64.1%. His last game was a playoff loss to the Rams. In 18 years in the game, he’d never quarterbacked in a winning playoff game. Of the Hall of Fame quarterbacks who played in the Super Bowl era, Sonny is one of only three to never play in the big game. Dan Fouts and Warren Moon are the others.
And yet, he remains a local treasure. Sonny is now in his 34th season broadcasting Redskins games on the radio. Last month he celebrated his 80th birthday – working of course. The Skins had a preseason game that night in Baltimore.
His analysis is as strong as it’s ever been. The local television work ended in 2008, but he is a go-to guy for everything Redskins.
We always look back on a great career when it ends, but sometimes it’s a good idea to appreciate one while it still going on. And hopefully Sonny’s career will keep going on and on. Thanks for a great half century. The first one.
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Hats off to Chick Hernandez of Comcast Sportsnet for landing a sit down interview with Redskins owner Dan Snyder. The full interview airs September 1st, but an excerpt released Wednesday had Snyder revealing that plans are in the works for a new stadium. He doesn’t have a site or projected date for completion, but he says they have already talked to architects about what it will look like.
In discussing the story Thursday with Kevin Sheehan and Thom Lovero on the “Sports Fix” on ESPN 980, Scott Van Pelt asked a very good question. “What is the life of a stadium these days?”
He pointed out that FedEx Field opened only 17 years ago and we’re already talking about replacing it. It’s not like the Redskins will have a new home tomorrow. The FedEx lease runs through 2026. However, it’s possible FedEx Field will be have gone from foundation to rubble in a period of less than 25 years. As Van Pelt said, “some people keep cars longer than that.”
Realize the original home of the Redskins had already been open for more than a quarter of a century when they moved there from Boston in 1937. Griffith Stadium, built on the site where Howard University Hospital now sits, opened in 1911. President William Howard Taft threw out the first ball at the Senators opener. It held only 29,000 people, but ably served as the home of the Senators and Redskins until 1961 when both teams moved out. Griffith Stadium was 50 years old by then.
Both teams moved into D.C. Stadium (it was renamed RFK Stadium after the assassination of Robert F Kennedy in 1968) for what figured to be another long run. This is how it was described in the 1961 Redskins Press Guide:
It is America’s newest stadium – and the world’s best!
This great new 50,000-seat D.C. Stadium has been built for comfort and convenience.
There are no bleacher, backless seats – every seat in the stadium is a comfortable chair with a restful back and arm rests.
There are 26 spacious concessions stands and 45 rest rooms – the most such facilities any stadium can boast.
There is a giant electric scoreboard (240 feet wide, 40 feet high) which flashes messages to the crowd.
The stadium was built at a cost of $100,000 – less than what a condo sells for around here. They did eventually bump the seating up to 55,000, thanks to temporary seats that were installed when the baseball season turned over to football season. They stopped having to bother taking them in and out after the Senators left town for Texas following the 1971 season. The Redskins wound up staying 36 years.
For the 1997 season, they moved into Jack Kent Cooke Stadium. The Redskins Press Guide that year noted that it was built in roughly half the time it normally takes to build a stadium, 17 ½ months. And they added this nugget:
“Jack Kent Cooke Stadium (it was named FedEx Field shortly after Snyder bought the team in 1999) is easily accessible for fans in the Washington Beltway at Raljon, Md. (Raljon was just something Cooke made up to honor his sons, Ralph and John. In perhaps the best line Tony Kornheiser ever wrote in the Washington Post, he said it was a good thing his sons weren’t named Pete and Enis) A new beltway interchange has been constructed to ease the flow of traffic at the stadium and 23,000 parking spaces surround the stadium. Shuttle buses will also be provided to and from the Metro.”
Well, after 17 seasons, I think we can agree FedEx is not as “easily accessible” as the Redskins told us it was. And it’s a large part of why many tolerate FedEx, rather than embrace it. Whenever the Redskins leave, there probably won’t be much in the way of nostalgia about coming and going from the stadium. Cost of building FedEx, by they way - $250 million. A replacement could cost 10 times that.
Who pays that? It’s a good question. D.C. Councilman Jack Evans was on ESPN 980 and said the city will pick up the cost of clearing the RFK site and would expect the Redskins and the NFL to pick up the cost of construction. Maryland and Virginia have both made it known they’d like to have the stadium built in their states. But both likely don’t have the finances to pay for the whole thing.
Much has to be sorted out, and as Snyder told Comcast, these things take time. But as one who started going to games at D.C. Stadium when it was just a few years old, it seems like we’re talking about replacing a stadium that was just built yesterday.
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These are high times for the Washington Nationals. They have a sizeable lead in the National League East. They are 20 games over .500, have won five of their last six games in walk-offs and have rung up 10 straight wins. As I type this, the Nats are getting ready to attempt breaking the longest winning streak in franchise history, going back to their roots as the expansion Montreal Expos in 1969. That was the last year as an adolescent that baseball really mattered to me. It was the one year that the expansion Senators (1961-1971) finished over .500.
What a season. The All Star Game was here for the last time. Ted Williams was in his first year as a manager. Frank Howard hit 48 home runs. Dick Bosman won 14 games. Slick-fielding shortstop Ed Brinkman, who’d hit .188 and .187 the previous two seasons, hit .266. They finished with a record of 86-76, well behind the first place Orioles, but there was great hope for the future. That hope soon died when they lost 92 games the following season, which was followed by one of the worst trades in history. Owner Bob Short dealt, Brinkman, promising third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez, and pitchers Joe Coleman and Jim Hannan to Detroit for a washed up Denny McLain. They stunk again in ’71, McLain lost 22 games and Short moved the team to Texas.
End of my baseball youth.
Without a baseball team over the next 34 years, I never got to experience the joys of following the ups and downs of a season. And being a second generation Washington baseball fan, I never grew up with the optimism that comes with the game. There’s always a game tomorrow and always a season next year. I had neither. My father, who turns 86 this year and started rooting for the Senators in the late 1930’s always had seasons growing up, but had little hope. His Senators were almost always bad. The last pennant winning team was 1933 – he was four.
There’s probably a part of every Washington baseball fan that is skeptical of the current success. The Nats did have the best record in baseball in 2012 and didn’t make it out of the Divisional round of the playoffs. And this current 10-game win streak was matched by the 2005 Nats, who reached 10-straight wins on June 12th with a 3-2 win over Seattle. Here was the lineup that day. Not exactly murderer’s row:
1. Brad Wilkerson, CF
2. Ryan Church, LF
3. Jose Guillen, RF
4. Nick Johnson, 1B
5. Vinny Castilla, 3B
6. Junior Spivey, 2B
7. Brian Schneider, C
8. Jamey Carroll, SS
9. Tony Armas, SP
However, baseball in town for the first time since 1971 was so new and fresh, I wanted to allow myself to believe. I remember having a conversation with Mark Tuoey, who was one of the driving forces in bringing baseball to town, about postseason arrangements in creaky old RFK Stadium. He told me, “I think we can handle playoffs. World Series might be an issue.”
The Nats finished .500. Oh well.
Nine years later it may be time to believe – as hard as that may be to believe. Too many incredible things are happening. Ten straight wins, five of them walk-off in the last six games. There’s something going on. The season I’ve waited for all my life may finally be here.
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Redskins kicker Kai Forbath is not off to the best start in his attempt to hold off seventh-round pick Zach Hocker and hang on to his job. In Thursday night’s preseason opening win over New England, Forbath missed a 46-yarder and shanked a kickoff attempt out of bounds. Hocker made a 39-yarder and an open field tackle on kickoff coverage. Three preseason games remain, but right now it looks like advantage Hocker.
It might be wise for Forbath to contact Redskins legend Mark Moseley for some veteran advice on kicking survival. Thirty-two summers ago, Moseley survived and advanced in one of the all time kicker stories.
In 1982, Moseley was starting his ninth season in Washington. How he even got to D.C. is a survival story in itself. In the opening game of the 1972 season, kicking for the Houston Oilers, Moseley missed a kick, but it didn’t cost the Oilers the game. Yet when he encountered coach Bill Peterson in the parking lot the next day, the coach told him he’d had a dream. That dream was that he’d waived Moseley. So this “Bozo” Peterson (in various polls, he’s been ranked one of the worst coaches in NFL history) made his dream a reality.
Moseley was out of work the rest of ’72 and all of 1973. But in ’74, the NFL Players Association staged a strike and Redskins coach George Allen needed a kicker. Because Moseley was not a part of the NFLPA at the time, it wasn’t like he was a scab. So he signed, stayed on, even after the veterans dropped their strike, and lasted through the rest of Allen’s run, all of Jack Pardee’s run and through the first year of Joe Gibbs.
Nearing his mid-thirties by ’82, Moseley was starting to concern the coaches because his kickoffs were a bit short. So, they drafted Dan Miller out of Miami in the 11th round. By the end of training camp, the job was Miller’s to lose. He did all the kicking in the final exhibition game against Cincinnati. But he missed two field goals, which opened the door to keep Moseley on the roster for the opener at Philadelphia.
At the last minute, a decision was made to make Miller inactive and start Moseley against the Eagles. It may have been the most important decision made all year. Moseley kicked a 48-yarder to send the game into overtime and kicked a 26-yarder for the game winner. Miller was cut.
If the story ended there, it would be good, but it gets better. After going two for two in that game, he went three for three the following week in a win at Tampa Bay. And then the players went on strike for two months.
When the season resumed, nobody paid much attention to the fact that Moseley was five for five on field goals. And he kept right on going. At 5-1, the Redskins were playing the Giants at RFK with a chance to clinch a playoff spot with the strike-revised format in place. Moseley was 18 for 18 going into the game.
It came down to the final seconds with mid-December snow falling and the ball on the 32-yard line of the Giants with everything on the line – the game, the playoffs and Garo Yepremian’s record of 20 straight field goals. The kick was good, and so was the muddy hug with holder Joe Theismann. With the 15-14 victory, Redskins were in the playoffs. They would of course go on to win the Super Bowl and Moseley, who would miss only one field goal attempt all season, would become the first - and still the only - kicker to be named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.
Moseley would go on to play four more years in the NFL, retiring after the 1986 season. Quite a run, for man who had almost lost his job four years earlier. Forbath is only a three-year veteran. Perhaps this history lesson might be worth his time to learn.
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