Top Five Moments in Washington Football History

George Carmi

In 1937, a professional football team came to Washington and began what would be the first of many memories for the region. Coached by Ray Flaherty at the time, the team formerly known as the “Boston Redskins” came to the DC Area and brought the city a pro football championship in its first season.

Led by quarterback Sammy Baugh, the team finished the season with an 8-3 record and defeated the Chicago Bears 28-21 in Wrigley Field. Washington scored 21 points in the third quarter to roar back for the win.

This began an annual fall tradition in the nation’s capital, where the DC region had a team to cheer for. This team was known as the Washington Redskins.

Starting today, the franchise will look mighty different moving forward. Heck, we don’t even know what the team’s nickname is going to be. However, at one point in time, the Washington Football team was one of the most feared franchises in the league, and an international entity. 

Today, we are going to celebrate the “Top 5 Moments in Franchise History” as a new era in Washington begins.

5. Sunday Night Football. Dallas versus Washington, 2012:

The 2012 season wasn’t supposed to happen. Coming off a 5-11 record the season prior, the team was in shambles and looked like a sinking ship under the Mike Shanahan regime. Then Robert Griffin III happened.

After a 3-6 start, and what largely looked like a lost season, the team experimented with a revolutionary new offense spearheaded by Kyle Shanahan. After a week 10 bye week, the team had seven games ahead of them, and a sliver of a chance to make the playoffs.

Washington absolutely caught on fire.

Starting off with a 31-6 win over the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington continued to win five more games and brought a six-game winning streak to Week 17. Their opponent? The Dallas Cowboys. The winner of the game would punch a ticket to the playoffs, and the loser would enjoy an extended off-season.

Powered by 200 rushing yards and three touchdowns by running back Alfred Morris, the team had the Cowboys on the ropes. The ball was placed in the hands of Tony Romo, down 21-18 with three minutes left.

Known for making superb comebacks, but also untimely mistakes, Romo had the opportunity to change the course of the game. And that he did. A poorly thrown ball was intercepted by Rob Jackson on a running back dump off. FedEx Field erupted as the home team ended an unlikely season with its first division crown in 13 years.

WATCH: Tony Romo gets picked to lock up the NFC East in 2012!

4. The Hiring of Joe Jackson Gibbs:

After the 1980 season, team owner Jack Kent Cooke had a decision to make. His team finished with a record of 6-10, it’s worst record in over 17 years. He was also caught in between an ongoing feud between general manager Bobby Beathard and coach Jack Pardee. Both parties were hard-headed, and had different views on the direction of the team.

Coach Pardee, who was confident in his coaching abilities, preferred a quick turnaround and hoped to rebuild the program with veteran players. Beathard, who was an established scout under Don Shula, preferred a youth movement and investment in the draft.

This dispute lasted six weeks after the season, and ultimately Cooke sided with Beathard and relieved Pardee of his duties. The question then became where to go next.

After eyeing Joe Gibbs of the San Diego Chargers, Beathard believed that the young assistant coach had special qualities in him. He came from the “Air Coryell” system and supposedly had the ability to unite people. Beathard wanted his man, and spent three-and-a-half hours in a meeting trying to convince the owner to add Gibbs.

Cooke eventually signed off on the hire, and in just his second season Gibbs directed the Redskins to their first of three Super Bowl victories.

Gibbs finished his first tenure with a record of 124-60 and a postseason record of 16-5. He lifted the Lombardi Trophy after Super Bowl XVII, XXII and XXVI. He is still the only coach to win three different Super Bowls, with three different quarterbacks.

3. Doug Williams Erupts in Super Bowl XXII:

Super Bowl XXII didn’t start off well for Washington. The team punted on its first drive, and the Broncos scored on its very first play from scrimmage. Before the burgundy and gold knew it, they were down 10-0 and mustered only 64 yards of total offense. Worse yet, their starting quarterback Doug Williams rolled his ankle on his planting foot, and fell to the ground untouched. The team looked like they were in trouble.

However, by some sort of divine grace, the team went absolutely off in the second quarter. Williams returned to the game and led an offense spark with the help of running back Timmy Smith. In 18 plays, the team scored 35 points and compiled 356 yards in total offense. Both of these numbers are Super Bowl records which still stand today.

Williams went 9 for 11 on passing attempts for 228 yards and four touchdowns. Ricky Sanders was the primary recipient of Williams as he caught five passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns. Smith carried the ball five times for 122 yards and a touchdown.

The franchise brought home its second NFL Championship, blowing out the Broncos 42-10 at the game’s conclusion. 

WATCH: Doug Williams Delivers! 

2. The 1991-92 Washington Redskins Super Bowl Team: 

Sometimes a team is just dominant, and clearly better than everyone else. This was the case for the 1991 Redskins. Starting with a 45-0 drubbing of the Detroit Lions in Week 1, the team simply blew out the competition.

The team was buoyed by a three-headed rushing attack consisting of Earnest Byner, Ricky Ervins and Gerald Riggs, who accounted for nearly 2000 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns. They also had the “Posse” of Art Monk, Ricky Sanders and Gary Clark who shined in their own right. Clark had a career year with 1340 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The ‘91 team burst on the scene winning its first 11 games and honestly the games weren’t even close. The momentum continued as they finished the season 14-2 and had the league’s number-one-ranked offense, coupled with the second overall defense. By season’s end, they scored 485 points compared to 224 points given up -- an unheard of plus-261 point differential. They also had a plus-18 turnover differential.

The team cruised in the playoffs, beating the Atlanta Falcons 24-7 in the Divisional Round, and the Lions 42-10 in the NFC Championship. They went on to beat the Buffalo Bills 37-24 in Super Bowl XXVI and Mark Rypien was the game’s MVP.

Rypien Cover Super Bowl SI

This would be the team’s third and final Super Bowl Championship.

1. Fourth-and-One, Super Bowl XVII:

After a strike-shortened NFL season, Washington (8-1) faced the Miami Dolphins (7-2) in Super Bowl XVII in Pasadena, California. In what was expected to be a low-scoring affair, we saw two team strengths pit against each other.

Washington came into the game with one of the league’s best offensive lines, deemed “The Hogs”, by offensive line coach Joe Bugel. Miami matched their prowess with the “Killer B’s”, a vaunted defensive line in their own right. What transpired in that game was a simple black-and-blue affair in which both teams slammed against each other. And points were hard to come by.

After struggling to produce on offense, Bugel simplified his philosophy and decided to just run the ball down his opponents throat. No more counters, no more trickery. Simply “70 Chip” and a cloud of smoke.

This led to a ball control offense where the team maintained possession for 20 minutes in the second half, and 15 of the last 18 minutes. With about 10 minutes in the game,the team was faced with a decision. Washington was down 17-13, and stood on the Dolphins 43 yard line on fourth-and-one. Just out of field goal range, and not an ideal place to punt. Joe Gibbs decided to go for it.

Running back John Riggins was handed the ball for the 30th time, and then this happened:

What transpired next was one of the greatest runs in franchise history, as Riggins plowed through Don McNeal and essentially made him a poster. The man known as “the Diesel” trucked down the sideline and scored what would amount to be the game-winning touchdown. This would be the franchise’s first Super Bowl win, and set the tone for the next decade.

WATCH: RIGGO Rolls over the Fish! 

Post-game, Riggins, who was always known for being brash, had an excellent exchange with then-president Ronald Reagan. After getting off the phone with the commander-in-chief, Riggins famously stated, “At least for tonight, Ron’s the president, but I’m the king.”

This topped off one of the greatest nights in franchise history, and will never be forgotten.

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George Carmi is an editor/contributing writer to or @FPC_Redskins. He is a native of the DC metropolitan area and is an avid fan of DC Sports. A former journalism major at the University of Maryland, his focus is now in public education. His earliest memories consist of Darrell Green, "The Posse" and Super Bowl XXVI. Follow him on twitter @Gcarmi21


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Chris Russell

Chris Russell