The Washington Redskins have not had a 6-0 record since Sammy Baugh and Andy Farkas put on Sitting Bull headdresses and leaped up in the air for a publicity photo in front of our nation's Capitol, Cordell Hull and several Japanese envoys—which is to say the pre-John Wayne days. But that is precisely what the Redskins have 38 years later, having disposed of the Dallas Cowboys 9-5 and the Detroit Lions 21-19 last week. In testimony to the new look and mood of things around embattled old D.C., there are no longer those T shirts that say THE OVER-THE-HILL GANG. Those were for George Allen and all the guys who went around picking up Quarterback Billy Kilmer and flip-top cans from the practice field. The bureaucrats have a new T shirt that says THE RHYTHM IS WITH 'EM, and they are not talking about sheiks and Knessets.
Basically, the rhythm seems to be with a new head coach, Jack Pardee; a new quarterback, Joe Theismann; some new receivers; a new offense; a new defense, although some of the names have a ring as familiar as Thomas Jefferson; and mainly, a new attitude. For all of this, there is still a sense of humor and realism around secluded Redskin Park out there in the Virginia bush, a carry-over, no doubt, from the Sonny Jurgensen days. As Defensive End Ron McDole said one day, "When we find out what's causing it, we'll let you know."
That was a joke, of course. Like so many of these other Redskins, McDole, who's 39, went through the Allen era of turning off lights and going to meetings. Now, under Pardee, the old and new together get the work done and leave early. When they leave, either they go to Kicker Mark Moseley's Bible study sessions, or they go with McDole, Kilmer, Jake Scott, et al., to the Fox and Hounds, or some such place, for studies of a more serious nature. Whichever way they go, the rhythm is with 'em. Above all, the Redskins are professionals, and make no mistake about the fact that they are a fine, fine football team, and the Dallas Cowboys along with everybody else better realize it.
There is the temptation to look at some of the names—McDole, Chris Hanburger, Diron Talbert, Ken Houston, Harold McLinton—and say, yeah, yeah, same old Redskins. But you have to look closer to see what was responsible for the upsets over New England and Dallas and the other four victories that have left the Redskins undefeated almost halfway through what was supposed to be a rebuilding season.
October 15, 1978
It starts with Edward Bennett Williams, part owner and president, hiring Pardee away from the Chicago Bears after Allen was dismissed last January. People may have thought Pardee was crazy to leave Walter Payton and a weakening NFC Central Division, but Pardee also was leaving no stadium and no workout facility, and maybe he had seen enough of adversity. This is a fellow who comes from six-man high school football in Christoval, Texas; from Bear Bryant's "survival camp" in Junction, Texas, during Bryant's Texas A&M days; from licking black mole cancer; from no paychecks in the World Football League; and from 15 years as an NFL linebacker. For Pardee, the Redskin job is ice cream.
One of the first things Pardee did was make Joe Walton his offensive coordinator. Walton was an obscure assistant under Allen. Together, he and Pardee have remolded the offense. Theismann is the quarterback, and Walton is his confidence and ego. This gave Kilmer a new nickname: he went from "Whisky" to "Prudential." Says Kilmer, "I'm the highest-paid insurance man in the league."
The 39-year-old Kilmer, who in August signed a two-year contract worth $500,000, is too much of a competitor to enjoy sitting around as a backup, but he's impressed with Theismann, with Washington's new receivers, Ricky Thompson and John McDaniel, and with the job the new staff has done with the offensive line. The line has major changes in it, most of which have gone unnoticed outside of Washington. For one thing, Bob Kuziel is the center now and Len Hauss is operating a package store in Jesup, Ga., and going to law school. Terry Hermeling has moved from guard to tackle, where in the Monday-night game against Dallas he erased Harvey Martin from the television screen. And Dan Nugent has become a guard instead of a bench warmer.
Now you find Theismann throwing beautifully to a group of receivers—Thompson, McDaniel, Danny Buggs and Frank Grant—who are running exact routes for Walton instead of the guesswork patterns Allen employed. You find a two-back offense with Mike Thomas and John Riggins, not the one-back attack that Allen always preferred. And you find what is essentially a younger and improved offensive line.
Theismann's statistics tell much of the story. He has completed 51% of his passes and thrown 10 touchdown passes, but more important, he has thrown only five interceptions. That's five, gang, as compared, for example, with the nine that Roger Staubach has mailed out and with the 15 that Ken Stabler has dispatched, to bring up a couple of arms that are supposed to be beyond criticism.
On the other hand, it was that old Redskin staple, defense, that had a great deal to do with the two big upsets. Linebacker Brad Dusek's romp into the end zone with a scooped-up fumble saved the afternoon in New England. Against Dallas, a combination of Moseley's field goals and the defense carried the night.
It took two of the most remarkable pass catches of any Redskin era, plus as much tenacity as the Washington defense could muster, for Pardee's team to prevail against the Lions on Sunday. That the Redskins pulled it out by two points with only 1:24 to play could only be taken as a further indication that perhaps they are as charmed as they are talented.
The first of Theismann's two touchdown passes went to Tight End Jean Fugett, who made the grab and landed on his helmet just inside the back stripe of the end zone after doing a half gainer. That put Washington ahead 14-12 on the second play of the final quarter. Until then the Redskin defense had held Detroit to four field goals, stopping Lion drives at the three-, seven-, 14-and five-yard lines, and had recovered a blocked punt for a TD. Rick Kane put the Lions ahead 19-14, but at the finish it was McDaniel's catch of a desperate 25-yard Theismann pass with Detroit's Tony Sumler hanging on him that saved the afternoon.
The Dallas game is worth talking about some more, because it not only said something about the Redskins' defense, but it also might have revealed something about the Cowboys and how they are suffering from the new rules of 1978. Question: Where is the great Dallas secondary? Answer: fretting over the no-chuck rule on receivers and not playing man-for-man coverage as effectively as Washington, among other teams. Strip the Cowboys of their zones and flexes, as the new rule tends to do, and their secondary begins to look ordinary—and certainly not the equal of Washington's, which includes Houston, Scott, Lemar Parrish and Joe Lavender.
Which introduces the fact that Cornerback Parrish and Defensive End Coy Bacon are new Redskins who are so delighted to be out of Cincinnati—and away from Paul Brown—that they can be seen giggling on the practice field with Talbert. Now put in something else new: Pardee's occasional use of a 3-4 defense, which makes Dave Butz, who is merely 6'7" and 285, the perfect nose man. As Kilmer points out, "He can just fall on people and hurt 'em." Which, incidentally, is how New York Jet Quarterback Richard Todd exited with a dislocated clavicle a few weeks ago. Dave Butz fell on him and then called for a doctor.
As a matter of fact, the Redskins' rude treatment of the Cowboys may well be remembered as the most significant game of the season when it is all over. It was a game in which Theismann threw the ball like Staubach, and Thompson got open and caught the ball like Drew Pearson. It was a game the Redskins won both physically and on the scoreboard, a game in which Pardee clearly outcoached Tom Landry. And while it may have been the game that woke Dallas up finally, it was also a night when Washington showed it was a team to take very seriously.