In a town accustomed to ruffles and flourishes, blue-sky promises and statistical con games, you can say this for the Washington Redskins: they're for real. And they're evidently the right bunch for these adverse times. They've been bloodied in this oddest of all NFL seasons, but they're still unbowed. The Redskins may look like pro football's soup line, but they keep winning and winning, their latest triumph being a 13-9 beating of the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday in dark and dank RFK Stadium.
This fourth straight Redskin victory—going into its Monday night game at Tampa Bay, Miami was the only other undefeated NFL team—and their seventh straight over two seasons, was typical of what has been going on this year. Rain was falling. The Washington coaches, having run out of ideas, were holding their heads in their hands. And the 1-2 Eagles, superhungry for a win, were second-and-six on the 'Skins 23 with two minutes left in the game and Washington leading by a scant four points. But on the next play, Dave Butz, all 6'7" and 295 pounds of him, sacked Philly Quarterback Ron Jaworski. Then, on third down, with Washington Cornerback Joe Lavender having slipped and lying helpless on the ground, the Polish Rifle unaccountably missed 6'8" Harold Carmichael. And finally, on fourth-and-12, Jaworski threw into double coverage, the 'Skins' Tony Peters intercepted, and once again everyone wearing burgundy and gold looked like a genius.
From the start Sunday, the rhythm of the game seemed wrong, even though Washington Quarterback Joe Theismann, the NFL's leading passer going into the game, established his gunning game early, moving the 'Skins up and down the field as if they were so many chalk figures on Coach Joe Gibbs's strategy board. On its first six plays, Washington rolled up four first downs. But after 20 minutes of play, the Redskins had only 10 points—not a very convincing total considering Theismann's fast start.
From then on the game was the stuff of which rainy day struggles are made: interceptions, fumbles, slips and botched passes. Washington would wind up trying to keep the door closed while Philadelphia pounded away on the other side, trying to make up its 10-point deficit. In fact the Eagles finished with more total offense (319 yards) than the Redskins (295) and outgained them by almost 4 to 1 in the second half. "I don't feel undefeated, I feel relieved," Gibbs said afterward. "It was tough."
Peters' interception on the nine-yard line undeniably relieved his coach, but it also was immensely satisfying to Peters. In 1979 he picked off a Jaworski pass and then taunted him. "Quarterbacks have a long memory," Jaworski yelled back. Throughout Sunday's game Peters and Jaworski talked about old and present times, and with everyone looking for Philly to go to Carmichael, its ace receiver, on the critical fourth-down play, Jaworski surprised most observers by sending Wide Receiver Mike Quick into Peters' area and throwing there. "Maybe he was trying to burn me, I don't know," said Peters.
Earlier, with 9:20 remaining, Mark Murphy, Washington's gap-toothed free safety, had chipped in with similar heroics that prevented Philadelphia from taking the lead when he stepped in front of Carmichael at the goal line and made an interception.
For Murphy, the game was a pleasant interlude in a season of taking it on the chin for his teammates. Twice he has needed stitches to close cuts inflicted on his chin at Tampa Bay and New York. He also has been getting a lot of flak because he's a member of the NFL Players Association executive committee. Asked by a writer if someone had clipped him on the jaw, Murphy smiled back and said, "Jack Donlan," referring to the owners' chief negotiator.
Gibbs likes to call the Redskins a "happy" team, and of course winning does breed smiles. But not so long ago Washington was way down. When he took over last season he was greeted with five straight losses and a flood of advice. "When you're losing," he says, "anything anybody says sounds intelligent."
The Redskins righted themselves over the last half of 1981 and finished at 8-8. Of their last 15 games they have won 12. No team has done better.
For his part, Coach Dick Vermeil and the Eagles have started wondering what has happened. Two seasons ago they were in the Super Bowl. Now they're 1-3 with little hope of making the playoffs. Last year they won their first six, lost six of the next 10 and were beaten by the Giants in the first round of the playoffs. Of its last 15 regular-season games Philadelphia has won just six. "We have to go back to square one," Vermeil said Sunday. "We're not talking about the playoffs. We're talking about trying to win one game."
Washington began Philly's sad season when the Redskins visited Veterans Stadium on opening day and shocked the Eagles 37-34 in overtime as Washington's Mark Moseley kicked two field goals, one on the final play of regulation, the other in OT.
While Philadelphia has had to contend with an average margin of defeat of only four points, winning the close ones has become routine for Washington. The 'Skins also have beaten Tampa Bay 21-13 and the Giants 27-17. "I've told 'em that for us to win, it has to be a struggle," Gibbs said. "We have to play our absolute guts out."
One reason for this is the legacy of George Allen: all those draft picks he traded away. Washington went 11 years without a No. 1 choice before, in 1980, it selected Art Monk, a wide receiver from Syracuse who was second in the NFC in receptions entering the Philly game. Monk made only one catch Sunday, a 10-yarder in the fourth quarter, but it ran to 22 straight the number of consecutive games in which he has caught at least one pass. Only once in 36 games has he failed to make a reception.
Theismann credits Monk for the resurgence of the 'Skins' passing game, which took a dive years back when Charley Taylor and Bobby Mitchell moved from the field to receivers' coach (Taylor) and assistant general manager (Mitchell). But Theismann also praises Gibbs, calling him "an offensive genius," an honorific that may soon become enshrined in the NFL's Hall of Platitudes, so frequently is it bestowed these days. Philadelphia, for instance, also has a certified offensive genius in the 71-year-old Sid Gillman. Coupled with Monk and Gibbs is a good man named—Good grief! What else?—Charlie Brown.
If you expect to see Linus and Snoopy trailing along behind Brown, forget it. Brown, a wide receiver, says he has never even dated a girl named Lucy. And he has accomplished a lot more than peanuts in this, his first year. (He had to sit out what should have been his rookie season in 1981 with a knee injury.) He scored a touchdown on Sunday, running his total to five, when he caught a pass at the Philly 27 and ran it into the end zone, where he high-fived everyone in sight. "Charlie's really the answer for us," Gibbs said afterward of the eighth-round draft choice from South Carolina State.
Winning games in which the heroes are named Charlie Brown or Tony Peters or Mark Murphy or, for that matter, Mark Moseley, the 34-year-old, 11-year veteran who's one of only two straight-ahead kickers left in the NFL (the other is the Vikings' Rick Danmeier), obviously has left the Redskins in a happy mood. In fact, they're a regular bunch of cutups. Last Friday before practice, some veterans grabbed a taxi-squad player named Rickey Claitt, a feisty sort, and tied him up with about 10 miles of tape and left him lying outside the locker room. He looked like a mummy. Claitt worked himself free and then went into the 'Skins' dressing quarters, grabbed a bunch of shoes belonging to his tormenters and taped them atop a basketball goal in the team gym.
Then there are the Hogs, the self-styled porkers on the offensive line. Running Back Joe Washington, a six-year vet, says the 'Skins have the best offensive line he has ever played behind. But who ever hears much about offensive lines? Perhaps striving for an identity, the blockers jocularly nicknamed themselves the Hogs mostly because they all never met a meal they didn't like. Once a week they wear their HOGS T shirts to practice. If a Hog should forget his, he's fined $5. The money will be used for a Hog Feast at the season's end.
And finally there was the case of "Officer" Dexter Manley, the Redskins' defensive right end. Last Monday Manley was stopped by police for driving with altered temporary license tags on his car. The officer noticed a badge in Manley's wallet and Manley produced a card identifying himself as a deputy sheriff in Fairfax County, Va. Later, police learned that Manley had, in fact, resigned as a deputy on June 13 and charged him both with altering his tags and impersonating an officer. And they made him turn in his badge. The 'Skins are a team that enjoys needling anyone with a problem. In training camp they rode Moseley unmercifully when it looked as if he would be traded. And so they jumped gleefully on Manley all last week, calling him "an officer and a gentleman" and incessantly doing a Car 54, Where Are You? routine. "Everybody was sounding like a siren," said Manley.
But on Sunday, if the 240-pound Manley didn't have a last laugh, he at least had one of the big plays. He stopped Philly's Louie Giammona in the final quarter on a fourth-and-one at the Redskins 18, gathering up the diminutive Giammona in a bear hug at the line of scrimmage.
Presiding over all of this is Theismann, who's a veritable Captain Public Relations because of his ability to make friends. Theismann, it's said, doesn't deem the day complete until he has his picture taken with a child. He also has the gift of gab, a talent he puts to good use when he serves as a morning disc jockey on WPGC-FM, a Washington area radio station.
Theismann has been undefeated well into a season before; in 1978, his first year as a full-time starter, the Redskins won their first six games, and then went on to finish 8-8. That started the gripes. "You name the raps, I've had 'em," Theismann said last week. "My arm isn't strong enough. I don't stay in the pocket, and I scramble too much. I stay with my primary receivers too long. It goes on and on. I've been knocked every way a quarterback can be during my 12 years. My wife, Cheryl, used to say, 'Why not ask them to trade you?' "
Obviously, Theismann has hit his stride under Gibbs, who served apprenticeships under Don Coryell at St. Louis and San Diego and as John McKay's offensive coordinator at Tampa Bay. Gibbs, who wears glasses, doesn't exactly look like a pro coach. And he teaches a Bible-study class on Sundays and has a religious vocabulary rarely heard among NFL brain trusters. He's also low-key and without pretension. In fact, last week a visiting writer, observing a man dressed in a frumpy gray sweatshirt, thought the guy was the 'Skins' equipment man. It was Gibbs.
But he has managed, through hard work and that old NFL success ingredient, strength of character, to make winners of a collection of barely known newcomers and a few veterans such as Theismann, Moseley and Running Back John Riggins. One way or another they eke out a victory.
In Sunday's less-than-ideal weather conditions, both sides had practically to eke their hearts out, so sparse was the scoring. Moseley's 45-yard field goal with 9:46 to go in the first quarter provided the first points. It was his ninth straight attempt without a miss. Brown's touchdown came five minutes into the second quarter, and Moseley's second field goal finished the Redskins' scoring toward the end of the third quarter. Philadelphia, meanwhile, was scoring twice in the third quarter, the first time when Tony Franklin kicked a 41-yard field goal, the second when Jaworski and Carmichael teamed on a 44-yard touchdown play, after which Franklin blew the extra point. And that took care of the point-making for the day.
The fourth quarter was nothing but a struggle, with the interceptions by Murphy and then Peters turning back Philadelphia each time it seemed poised for the kill. For the workmanlike Redskins, it was simply another day, another dollar. Nothing seems to come easy in Washington this year, but for the 'Skins, it just keeps coming.