Outside of Joe Theismann's Restaurant in Falls Church, Va. on Saturday night, people were waiting to get inside to order a Number Seven sandwich for $3.75 (roast beef, Swiss cheese, cole slaw and Russian dressing). Inside, Joe Theismann, the restaurateur, was sitting at a back table with family and friends. Theismann raised his glass.
"Here's to our continued success. To money in our pockets. And to rings on our fingers."
"And bells on our toes," chimed in Mark Moseley.
"And to straightening out our field-goal kicker," added Theismann.
Only two hours before, the Washington Redskins had beaten the Detroit Lions 31-7 in one of the NFL's opening playoff games, and toasts were indeed in order. To Alvin Garrett, the wee receiver who caught three touchdown passes. To Jeris White, who intercepted two passes, one of which he returned 77 yards for a touchdown. To John Riggins, who rushed for 119 yards and single-handedly brought back the straight-arm. To Joe Gibbs, the Bible scholar and coach who is leading the Redskins to the Promised Land. To Kicker Moseley, although he actually missed a field goal, which means he has made good on only 83 of the 92 points he's been asked to put through the uprights this season. To the 55,045 ticket buyers, not a single no-show among them, who subjected the Lions to the sound and fury of RFK Stadium. To Bobby Beathard, general manager; to owner Jack Kent Cooke; to Lego Lamb, assistant equipment manager.
Has anybody been left out? Oh, yes. To Joe Theismann, disc jockey, camera salesman, holder for Moseley and quarterback of the Redskins. No. 7 completed 14 of 19 passes for 210 yards in a performance as appetizing as the roast beef in one of his sandwiches.
So cheers for all the sons of Washington, who are now 17-4 since their 0-5 start in 1981. By virtue of their 8-1 regular-season record, best in the NFC, the Redskins will play at home right up to the Super Bowl if they keep on winning. That's comforting news in Washington, because the team has lost only one postseason game in D.C., the 1940 championship, 73-0 to the Bears. Of course, there have been only three other postseason games in the capital.
Maybe that's why the Redskins don't inspire the awe befitting the NFC's second-ranked defense and fourth-ranked offense. "They're not a great team," said Detroit Coach Monte Clark before Saturday's game. Afterward he insisted, "I still feel the same way."
Early last week Theismann got an inspirational telegram he shared with his teammates: I KNOW WHAT IT'S LIKE NOT GETTING ANY RESPECT. GOOD LUCK. RODNEY DANGERFIELD.
In the opening minutes of the game, the skeptics were saying I told you so as Detroit drove with ease to the Redskin 21. But Billy Sims fumbled, and Linebacker Rich Milot recovered. Washington had to punt after only four plays, and the Lions were on the move again. They reached the Redskin 23 where, on third and four, Quarterback Eric Hippie tried to hit Sims in the flat. But White stepped in front of Sims, tipped and then caught the ball and ran untouched for the score. "All the way downfield, I kept thinking there's got to be a flag," said White. "When I got to the end zone, I sort of looked around to see if everything was O.K. 'Hey,' I said to myself, 'it's a touchdown.' "
The defense gave Washington another scoring opportunity minutes later. Hippie was separated from the ball on a blind-side blitz by Cornerback Vernon Dean, and Tackle Darryl Grant covered it. The Redskins got a 26-yard field goal from Moseley out of that turnover.
In the second quarter the 5'7" Garrett became a very big man. Garrett had caught only one pass all year, but because Art Monk, the team's best receiver, broke his foot in the last regular-season game, against St. Louis, the Smurf, as Theismann calls Garrett, was pressed into service. On a third-and-19 from the Lion 21, rookie Cornerback Bruce McNorton was playing Garrett tight. Garrett put a move on him and executed what the Redskins call a Fade, running away from McNorton into the left front corner of the end zone. Theismann put the ball over his shoulder, and the Redskins had six.
Two possessions later, Washington was faced with a third-and-six, again on the 21. Darned if Garrett didn't beat McNorton with the same exact move—in fact, he beat him even worse. "I like that one-on-one stuff," said Garrett.
Two teams were once foolish enough to let Garrett go before the Redskins picked him up in November of '81. The Chargers drafted him in the ninth round in '79 out of Angelo State, but made him the last cut in training camp, although he impressed San Diego's offensive coordinator at the time, Joe Gibbs. The Giants picked him up in '80, but waived him last year after he missed a tackle against the Redskins. "The minute I saw him on the waiver wire, I claimed him," says Gibbs. "He does so many things: receive, return punts and kicks, go down on special teams. In fact, he's sometimes captain of our special teams. You should see him fly down the field and make tackles."
Washington put the game out of reach in the first minutes of the third quarter. The offense rode Riggins deep into Lion territory, and on third and eight from the 27, Theismann yet again found Garrett, who had beaten rookie Bobby Watkins on an out pattern on the right side. After the touchdown, a funny thing happened. A group of five of the Redskins' receivers got together in the end zone and performed this little ritual they'd been rehearsing all week. First they formed a circle. Then they crossed their arms in front of their chests. They put their arms down. They crossed them again. Then, in perfectly timed leaps, they slapped hands. They call it the Fun Bunch Five.
"We wanted to come up with a little something extra in the playoffs for the fans and to give us incentive to get in the end zone," said Tight End Rick Walker, founder of the Fun Bunch. "The crossed arms stand for brotherhood. Actually, we wanted to do it after Alvin's first touchdown, but he forgot about it. He forgot after the second touchdown, too. We made sure that he didn't forget after the last one.
"All week long Alvin and I kept each other motivated. This is the truth: I said to him, 'If you don't come up with two or three touchdowns, I'm going to be real disappointed.' Well, I'm not disappointed in him at all."
Said Theismann, "Any word short of 'great' wouldn't do Alvin justice." For the day, Garrett had six catches, equaling his previous career total, for 110 yards.
A slightly larger thorn in the Lions' paw, at least in stature, was the 33-year-old, 6'2", 230-pound Riggins, the Steve Carlton of pro football. "John doesn't usually talk to me, either," said Gibbs. "But on Thursday he came up and said, 'I want the ball on Saturday.' So we gave it to him." Riggins carried 25 times, for 4.8 yards a carry, against the best rushing defense in the league. In the fourth quarter Riggins leveled two unfortunate defensive backs on a 25-yard rumble that helped set up a 42-yard field-goal attempt by Moseley. Moseley missed (gasp!) wide right.
Moseley, an 11-year veteran who dug septic tanks before the Redskins found him, is now the most decorated place-kicker in history. He even won the AP's league MVP award this season, something no kicker had ever done. "I never dreamed this would happen," says Moseley. "I don't even have a bonus clause in my contract for MVP."
Moseley has done wonders for straight-ahead kicking. "The shoe people tell me that sales are way up on square-toe kicking shoes," says the 10½B.
Only last September, Moseley was fighting for his job. But Gibbs decided to keep him over rookie Dan Miller, and off went Moseley to a record streak of 23 consecutive field goals, in rain and snow and from as far away as 48 yards. Says Gibbs, "It's almost like we have a patent on winning. Just keep it close and let Mark kick the field goals."
Moseley gives a lot of credit to Punter Jeff Hayes for taking over the kickoff duties. "Usually, at this time of year, everything aches—legs, hips, foot. But this year I feel great. Kicking off takes so much out of you." Redskin fans should remember that the next time they think about booing Hayes, as they did for his punting on Saturday.
The Redskin players graciously pass along praise to teammates. This bucket brigade of compliments is part of the family atmosphere that Gibbs has fostered. In a way, last season's 0-5 start was a help because the Redskins came out of the adversity together. The relationship between coach and quarterback was a little rocky until Theismann paid a surprise visit to Gibbs one night to clear the air, and they both began to believe in each other.
After those first five games Gibbs decided to go to the one-back, two-tight-end offense he had designed at San Diego. Alternating Riggins and Joe Washington as the single set back, the Redskins began to move the ball. "The formation does two basic things," says Gibbs. "In this day of 3-4 defenses, it's tough to control those outside linebackers, but it's a lot easier if you put a big man in front of them—I'd rather have a tight end instead of [5'10", 179-pound] Joe Washington blocking for Riggins. The second thing is that you can use your tight ends in a variety of ways, like we did with Kellen Winslow in San Diego."
Gibbs, 42, is well aware that the ball works in mysterious ways. He's a born-again Christian, as well as being a former national 35-and-over racquetball champion and the son of a North Carolina sheriff. During the strike he taught Bible study classes to troubled teen-agers in the inner city. "I find inspiration from the Bible all the time," he says. In Chapter 35, Verse 9 of the Book of Isaiah, he might have found a playoff tip: "No lion shall be there."
Indeed the Lions felt a little guilty about qualifying for the tournament with a 4-5 record. "We're Number Eight! We're Number Eight!" Clark chanted after the Lions beat Green Bay two weeks ago to squeak into the playoffs.
But then this had been a strange season all the way around for Detroit. Sims staged a holdout in training camp. Punter Tom Skladany and Kicker Ed Murray walked out together, got the bum's rush when they tried to walk back in together, and were finally, and reluctantly, accepted. Owner William Clay Ford called the team "a ragtag operation all the way around," and All-Pro Tackle Keith Dorney accused some of his teammates of not trying hard enough. Injuries and incompetence decimated the defensive secondary. And nobody knew who the quarterback was, unless it was some guy named Hippleson.
Only one Lion win came in a game in which Hippie or Gary Danielson played the whole time. For the playoffs, Clark chose Hippie. "A gut decision," said Clark, whose gut is too big to ignore.
For a short while, a very short while, it looked as if Clark had made the right move. But then came three fumbles and two interceptions, dropped passes galore and a touchdown called back because of holding. Whenever the defense tried to gamble with a blitz, Theismann picked it up and burned the Lions.
On defense, the Redskins held Sims to just 19 yards on six carries. Last year, in a wild 33-31 Washington victory, Sims had rushed for 159 yards as the Lions rolled up 499 yards of total offense. This time, except for Hippie's scrambles, Detroit's running game was stopped cold, thanks in large part to 295-pound Defensive Tackle Dave Butz. With the Lions threatening at the Redskin five in the second quarter, Butz forced Sims's second fumble. "I don't think he expected me to put 250 pounds on his chest," said Butz. "It had a good effect." Detroit's only score came on a 15-yard pass from Hippie to Tight End David Hill in the third quarter.
Despite the drubbing, the Lions remained unconvinced of the invincibility of the Redskins. Said All-Pro Defensive Tackle Doug English, "You know the expression, 'We didn't get beat, we just ran out of time.' Well, I'd like to line up and play them again right now. They're not a 31-7 better team than we are."
The Redskins are getting quite used to this lack of respect. Even some of their own fans, who are mired in the past, have their doubts. As Theismann was sitting at his table in Joe Theismann's, a pink-faced man in a Redskins ski cap came up to shake his hand.
"Do you know I've been to every Redskins game since 1964?" said the fan. "And I want to tell you something. I'm a Sonny man. I loved Sonny Jurgensen. But Joe, I've got to tell you. You're...you're...you're...you're all right, Joe."
"Thank you very much," said Theismann.