Holy recession, didn't Washington lay it on Detroit last week? With the Motor City's carmakers scrambling for their industrial lives, President Bush goes to the Far East and strong-arms the Japanese into promising to buy 20,000 more U.S. cars a year. Hey, Prez, Redskins linebacker Wilber Marshall has more autos than that in his garage. Then on Sunday, in the NFC title game at RFK Stadium, the Redskins take Detroit's finest product, the NFC Central champion Lions—a.k.a. The Little Engine That Could—and twist the lovable, overachieving device into The Little Engine That Shouldn't Have Ventured East Of Hamtramck.
The afterimage of Washington's 41-10 victory? A gigantic Redskin-red farm machine, a shiny, newfangled thresher with zillions of arms and gears—fully hydraulic, with AC, AM-FM radio, CD player, tinted glass, the works—methodically rolling up and down a field, ripping something silver and blue to pieces. At the wheel sits quarterback Mark Rypien, and every now and then he peers out of the cab, adjusts the toothpick in his mouth, sees all is well and turns up the volume on the rap version of Hail to the Redskins.
Everybody knew that the 15-2 Skins were the best team in the NFC coming into this game and that the upstart 13-4 Lions were lucky just to get a rematch after the Redskins pasted them 45-0 in the nation's capital on opening day. For Sunday's return engagement, another omen lurked: The Lions had never beaten the Redskins in Washington. Ever.
Still, in recent weeks Detroit had somehow defeated both the Super Bowl-bound Buffalo Bills and the resurgent Dallas Cowboys, who themselves had beaten the Skins 24-21 at RFK in November. Maybe there was a way. The Lions had the laconic and inexpressibly talented running back Barry Sanders, a Joe Montana impersonator in quarterback Erik Kramer, a sweetheart of an NFL Coach of the Year in Wayne Fontes and an emotional team that didn't know when to stop. "There are things you can't do," said Detroit defensive end Marc Spindler at midweek. "You can't lift 10 billion pounds. But we can do this: We can win." Spindler then thought for a moment. "Although, you add up that offensive line, and they do get heavy pretty quick."
The line in question would be the Hogs, led by such hunks of meat as 314-pound tackle Joe Jacoby, 294-pound tackle Jim Lachey and 283-pound guard Mark Schlereth. The Hogs blocked everything the Lion defense threw at them Sunday, opening the way for running back Gerald Riggs's two short touchdown runs and allowing Rypien to stand casually in the pocket and complete 12 of 17 pass attempts for 228 yards and two TDs. (Note to the Redskins equipment man: No need to wash Rip's uniform; just press it and put it in his Hump-Dome locker for the Super Bowl.)
Often the Hogs were helped by swine-sized tight ends Don Warren (267 pounds) and Ron Middleton (270 pounds), who situate themselves on the line, at the wing or in the backfield as an H-back. Warren, a 13-year veteran who is listed at 242 pounds and catches a pass every month or so. helped seal off the Detroit rush so well on Rypien's fourth-quarter 21-yard TD throw to wide receiver Art Monk, which made the score 34-10, that afterward he grew wistful thinking about the really big guys. "I want to be a Hog," Warren said plaintively. "But they're iffy about it. They think I'm a receiver."
Of course, it wasn't just the Hogs who created the overwhelming mismatch with the Lions. It was—if we can return to the thresher concept—the whole darned machine. Indeed, the Redskins are so loaded with spare-part players who do their jobs perfectly that it sometimes seems as if Washington has a 90-man roster. Take Riggs, for example. Two carries, five yards, 12 points. "That's my role," he said with a shrug after the game. "Come in and move the crowd."
Washington's success is testimony to the quiet intensity imparted to the players by coach Joe Gibbs, a God-and-Barry-Sanders-fearing man born 51 years ago in Mocksville, N.C. Last Friday he said, "This is a one-game shootout, and anybody can win. They've got a guy who is a phenom. I'm not sure anybody's ever been better." Informed that Sanders plans to remain celibate until he marries. Gibbs nodded approvingly. Reminded that Sanders believes in old-fashioned values, Gibbs nodded and said emphatically. "And they work."
They certainly do for Washington, starting with a defense that believes every opponent's snap is an evil thing. Detroit found that out fast. Kramer's first pass was batted down by defensive end Fred Stokes. On his second attempt, Kramer was hit by the other defensive end, Charles Mann, and fumbled. The Skins recovered, and two plays later Riggs scored. Seven-zip Redskins, 1:06 gone.
Kramer's third pass was incomplete, his fourth nearly intercepted by cornerback Martin Mayhew. His fifth was picked off, by linebacker Kurt Gouveia, who returned the ball 38 yards to the Lion 10, setting up a 20-yard Chip Lohmiller field goal. Ten-zip Redskins, 4:02 gone.
Kramer would soon settle down and lead Detroit to a touchdown and a field goal for a manageable 17-10 halftime deficit. But the rest of the way, pressure from Mann, from the cat-quick Marshall—who had three sacks on the day—and from linebacker Andre Collins pretty much derailed Sanders (11 carries for the game, 44 yards straight-ahead, 275 sideways) and the rest of the Lions' run-and-shoot offense. Marshall, who came to the Redskins from the Chicago Bears four years ago as a rare high-priced free agent, was an angry man before and after the game. "Why aren't I going to the Pro Bowl?" he said. "Because there's a lot of animosity out there. Because of all the money I got." Marshall, who has invested a wad of that loot in a fleet of luxury cars that he seldom drives but keeps for resale value, says he plays for himself, the lone wolf. "You motivate yourself," he says.
Still, even he had to be juiced by the return to the field of cornerback Darrell Green just before the half. Green, who had gone to the locker room for X-rays after bruising his ribs in the first quarter, had been pacing the training room floor, ice taped to his chest, watching the game on TV with deactivated linebacker Matt Millen. "I can't tackle," he said to Milieu. "Detroit's driving. I want to get out there! What do I do?"
"Play," said Millen. "Just grab and hang on." Green ripped off the ice, put on his shoulder pads and jersey, and ran out from the bowels of the stadium to a deafening RFK roar. Well now, take that, Detroit—a little emotion from the cold-hearted bullies.
The Redskins' fire roared in the second half: Rypien hit Gary Clark on a gorgeous 45-yard TD pass to make the score 27-10; Rypien's 21-yarder to Monk made it 34-10; and then the sore-ribbed Green intercepted sub quarterback Andre Ware and dashed 32 yards for a TD. Recall time at the factory, Detroit. Final two-game score: Redskins 86, Lions 10.
Of the Washington defense's success, Green said, "I give credit to Jesus Christ, but [assistant head coach] Richie Petitbon is a man to be reckoned with." And what did Petitbon have to say? "We're just lucky."
O.K., enough humility.
Give the final word to Kramer, a man who's not afraid to assess the Redskins fairly. "They caused all the problems we had today," he said.
Amen. And you can drive that home.