Mark of Excellence

In a monumental achievement, Mark Rypien becomes the fourth quarterback to lead the Washington Redskins into the Super Bowl
January 27, 1992

We watch as mark Rypien's granite head is slowly lowered—Easy there, or he'll have to go on IR!—onto stone shoulders, joining his Washington Redskins Super Bowl quarterback brethren, and we think: Funny, but they don't look as if they belong together, not as a monument to NFL superiority. These four guys—Billy Kilmer, Joe Theismann, Doug Williams and Rypien—don't even look like men who played the same sport, let alone quarterbacks who led their teams to Super Bowls VII (Kilmer), XVII and XVIII (Theismann), XXII (Williams) and, coming up on Sunday in Minneapolis, XXVI (Rypien). Gazing at this display in our nation's capital—Somebody get that pigeon out of Ryp's nostril!—we have one question: How many other teams have gone to the Super Bowl with four different starting quarterbacks? Answer: none.

Only two other teams have even been to the Super Bowl five times, the Dallas Cowboys and the Miami Dolphins. Craig Morton took the Cowboys to their first, and Roger Staubach took them to four more. Miami went three times with Bob Griese and then once each with David Woodley and Dan Marino. Indeed, teams that have reached the Super Bowl three or more times generally have ridden the skills of a single helmsman. The Pittsburgh Steelers played in four Super Bowls—all of which they won—led by Terry Bradshaw. The San Francisco 49ers did the same thing with Joe Montana. The Minnesota Vikings made it to four—and lost them all—behind Joe Kapp (once) and Fran Tarkenton (three times). Ditto the Denver Broncos, with Morton (0 for 1) and John Elway (0 for 3).

That the Redskins are different from other teams is as clear as this fact: Their two best QBs of all time, Hall of Famers Sammy Baugh and Sonny Jurgensen (the obelisks over by the reflecting pools, past the George Allen pyramid, in front of the Myron Pottios birdbath), never made it to the Super Bowl. Baugh came along too early; Jurgensen was unlucky. You would expect the four Washington quarterbacks who did reach the Super Bowl to have a lot in common. Wrong. Look at the gut on that one. And that one there, the little nervous-looking guy. Why, the whole statue is vibrating! Hey, that guy's black! And this new one—jeez, he's gigantic, must weigh a hundred tons.

Just like that, the Skins bury the Detroit Lions 41-10 to win the NFC championship, and Rypien's chiseled likeness is in place before the Super Bowl is played, two weeks later. Of course, the joke around town is, the Buffalo Bills did the Skins one better: They played like statues in the AFC title game and were lucky to beat the Broncos 10-7.

Jim Kelly and that no-huddle offense in Buffalo get a lot of ink, but, hey, which is the only team to score more points than the Bills this year? Washington, with 485 points to Buffalo's 458. And Rypien is the man. His quarterback rating, 97.9, was right there with Kelly's, at 97.6. Get a look at what's written on that plaque they're getting ready to bolt onto his statue.

MARK ROBERT RYPIEN

Born 10-2-62. 6'4", 234 pounds. Washington State. Broke Ryne Sandberg's passing records at Shadle Park High in Spokane. Guarded John Stockton in high school; claims to have held him to 42 points—"but we won." Drafted by Redskins in 1986; spent first two years on injured reserve after sustaining preseason (wink) injuries. If born 50 years ago, would have been pulling guard. Took over for Williams in '89; sometimes fumbled, sometimes unable to avoid rush. Jurgensen, on radio show, suggested ballet lessons. Hurt left knee in '90, missed six games, sputtered. Rebounded in '91 to lead NFC in TD passes (28) and passing yards (3,564). Held out in preseason, and owner Jack Kent Cooke called him "a bloody idiot."

Quote: "I've never held a grudge. My contract's up after this season. We'll see what happens."

"One thing about quarterbacks," says Washington coach Joe Gibbs, who is speaking to a tour group as he walks up the path that links this shrine to Skins signal-callers with the marble columns of Hogs Heaven, "they're almost always very, very different."

The crane is moving off now. Let's take a look at the other plaques on the stonework and see if we can make sense of this statement.

WILLIAM ORLAND KILMER JR.

Born 9-5-39. 6'0", 204 pounds. UCLA. Member of George Allen's Over the Hill Gang. Tough as gator hide. Pro Bowl alternate as halfback in 1962 for 49ers. Busted leg in car crash, missed '63 season and became a quarterback. Started first game for expansion New Orleans Saints in '67; traded to Redskins in '71. Alternated with Jurgensen, but when Jurgensen was hurt in '72, led Skins to Super Bowl by throwing wobbly passes, firing up teammates, not making mistakes. Had poor Super Bowl, completing 14 of 28 passes for 104 yards and three interceptions in 14-7 loss to Dolphins.

Quote: "Everybody thought because I didn't throw a spiral that I didn't have a great arm. That's b.s."

JOSEPH ROBERT THEISMANN

Born 9-9-49. 6'0", 198 pounds. Notre Dame. Human electric are who needs only a power nap to recharge. Known to wife as the Energizer Bunny. Spent three years in CFL before coming to Redskins in 1974 and being put to work as punt returner. Became starting quarterback in '78 and led Washington to Super Bowls after '82 and '83 seasons, beating Dolphins 27-17 and then losing to the L.A. Raiders 38-9. Had business deals everywhere. Made every game exciting. "Early on you didn't know what was going to happen with him," says Redskins director of pro personnel Kirk Mee. "He scared the other team to death. Us, too."

Quote: "I was an enterprise. I was a conglomerate. At the end of my career I did do too much. I started to take the game for granted. I regret it to this day."

DOUGLAS LEE WILLIAMS

Born 8-9-55. 6'4", 220 pounds. Grambling. The Black Quarterback. Mobile, cannon for arm. Drafted by Tampa Bay Bucs in 1978; led sorry franchise to playoffs three times in five years. Played two years in USFL and injured knee badly. Best years probably behind when Redskins signed him as backup in '86. Went ballistic after replacing Jay Schroeder as starter in '87 playoffs; in 42-10 thrashing of Denver in Super Bowl, led Washington to 356 yards and five touchdowns—four of them passing—in the second quarter. By tying or breaking four Super Bowl records, made statement about capabilities of black quarterbacks that sports world couldn't ignore.

Quote: "The proudest moment for me was coming off the turf from a knee injury in the Super Bowl and leading us to victory."

So what links these guys? "That's a tough one," says Mee. "But they all had great leadership abilities. And they all always had smiles on their faces." All of them, except Kilmer, also had Gibbs as their coach and Hogs in front of them. Gibbs lets his offense evolve fluidly, changing it whenever something works, be it run or pass, rather than adhering to a fixed system. Thus, his quarterbacks seem to be more comfortable than their peers. "I was just telling Joe Theismann that I wish we had some of the things for him then that we have now," says Gibbs. "Bunch formations, audibles—in his first Super Bowl, we didn't audible a play—schemes with three wideouts, no-huddle plays."

What Gibbs doesn't say is that he catered to Theismann with rollouts, sprint outs and other state-of-the-art plays that brought out the best in Little Joe. He let Williams go deep when Williams felt hot. He has Rypien roll out behind maximum protection so Rypien can avoid blindside hits and loft his accurate spirals to streaking receivers. "The key is adapting to what the quarterbacks can do," says Gibbs. "You can't squeeze these guys into a mold. I tried to do that when I first got here, and it doesn't work."

The coach turns back to his tour group and tells the folks a tale as he leads them to the Fun Bunch Rock Garden and Smurf Stonehenge. "A friend of mine has a business," says Gibbs, "and on his sign he's got a dinosaur. Underneath that it says adapt or die. That's how it is."

The place is pretty quiet now, and, what do you know, Rypien himself strolls up, sockless, in deck shoes, jeans, T-shirt, NFL jacket and NFL cap—a straight arrow. He looks at his granite image and nods, blushing slightly. How nice is it, being a Redskins quarterback, one of the special group?

"It's a neat little fraternity," he says.

Going to win the game on Sunday?

"We've come too far to let this slide by," he says.

It's in stone, then.

ILLUSTRATIONMICHAEL WITTEAn odd lot of rock-solid quarterbacks: (from left) Kilmer, Theismann, Williams and Rypien.
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