Has it really been 20 years since the Washington Redskins last played in the Super Bowl (and won, if memory serves)? Seems like 120. Seems like they must have worn leather helmets and operated out of the single wing, maybe even traveled to the game in Pullman cars. Are you sure Chip Lohmiller didn’t dropkick?
I’m joking, of course. I remember it all. I remember it all because it was clear, as the weeks whizzed joyously by, that it was a special season, even by Joe Gibbs‘ standards. An NFL title and a run at a perfect record — they got as far as 11-0 — in the same year? If you don’t think that’s hard, just ask the Green Bay Packers.
I also remember it all, sad to say, because there’s been so little else to remember in the past two decades — just four playoff berths, a single home playoff game and an Albert Haynesworth-sized helping of heartbreak. What used to be one of the best franchises in sports has lost its way, and the OnStar operator apparently won’t answer the phone.
But 1991 … if you were around at the time, it lives with you still.
Everybody has their recollections and reflections. Here are a few of mine:
• Emmitt Smith getting nauseous: The Redskins might have lost in Week 2 — and there would have been no 11-0 start — if Smith hadn’t gotten an upset stomach after running 75 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. It was a wickedly hot Monday night in Dallas (85 degrees, 60 percent humidity), and even the indestructible Emmitt felt the effects. At that point, barely 11 minutes into the game, he had 104 yards rushing and the Cowboys led 14-7. He gained only eight more, and the Redskins rallied to win 33-31. It was the first of many instances in which you thought: This is their year.
• Bobby Wilson’s third-down stop: Wilson, the Redskins‘ first-round pick in ‘91, didn’t have many highlights in his injury-shortened career. Probably the biggest, though, came in Week 9 at the Meadowlands against the New York Giants, the defending champs. The Giants, ahead 13-7 in the fourth quarter, had a third-and-1 at their 29 when Wilson came crashing through from his tackle spot to dump Rodney Hampton for a 6-yard loss. Three plays later, Mark Rypien heaved a 54-yard TD pass to Gary Clark, and victory No. 8 was secured.
• Even great teams need a little luck: The next Sunday at RFK Stadium, the Houston Oilers had the Redskins beaten. Brian Mitchell had fumbled on a kickoff return late in the game, and kicker Bobby Howfield came out with 4 seconds left to finish Washington off. But his boot sailed wide, and Darrell Green rescued the Redskins in overtime with an interception that set up a Lohmiller field goal.
• Brett Favre’s first NFL passes: The game the following week will always be remembered for the 56-17 whupping the Redskins laid on the Atlanta Falcons and their kooky coach, Jerry Glanville. But I cherish it, too, because it was Brett Favre’s debut as a pro quarterback. He was just a rookie then and hardly got on the field, but he went in for a couple of series after starter Billy Joe Tolliver was shaken up. Favre’s career started this way: interception (returned for a touchdown by linebacker Andre Collins), incompletion, incompletion, sack for an 11-yard loss, interception (by cornerback Martin Mayhew as the game ended). Never would have guessed that day that Favre would go on to throw 508 TD passes — or even eight.
• The Attack of the Killer Plan Bs: Before full-blown free agency arrived in 1993, there was a more limited form known as Plan B free agency. The Redskins invested heavily in it and strengthened their defense, especially, with such players as end Fred Stokes, tackle Jumpy Geathers, linebacker Matt Millen, safeties Brad Edwards and Danny Copeland, and Mayhew. Charley Casserly never has gotten enough credit for those signings, which totally transformed the unit. Not only did it pitch three shutouts in ‘91, it forced 14 turnovers in three postseason games (two more than the 2006 Redskins had in the entire season).
• This club knew how to turn it up a notch: After a lackadaisical first half against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 14 (they led only 7-6), the Redskins won the second half 20-0. A week later, they were down 14-0 to the Arizona Cardinals at the half … and won the second half again, 20-0. It also tends to be forgotten that the Redskins scored 48 consecutive points in the postseason — the last 24 of the NFC title game against Detroit and the first 24 of the Super Bowl against Buffalo.
• Kurt Gouveia’s larceny: Gouveia, a middle linebacker, had two interceptions in his NFL career going into the playoffs that year — two in five seasons. But he was an interception machine in the ‘91postseason, picking off a pass in each of the three games. How unusual is this? Well, since 1960, only one linebacker has had more than three INTs in a single postseason: A.J. Duhe, who had four for Miami in the ‘82 playoffs. (Please note: Duhe had four games to do it, one more than Gouveia.)
I could go on (and on and on), but I’m running out of space. Let me just say a season like that makes you appreciate, as the years drift by, how difficult it is to assemble a championship team in the NFL. There are so many working parts. So many things have to go right. And you have to have such good people — across the board, from the owner on down.
Nobody foresaw back then what would happen. That Mark Rypien, at the age of 30, would drop off a cliff. That Gibbs, burned out, would retire early. That the franchise would fall into the hands of somebody not named Cooke. That the next 20 years would be as onerous for Redskins fans as the previous 20 had been orgasmic.