- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 28, 1999

The next time the Washington Redskins hear their fans sing one of sports' most famous anthems, "Hail to the Redskins," the players and coaches can hold their heads high, secure in the knowledge that for the first time in years they are once again worthy of the adulation.

Considering how the Redskins' 1999 season began after blowing a 21-point, fourth-quarter lead at home against Dallas, the team suffered a humiliating defeat in overtime the Redskins overcame a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit against the San Francisco 49ers Sunday night and triumphed in overtime, clinching the team's first National Football Conference East Division championship since the 1991 season. For the first time since the 1992 season, when the Redskins captured a wild card berth during legendary coach Joe Gibbs' final season, the team has qualified for the NFL's postseason playoffs. And the victory in San Francisco, where the Redskins had known nothing but defeat since 1976 and where they lost the last playoff game they played on Jan. 9, 1993, almost certainly means that the team's new owner, 35-year-old Daniel Snyder, will invite Norv Turner to return as head coach for his seventh season next year. It would be a vote of confidence Turner has earned.

Sunday's championship victory was especially sweet thanks to the record-breaking performance by quarterback Brad Johnson, whom former General Manager Charley Casserly signed earlier this year amid much second-guessing. Johnson's 33 completions tied a club record set by Sonny Jurgenson in 1967, and the 471 passing yards Johnson accumulated during the game broke Sammy Baugh's club record, which stood for 51 years.

After the first game's unmitigated disaster, the Redskins, to their great credit, managed to regroup and to accomplish the goal that their new owner had publicly carved in stone. Snyder challenged his players and coaches to perform as a playoff-worthy team, and they met that challenge. It certainly wasn't always pretty. And judged by their relative performance this year, the Redskins, which, since November 1997, haven't beaten a team that finished the season with a winning record, are still clearly a rung or two below the NFL's top performing teams. However, by virtue of Sunday's victory, they are also one of the NFL's six division champions. That's pretty good company. Most important of all, they are once again playoff-bound. Indeed, the team will enjoy home-field advantage for their first playoff game and, depending how the regular season's final games unfold next week, may even qualify for a bye during the first round.

To be sure, for a team whose proud history includes three Super Bowl victories between 1983 and 1992, anything less than gaining a playoff berth would have been unacceptable, especially for Snyder, the league's youngest owner who last spring spearheaded a record-shattering $800 million bid for the franchise and its new stadium. Having let coach Turner and everybody else know before the season began that he would be fired and other heads would roll if the team failed to qualify for the playoffs this season, the brash new owner happily awarded his coach a game ball in the team's victorious locker room Sunday night. "The players and the coaches showed they have true Washington Redskin hearts," Snyder exclaimed. On that score, for today at least, there will be no second-guessing.

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