- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2003

Shortly before the kickoff on Dec. 13, 1942, team owner George Preston Marshall strode into the Washington Redskins’ cramped locker room at Griffith Stadium and chalked some numerals on a blackboard without saying a word:


The message was profound in its simplicity. Two years and five days earlier, the Chicago Bears devastated the Redskins in another NFL championship game by that improbable score. In the 63 seasons since, no team has scored more points than the Bears did that day in what remains the most lopsided, loony licking ever administered in a title contest.

Whether Marshall’s silent reminder inspired his players is not known; probably they needed no additional motivation. Regardless, the Redskins went out and defeated the same Bears 14-6 — a result almost as surprising as the previous one.

It was a delicious triumph, and the taste would have to linger a long, long time. Washington lost subsequent title games in 1943 to the Bears and in 1945 to the Cleveland Rams, then entered upon a 27-year period without a postseason appearance. Not until January 1983, when John Riggins enabled the Redskins to win Super Bowl XVII, would they again be masters of all they surveyed.

With superstar Sammy Baugh passing, punting and playing safety like a man possessed, the ‘42 Redskins went 10-1, losing only their opener to the New York Giants 14-7 in a weird game that saw the victors finish with no first downs, one yard rushing and one pass completion. Washington was perfect after that, clinching the Eastern championship Nov.22 with a 23-3 thumping of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

You couldn’t really blame the Bears, though, if they weren’t terribly impressed. In this age of parity, it is difficult to imagine a team as dominant as Chicago in the early ‘40s. It finished the regular season of ‘42 with a record of 11-0, outscoring the meager opposition by 376-84 overall and an incredible 199-14 in the final six games while running a three-season winning streak to 24 games.

In an era when men played both offense and defense — and without face masks yet — the fabled Monsters of the Midway were favored by as much as 22 points in the championship game as an apprehensive crowd of 36,006 jammed into Clark Griffith’s tiny ballpark at Seventh Street and Florida Avenue NW for what loomed as an ungrand finale. In the radio booth, Harry Wismer and Russ Hodges prepared to broadcast over a network of 178 stations, largest ever for a pro football game.

In her 1947 book “My Life With the Redskins,” Marshall’s wife — former silent screen star Corinne Griffith — described the scene this way: “The early December day had a singing [sic] freshness to it, clear and cold. … The Christmas spirit mingled with the nervous excitement of football fans … as they began crowding into the stadium with raccoon coats, hot liquid in thermos bottles, Redskin pennants, blankets and the fraternal red feather.”

What, no Hog snouts?

The mighty Bears had a batch of future Hall of Famers and a reputation for invincibility. The Redskins had Baugh and lots of determination, but it seemed an unequal fight. And hearts sank all over the nation’s capital when Chicago lineman Lee Artoe snatched up a fumble by Redskins back Dick Todd in the early going and rumbled 52 yards for a touchdown. Let the rout begin!

Well, not quite.

With the Redskins backed up in their territory near the end of the first quarter, Baugh turned to a favorite weapon out of the team’s single-wing formation — the quick kick. The ball flew and rolled for 85 yards all told, pinning the Bears deep. From then on, logically or otherwise, the Redskins were in charge.

“That turned out to be a big play,” said Baugh, whose kicks averaged 52 yards for the game. “When I quick-kicked, I had the wind to my back, and that’s why I did it. If the quarter had run out, we would have had to punt against the wind.”

Early in the second period, it was the Bears’ turn to turn it over. Redskins back Wilbur Moore intercepted a pass by Sid Luckman, Chicago’s star T-formation quarterback, and returned it 14 yards to the Bears’ 44. Four plays later, Baugh fired a 39-yard touchdown over the middle to Moore, who got behind safety Luckman and leaped to snatch the ball away from three defenders before stepping into the end zone. Bob Masterson’s extra point gave the Redskins a 7-6 lead — and they weren’t through.

“The three Bears were very angry, and they were not the papa bear and the mama bear and the little baby bear,” Corinne Griffith wrote. “Wilbur said the language they used was not the pretty language one reads in children’s story books.”

Late in the third quarter, Washington’s Andy Farkas returned a punt to the Chicago 44, then ran from scrimmage four straight times. On his final carry from the 1, he fumbled when he was hit hard, but he already crossed the goal line and the Redskins led 14-6 amid pandemonium.

Now it was up to the defense, and the defense was up to the task. The Bears threatened twice more, but the first advance ended when the multi-talented Baugh intercepted Luckman.

With three minutes left, a pass carried the Bears to the Redskins’ 2, with Baugh’s tackle of Frank Maznicki saving a touchdown. After three running plays and a penalty the Bears lined up on fourth down with a minute left, but a pass bounced off Bob Nowasky’s hands.

Then came the countdown to the final gun and, immediately after, the ceremonial tearing down of the wooden goalposts by delirious fans. The Redskins were NFL champions for the first time since 1937. Wrote Edward Prell in the next morning’s Chicago Tribune, mixing metaphors nicely: “A football dynasty fell with a thud today …”

By the following season, each team had lost many of its stars to military service. and both coaches — Ray Flaherty of the Redskins and NFL pioneer George Halas of the Bears — were in the Navy. For the third time in four years, the teams met in the title game, but in the gloom of a deepening war, it didn’t seem to mean quite as much. The Bears won 41-21 at Chicago’s Wrigley Field as Baugh missed much of the action because of a concussion.

Nowadays only old-timers remember the Redskins’ glorious upset 61 Decembers ago. Nonetheless, it remains one of the most significant moments of their six-plus decades in the nation’s capital.

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