- The Washington Times - Monday, December 8, 2003

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.

In the early days of the NFL, the Giants played a game against the Bears that became known in legend and lore as the “Private Game.” It was called that because, well, hardly anybody saw it. The conditions were so wintry that New York afternoon that the Polo Grounds was a virtual ghost town — save for the two teams, the officiating crew and the medics on hand to treat frostbite and the like.

Yesterday’s tiff between the Redskins and Giants had a kind of “Private Game” feel to it. The paid attendance at Giants Stadium was announced as 78,212, but they must have counted earmuffs, scarves, stocking caps and snowmen (a number of which sat impassively in empty seats). In truth, the crowd couldn’t have been much more than 25,000 — a decent turnout for Rutgers, maybe, but a resounding vote of no confidence for Wellington Mara’s proud franchise.

It’s probably just as well, though, given what transpired on the field. It took all of two plays for one of the teams to turn the ball over (the Giants, on a fumble by Tiki Barber). The kicking game was a complete comedy thanks to the wind — especially for the Redskins, who missed two short field goal tries and had punts of 9 and 16 yards. Indeed, the best boot of the day might have been Giants strong safety Johnnie Harris’ mindless dropkick of a penalty flag. (I say “mindless” because Harris thought the New York defense was being punished for pass interference when in fact Washington was being charged with the crime. His misreading of the situation handed the Redskins a helpful first down.)

Perhaps the only good thing about the game was that, as far as I know, it had absolutely no effect on the BCS ratings.

Rarely has a Redskins victory in New York — this one by a 20-7 score — seemed so inconsequential. Of course, there’s a reason for that: Both teams were 4-8 coming in and fighting basically to stay out of the NFC East cellar. Yes, history was made by Bruce Smith, who broke Reggie White’s all-time sack record with No.199, but it took him so long to get the last few that the occasion seemed anticlimactic.

Fred Smoot, Mississippi State ‘01, summed up “the coldest game I have ever played in” thusly: “There weren’t too many people in the stands. Nobody picked us to win — and nobody cared if we did. So we decided we were going to play for each other.

“We took the crowd out early,” he said with a smile. “Between us and the weather, we took ‘em out quick. And then it was just a case of finishing. We’ve been in every game right to the end. We just got the end right this time.”

They wouldn’t be the Redskins, though, if they didn’t at least flirt with disaster in the fourth quarter. Their biggest scare came with about 10 minutes left when Barber grabbed a screen pass and took off down the right sideline past the Washington bench. For a moment, it looked like he might go the distance — 75 yards for a touchdown that would narrow the Redskins’ lead to 20-14. And if he had, “there’s no telling what might have happened,” Steve Spurrier said. Fortunately, the Ball Coach’s middle linebacker, running more like a thoroughbred than a Trotter, bumped Barber out of bounds at the Washington 39. The Giants eventually lost the ball on downs, and the Redskins were home free.

But the real story of this game is that the Redskins at long last ran across a team in worse shape than themselves. The Giants’ offensive line is a mess, their cornerbacks are two nobodies and their fans clearly have abandoned them. It’s hard to say who they could beat right now. Army, maybe. (But don’t hold me to it.)

As an added bonus, they lost Kerry Collins to an injury in the third quarter, leaving the quarterbacking in the unsteady hands of Jesse Palmer, another of Spurrier’s Florida proteges. The Redskins went after Palmer with the same crazed glee with which opposing defenses have gone after Patrick Ramsey the past two seasons, sacking him five times in a quarter and a half and shaking loose a fumble. Jim Fassel said his young QB was “very rusty.” “Very Ramsey” is more like it.

It just ain’t the same up here without Angie Harmon cheering the Giants on. Glamorous Angie, you may recall, signed as a free agent in the offseason with the Rams — or rather, her Life Partner, Jason Sehorn, did. The Giants, you’ll note, have gone 4-9 since … and deservedly so, if you ask me.

Did the Los Angeles Rams let Bob Waterfield go when he was married to Jane Russell? Heck no. Did the Cowboys trade Lance Rentzel when he was hitched to Joey Heatherton? (Actually, let me get back to you on that one.)

But, anyway, you see my point, which is: I’ll do anything not to have to write about this wretched game between two teams looking for a duck blind to crawl into. Hopefully, the Redskins have seen the error of the Giants’ ways — and soon will sign Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s husband to a lifetime contract.


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