- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 2, 2004

Aw, come on. The Redskins’ offense isn’t that bad. I mean, it’s not the worst in NFL history or anything like that.

Why, back in 1934, when the football was fatter and the players skinnier, the Cincinnati Reds scored 10 points in eight winless games. They managed a field goal one week, a touchdown another and got shut out the other six. Their last loss, to a Philadelphia Eagles club of no particular distinction, was by the narrow margin of 64-0.

Maybe their home field had something to do with it. They played at Crosley Field, residence of the baseball Reds, and “there was quite a slope going toward the outfield,” their fullback, Red Corzine, once told me. “There was probably as much as a 2-foot drop in the field. So when you were choosing ends of the field, you always wanted to choose the end going downhill because you could maneuver better.”

You get the feeling, though, that the Reds’ offense was always going uphill.

After the 64-0 debacle, the franchise moved — in the middle of the season — and finished the schedule as the St. Louis Gunners. That’s what happens to teams with truly bad offenses, historically bad offenses. They don’t continue to draw 90,000 fans, as the Redskins do; no, they’re cast out into the wilderness.

The ‘42 Detroit Lions were almost as bad as the ‘34 Reds. The Lions scored all of 38 points in an 0-11 season. But at least they had an excuse: There was a war on, and manpower was in increasingly short supply. Still, the club’s passers made Mark Brunell look like Dan Marino; they threw 33 interceptions and — can this be right? — only one touchdown pass (a nifty toss from tailback Ned Mathews to wingback Emil Banjavic).

The ‘38 Pittsburgh Pirates (the Steelers name didn’t come until later) were pretty wretched, too. Not even Whizzer White, the future Supreme Court justice, could save them. The Pirates averaged 7.2 points that year — a touchdown a game — and one of their scores was a gimme, an act of charity. In the season finale against the Cleveland Rams, the Rams’ defense lay down on the final two plays so White, idol of the masses, could whiz the ball into the end zone.

The first play, a 46-yard run to the Cleveland 7, “appeared rather peculiar,” the local newspaper reported. “He was back to pass but decided to run the ball and easily evaded the half-hearted lunges of some defenders.” Then, as time ran out, White stepped back and fired a touchdown pass — to a conveniently wide-open receiver.

(Of course, the Pirates needed all the help they could get. Halfway through the season, to improve his bottom line, owner Art Rooney sold the team’s best passer, Frankie Filchock, to the Redskins. At one point, the club was so short-handed because of injuries that it had to postpone a game.)

Since World War II, teams haven’t had nearly as much trouble scoring. The T formation has proved far more formidable than the single wing, and kickers have gotten so good they hardly ever miss. In fact, only a handful of teams have averaged as few as 10. One was the 1970 Boston Patriots (149 points, 10.6 average), who featured one of my favorite passing combinations of all time — Joe Kapp to tight end Tom Beer.

The Patriots’ coach was Clive Rush, who, at one of his first press conferences, was nearly electrocuted by a faulty microphone. Rush had no patience for the media at all. Once when reporters kept pestering him about the military status of one of his players — this was during the Vietnam War — he groused, “Why make a federal case out of a federal case?”

Rush was fired seven games into the season, after a 45-10 beating by Buffalo. Things didn’t exactly improve under his successor, John Mazur. The next week, the Pats were blanked by the St. Louis Cardinals 31-0. Guard Len St. Jean summed up the offense’s struggles — indeed, the struggles of all bad offenses — quite nicely. “Eleven guys,” he said, “seem to be going 11 different ways.”

The ‘91 Indianapolis Colts were outscored by Redskins kicker Chip Lohmiller 149-143. How bad is that, to be outscored by a single player? The Eagles pulled the same stunt in ‘98 (coming up three points shy of the 164 totaled by Vikings kicker Gary Anderson).

The worst offense in modern times, though, the absolute pits, would have to be the ‘77 Tampa Bay Bucs. In their first 12 games that season, all losses, the Bucs were shut out six times and scored a grand total of 53 points. Then, in their last two games, they exploded for 50 points to notch the first two wins of their existence.

But not before John McKay, their wisecracking coach, came up with one of the greatest lines ever.

Question: What do you think of your team’s execution, coach?

McKay: “I think it’s a good idea.”

The Redskins’ offense isn’t as bad as that of the ‘77 Bucs — or any of the others, for that matter. Despite their travails, they’ve put up 138 points in 11 games, a 12.5 clip. It is somewhat disconcerting, however, that they’re scoring less than the expansion Dallas Cowboys of 1960 (14.8), who didn’t win a game, and less than the ‘52 Dallas Texans (15.2), who went bankrupt before the season was over and were relocated by the league to Hershey, Pa.

One day in practice, after his quarterback botched a simple handoff for the third straight time, Texans coach Jim Phelan called his club together and said, “Fellows, I’m convinced before we can make any progress we’ll have to go right back to fundamentals.” He held up a leather object, oval in shape. “Now to begin with, this is a football.”

“Hold on, Coach, not so fast,” a player interrupted.

You wonder what kind of stories they’re going to be telling, years from now, about the 2004 Redskins’ offense. They can’t possibly be as funny, can they?

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