- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 27, 2005

Redskins-Cowboys? Yeah, it’s a decent rivalry — though none of the games was of much consequence until 1971. Me, I’m kinda partial to Redskins-Giants, the 147th rendition of which will be played Sunday at the Meadowlands. Theirs is a mutual loathing society that was founded, I’ll just point out, while the Redskins were still in Boston. Without Redskins-Giants, there might never have been Redskins-Cowboys.

And it all began … when did this Eternal Enmity begin, anyway? Let’s say, for the sake of argument, it began Dec.6, 1936. Let’s say it began with Tony Sarausky.

The Redskins came to New York that day needing a victory to wrap up their first Eastern Division championship. They made it clear from the first play that they were not to be denied. After Sarausky kicked off, Redskins center Frank Bausch, a good 20 pounds heavier, ran right over him. The dazed Giant “was carted off the field … with a concussion that narrowly missed being a fracture of the skull,” the New York Times reported, “… and an ambulance took him to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.”

The Redskins won 14-0. Games between the two teams have resembled the “Jerry Springer Show” ever since.

Kickoffs were where much of the rough stuff took place. In one game, the Redskins’ Erny Pinckert and the Giants’ Johnny Dell Isola were ejected for fighting while the opening kickoff was still in the air (or so it seemed). Then there was the time Nello Falaschi decided to wipe his feet off on the Redskins’ Willie Wilkin.

Falaschi, a rugged blocking back, had been Washington’s No.2 draft pick in 1937. But he decided to stay at Santa Clara to finish his degree, and the Redskins eventually traded him to the Giants for fullback George Karamatic, a first-rounder in ‘38. Karamatic played only one season in the NFL; “Flash” Falaschi, meanwhile, tormented the Redskins for the rest of his career.

“I could show you movies of games where Falaschi never missed a block or tackle,” Giants coach Steve Owen said. “But he was the lousiest pass catcher I ever saw in my life.”

Late in the ‘41 season, the Redskins were at the Polo Grounds again, trying to keep their title hopes alive. The game was tied 13-13 with less than five minutes left when the Giants’ Jim Poole returned an interception for a touchdown, clinching the division crown for New York. On the ensuing kickoff, Falaschi, who sometimes tried to break up the wedge by going in knees-first, altered his technique ever so sadistically. This time, he went in feet-first, plunging his metal cleats into Wilkin’s chest.

A player who inspected the damage years later said, “It looked like three white stripes on his chest, the scar tissue from the cleats.”

The incident was far from over, however. “Falaschi had a bar out in Santa Clara,” former Redskin Roy Zimmerman once told me, “and the story goes that Willie went into the bar and enticed Nello to come outside — and just beat the living daylights out of him. Left him in the gutter. And nobody could do anything about it as far as football was concerned, because it was the offseason.”

Yup, the Redskins-Giants rivalry was a regular love-in in those days. Part of the reason was that the Redskins’ coach, Ray Flaherty, had previously been a Giants assistant — and lived to beat his old team. But an even bigger part was that the clubs were always getting in each other’s way. For a span of 14 seasons, from 1933 to ‘46, the Giants and Redskins basically took turns winning the division championship. (New York won eight to Washington’s six.) Not even the Bears-Packers tug-of-war produced a stretch like that.

The Redskins’ and Giants’ promising starts this season — they’re tied for first with Philadelphia at 4-2 — have fanned the flames of the feud once more. But there’s a certain sadness to Sunday’s game, too, because it’s the first that won’t include Wellington Mara, son of the Giants’ founder, who died Tuesday at 89.

Wellington was there when Frank Bausch put Tony Sarausky in the hospital, he was there when Nello Falaschi used Willie Wilkin as a welcome mat, he has been involved, in some capacity — ball boy, personnel man, owner — with every Redskins-Giants game ever played. Until now.

Wellington was only 19, a student at Fordham, when he took a train to Washington in 1935 to talk to a running back at GW named Tuffy Leemans. Leeman’s Colonials were nothing special, and there were plenty of backs who were better known than he was — Chicago’s Jay Berwanger, Alabama’s Riley Smith and Notre Dame’s Bill Shakespeare among them — but Mara was convinced he was just what the Giants needed.

And so, spotting Leemans in front of the gymnasium, he approached him. At first, Tuffy thought it was some kid who wanted an autograph. But then Mara gave him his sales pitch, and soon enough Leemans was leading the league in rushing — and driving the Redskins to distraction. It just made the rivalry better, of course, that the Giants had swooped in and taken a future Hall of Famer right from under George Preston Marshall’s ample nose. Not that the teams have ever had much trouble getting up for the games.

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