- The Washington Times - Monday, December 25, 2006

If the 1991 season was the last great moment for the Washington Redskins, perhaps no player lived in it — soaked it up and made the most of it — as much as quarterback Mark Rypien.

Rypien, drafted in the sixth round out of Washington State in 1986, was a big, raw-boned passer in the classic drop-back mold. He was 6-foot-4, 230 pounds with a rifle for an arm and legs like trees. He is remembered for being as mobile as something planted in the ground, but he could, in fact, roll out a little to buy some time and give opposing defenses something else to worry about.

After waiting his turn behind Jay Schroeder and Doug Williams, Rypien replaced an injured Williams as the starter during the 1988 season. The Redskins failed to make the postseason that year and the next as he grew into the job. He got hurt in 1990, a playoff year, but the next season it all fell into place.

After holding out for a week during training camp and getting booed during the preseason (“I was horrible,” he said), Rypien completed better than 59 percent of his passes for 3,564 yards, 28 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions. It’s arguable that season or Joe Theismann’s 1983 performance was the greatest by a Redskins quarterback. But Theismann was sacked 34 times that year. In 1991, Rypien suffered just seven sacks.

Together with a prolific ground attack, the passing game, led by Rypien and receivers Art Monk, Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders, spawned a near-unstoppable offense. The Redskins exceeded 30 points in 10 games, including a 41-10 win over Detroit in the NFC Championship game and a 37-24 victory over Buffalo in Super Bowl XXVI, during which Rypien completed 18 of 33 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns and was named the game’s MVP.

What really made it special for Rypien, however, was that no labor-management conflicts marred the 1991 season, not like in 1982 and 1987, when the Redskins won their first two Super Bowls. There were no canceled games, no replacement players.

“No asterisk,” he said. “We’d been to the Super Bowl before, but work stoppages were synonymous with the Washington Redskins.”

Not this time. The regulation Redskins played 18 games, winning 16.

The groundwork was laid the season before, when the Redskins returned to the playoffs after a two-year absence but lost to San Francisco in an NFC semifinal game.

“That’s one of the things we set our jaws at,” Rypien said. “We had a taste of the playoffs. We knew we had a good team. We had a nucleus. We worked hard in the offseason.”

But there was an added element to this team.

“Maybe it was uncharacteristic of most places, but we did a lot of things together and in the community,” he said. “It wasn’t just something we said; it was something we felt. We didn’t have any problems in the clubhouse. We didn’t have any distractions.”

Rypien had the talent to make things happen, but he was well-protected by a superb offensive line. It was important, he said, how relative newcomers Jim Lachey, Mark Schlereth and Raleigh McKenzie melded with “the Hogs of yesteryear” — Joe Jacoby, Jeff Bostic and Russ Grimm. For a quarterback with limited mobility, seven sacks is not just an unusually low total, it is ridiculous.

“They were a bunch of real smart guys,” Rypien said.

Then there were the “playmakers,” Monk, Clark and Sanders, to go along with the three-headed running back position shared by Earnest Byner, Ricky Ervins and Gerald Riggs.

“We had depth and different packages, and we used different people,” Rypien said. “With free agency now, you can’t afford to keep a guy around like a Gerald Riggs [who had 11 touchdowns in just 78 carries]. … The coaches found strengths that each one had, and we were able to incorporate them.”

It got no better for Rypien after 1991. It wasn’t even close. His play fell off dramatically in 1992, Gibbs’ last season in his first tenure, and in 1993 he hurt his knee and was replaced by Rich Gannon as the Redskins went 4-12 under new coach Richie Petitbon. His career in Washington was finished. He bounced around as a reserve — Cleveland to St. Louis to Philadelphia and back to St. Louis. He sat out four years before making a brief return in 2001 as Peyton Manning’s backup in Indianapolis. Last January, he played in one game for the Rochester Raiders of the Great Lakes Indoor Football League.

None of Rypien’s difficulties as a player, however, could match what he endured off the field.

His 3-year-old son, Andrew, died of cancer in 1998, and his wife, Annette (they are now divorced), survived breast cancer. Because of what happened to his son, Rypien, who lives in Spokane, Wash., founded and devotes much of his time to the Spokane-based Mark Rypien Foundation, which raises money for cancer research. He also owns three Holiday Inn Expresses, two in the state of Washington and one near Las Vegas.

He still maintains his ties to the area. Before a minor league hockey game a few weeks ago in Norfolk, Rypien, a native of Calgary, Alberta, sang the Canadian national anthem, and his daughter, Ambre, sang the American anthem. Then he drove to Maryland to watch the Redskins lose to Tennessee at FedEx Field.

It was a lot different from the good old days, 1991 especially.

“All the ingredients were there,” he said.

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