The Redskins will take the field Sunday night against the Ravens without history on their side. When it comes to playing teams from Baltimore, the burgundy-and-gold guys traditionally have been nowhere.
Against the old Colts, Washington won only seven of 22 games in a 32-year span and just three of the last 17. Customarily bad Redskins teams lost nine straight meetings between 1960 and 1969, when the rivals met almost annually, most by wide margins.
After the Colts were shifted to the AFC in the 1970 NFL realignment, the teams tangled only occasionally - and nobody in burgundy and gold complained.
So far, the Ravens have won two of three against the Redskins, with all the games decided by a touchdown or less. The latest clash could indicate whether this Washington-Baltimore series will become as lopsided as the old one.
Despite the Colts’ dominance, the Redskins scored a memorable upset on Nov. 8, 1959, when Sam Baker’s 46-yard field goal with eight seconds remaining produced a 27-24 victory over a Baltimore team that recovered to win its second consecutive NFL title.
If ever a result could be called a fluke, this was it. The Colts won all five and the Redskins lost all five of their remaining games to finish 9-3 and 3-9, respectively. But on this day the all-white Redskins were lords and masters of all they surveyed as most fans in an unbelieving sellout crowd of 32,773 whooped it up at old Griffith Stadium.
These were the legendary Colts with such stars as Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore, Gino Marchetti, Raymond Berry, Jim Parker and Art Donovan, et al. Yet the future Pro Football Hall of Famers watched helplessly as Baker’s kick sailed through the uprights, then located on the goal line.
Eddie LeBaron, the Redskins diminutive quarterback who matched Unitas pass for pass, leapt in ecstasy as time expired. As he ran off the field afterward, a fan bolted out of the stands, crashed into the so-called Little General and knocked him out.
“I was hit by an elbow or something, but I really think it was an accident,” LeBaron said after being carried to the locker room and revived.
Some eyewitnesses, however, insisted his assailant was a disgruntled Colts fan seeking a measure of revenge.
With the Redskins leading 24-17 in a frenzied, 31-point fourth quarter that followed three periods of defensive football, halfback Moore got the Colts even by tossing a 12-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Jerry Richardson (now owner of the Carolina Panthers).
The Redskins subsequently were forced to punt, but linebacker Tom Braatz made Washington’s biggest defensive play of the day when he intercepted a deflected pass by Unitas in the final minute and returned it 11 yards to the Baltimore 39, setting the stage for Baker. The straight-on kicker, who made only 10 of 22 field goal attempts that season, rose dramatically to the challenge.
When reporters entered the office of Redskins coach Mike Nixon after the game, they found a namesake on the premises: Vice President Richard Nixon, who had attended despite getting only two hours of sleep after a plane trip from California. The Nixons were not related, but the veep seemed more thrilled than the coach.
“I never saw a more exciting professional football game,” the vice president said. “How could any game be more exciting? This game had everything.”
That Nov. 8 was much more rewarding than the next to the presumptive 1960 Republican presidential nominee. One year later, Richard Nixon lost a close election to Democrat John F. Kennedy.
Mike Nixon also encountered tougher times. Following the upset of the Colts, his teams went 1-14-2 before he was fired after the 1960 season. Five weeks earlier, when Kennedy won the election, one columnist had complained, “They kicked the wrong Nixon out of Washington.”
The Redskins remained mediocre through most of the ‘60s before first Vince Lombardi and then George Allen restored the franchise to respectability. But during Washington’s dark 26 years without a postseason appearance, the totally irrational 1959 corralling of the Colts was a rare sliver of sunshine.