October 19, 1987: Replacement Redskins Enjoy Happy Ending: Defense Keys Victory Over Dallas
IRVING, TEX., OCT. 19 -- This wasn’t supposed to be. The replacement Washington Redskins, playing without any of their veterans and without quarterback Ed Rubbert for more than three quarters, weren’t given much if any chance to beat the Dallas Cowboys tonight.
But they did.
Stopping a furious Dallas comeback bid on fourth down at the Washington 13-yard line with two seconds to play in the game, the Redskins upset the Cowboys, 13-7, to end an improbable undefeated replacement season in first place in the NFC East. They hand a 4-1 record over to the returning veterans; the Cowboys fall to 3-2.
A crowd of 60,612 at Texas Stadium watched as the veteran-laden Cowboys repeatedly were stymied by the younger, more emotional Redskins. Six Cowboys veterans started, but, in the end, that didn’t seem to matter as the Redskins took the lead on Obed Ariri’s 19-yard field goal six minutes into the game and never allowed the Cowboys to gain any advantage, or even much momentum.
Although they made mistakes, the replacement Redskins, many of whom will be out of work Tuesday, made this a night they will not forget. Weary Washington defenders joyously danced and hugged on Dallas’ artificial turf when veteran quarterback Danny White’s final pass bounced out of wide receiver Kelvin Edwards’ hands inside the 5. They carried Coach Joe Gibbs off the field on their shoulders. They later sat by their lockers, equal parts delirious and solemn. For all but a select few, this was their final NFL game. But it also was their greatest, no matter how sloppy it looked.
”One of the most emotional locker rooms I’ve ever been in,” Gibbs said above the din. Referring to team owner Jack Kent Cooke and General Manager Bobby Beathard, Gibbs added, “The guys Mr. Cooke and Bobby got for me are everything you could ask for.”
When Rubbert, perhaps the Redskins’ best known replacement player, left with a bruised right shoulder late in the first quarter, backup Tony Robinson ran onto the field and filled in admirably. He completed 11 of 18 passes for 152 yards and two interceptions in his NFL debut. Wide receiver Ted Wilson scored on a 16-yard reverse in the third quarter for Washington’s only touchdown, and Ariri added his second field goal, a 39-yarder, with 6:13 left in the game.
The Cowboys’ only points came on a 38-yard pass from White to Edwards, a standout replacement player, 3:25 after the Redskins’ touchdown.
This certainly will go down in Washington-Dallas lore as one of the Redskins’ most unusual victories -- and very likely one of Gibbs’ most satisfying. He barely thought it possible himself beforehand. It also was the Redskins’ first victory here in three years. That, by itself, was an achievement.
Of all the possibilities for this game, was it thinkable that veteran running back Tony Dorsett, booed at every turn, would fumble twice in the first quarter? Or be outgained, 136 yards to 80, by Washington’s Lionel Vital, who was cut by the Redskins in last year’s training camp. Was it conceivable that the Redskins would not allow Dallas to run a play inside Washington territory in the first 30 minutes? Was it likely the Redskins defense would shut out the Dallas offense for more than half the game?
It wasn’t. But it happened.
Surprisingly, the Redskins controlled the first half. Although the odds -- and number of veterans playing -- were stacked against it, Washington took that early 3-0 lead, which could have been more like 16-0.
Each of the Redskins’ three first-quarter possessions started in Dallas territory -- at the 46, 43 and 41. In all, four of six Washington drives began inside the 50, and one of the two that did not moved into Dallas territory in one play, Vital’s 29-yard run. Two of them came as the result of fumbles by Dorsett, the two others on poor or partially blocked Dallas punts.
The Cowboys’ first five drives began at their 20, 22, 10, 3 and 14. The Redskins had six sacks of White in the first half, two of them by defensive end Steve Martin. The Cowboys reached Washington territory for the first time with only 12 seconds remaining in the half, on White’s scramble to the 47, but they immediately moved back across the 50 when, improbable as this sounds, they were called for delay of game after their own timeout.
On the final play of the half, new Redskins defensive lineman Henry Waechter, a former Chicago Bear, sacked White for a loss of eight yards. Lying on his back, White tossed the ball high into the sky in frustration, and then, in a fitting ending to the first 30 minutes, the Cowboys let the final five seconds run out without getting off another play.
But Washington certainly did not take advantage of its opportunities. Other than Ariri’s 19-yard field goal with 8:49 left in the first quarter, the Redskins could not score. Vital’s fumble ended one drive at the Dallas 3. Ariri’s try for a 43-yard field goal midway through the second quarter hit the right goalpost and bounced away. Then, the Redskins’ longest drive of the half was their last. It went from the Washington 36 to the Dallas 7, was pushed back by a holding penalty and Randy White’s sack of Robinson, and finally ended when with strong safety Tommy Haynes’ interception at the Dallas 16 with 1:12 left in the half.
The tempo of the game was set by Dallas’ first offensive series. The mood was set when White and Dorsett were introduced to the home fans -- to a raucous chorus of boos. Twice in the first half, the crowd began chanting “We Want Sweeney,” referring to replacement quarterback Kevin Sweeney, who started the first two nonunion games, both Dallas victories. He never played as White completed 21 of 36 passes for 262 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
In that first possession, Dorsett gained 17 yards on the first two plays -- and was booed loudly. But, after that initial first down, the Redskins defense stiffened, and, on third and one, Dorsett fumbled when he was hit by defensive end Alec Gibson. (Gibson caused Dorsett’s second fumble, too.) Defensive tackle Dan Benish recovered at the Dallas 46.
Vital immediately ripped off consecutive six-yard runs to the 34, then ran four yards to the 30. From there, Rubbert faked a handoff, rolled left and threw 22 yards to tight end Joe Carevello. It was first and goal at the 8. Vital gained five up the middle. Wayne Wilson added two more to the 1, but lost one on third down, so Ariri came in for his chip-shot field goal, and Washington led. Two series later, Rubbert was hit by Cowboys linebacker Dale Jones and left the game. X-rays on his shoulder were negative, but he could not come back.