October 19, 1987: Regulars or Replacements, Victory Over Dallas Always Seems a Bit Magical
IRVING, TEX. -- Scab season was counting down to a merciful ending exactly the way a Washingtonian would have wanted, with the hands of a little-known Redskin wrapped around the foot of a mighty Cowboy and causing immense embarrassment.
We have seen this sort of thing before. Dan Benish clinging to Tony Dorsett in the final seconds with the game on the line brought this thought to mind:
Maybe these Redskins-Cowboys games are scripted after all. Maybe no matter who dresses up in burgundy-and-gold and blue-and-white on Monday night, something fairly magical happens.
In our memory bank, Ken Houston wrestles Walt Garrison inches from the end zone to save a victory; before our eyes, Benish delays Dorsett long enough to help accomplish another improbable success.
The Redskins’ 13-7 upset either was the conclusion of football infamy or close to the ultimate in pluckiness, depending on how one judges the strike-dominated events of the last month.
There will be no debate about the prominence of this success on the Joe Gibbs mantel of miracles. In a few days, and from scratch, he and the Redskins staff created an imaginative, cohesive team that has earned grudging respect, even from loyal unionists.
For good measure, the Redskins beat the Cowboys with another familiar, though unplanned, tactic: the fill-in quarterback. Jay Schroeder led them to victory when Joe Theismann was injured two years ago; Tony Robinson was the winning reliever, for Ed Rubbert, Monday night.
The Redskins were 1-1 when the strike began; they are 4-1 at the finish, and have their most fearsome opponents where they want them. New York is four games behind with 10 to play; Dallas is only a game back, but figures to slip because its best regulars already had been trickling in.
Act III in this heady drama for the Scabskins started and finished most impressively. If their mission, to help cripple a union, hardly was noble, they did acquit themselves nobly on the field.
The Cowboys gave them an air of semicredibility Monday night -- and the unknown marauders in burgundy-and-gold took the spotlight in the featured attraction of the three-week replacement show.
Defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon hugged linebacker Eric Wilson when victory was assured, two plays after Benish delayed Dorsett long enough for teammates to drag him down; Wilson and Mike Wooten then grabbed Gibbs and hoisted him on their shoulders.
Gibbs was the psychological winner long before the kickoff. Even if the Redskins lost, they would not be losers. To hear him talk all week, it was the NFL equivalent of the Bad News Bears versus the Big Red Machine.
Gibbs did have a point, although the countrywide point spread was under double figures. The team Dallas offered Monday night was constructed with the same theory that has been so successful so often in the real NFL.
Dallas thinkers figure it this way: Give us a half-dozen or so brilliant players and we can fill in with enough above-average ones to create something special.
So . . .
Three likely Hall of Famers played for Dallas: Dorsett at halfback and Ed (Too Tall) Jones and Randy White on defense. And there were the no-name Scabskins ahead just after the half, 10-0.
For those first 34-plus minutes, nothing really had changed much in this rivalry. Different players were inside Washington uniforms, but the result was pretty much the same. Dallas was getting pushed all over the field.
The left guard, Darrick Brilz, was keeping Randy White as tame as all-pro Russ Grimm ever had. And Dorsett was proving to be an equal-opportunity fumbler, with two turnovers to defenders he surely neither knew by name nor reputation.
Alec Gibson? Be serious. Yet Alec Gibson twice separated Dorsett from the football, and his new Washington buddies on offense also were treated to excellent field position other times.
Cowboy embarrassments almost were too numerous to mention, but Washingtonians delight in trying to count them. The Scabskins once lured Randy White offside on fourth down; Dallas was called for delay of game immediately after a timeout.
Let’s pick out a series that illustrated this gamelong glory by the Scabskins. It’s the Cowboys’ second series, first and 10 on their 22-yard line.
The handoff gets botched and Danny White is thrown for a three-yard loss by a sudden star with an appropriate name for a joke league, Steve Martin.
On second and 13, the third leading rusher in the history of the NFL, Dorsett, cannot gain an inch against the Scabskins’ front wall.
Third down is what you would expect from a coach as crafty as Tom Landry -- a veteran-to-veteran pass play. Danny White drops back and whips a high hummer toward Mike Renfro.
Trouble is, a defensive back surely known to the Cowboys in pregame film sessions as “No. 46” dashes in and bats away the pass. Thus introduced, Mike Mitchell proceeded to do other good work.
This very Mitchell stepped in front of a misdirected Danny White pass, or misdirected route by his receiver, and joined a later Cowboy drive.
Early and late, you wondered if Landry might call time and request the officials to demand a show of birth certificates of these Redskins. Perhaps high-minded Gibbs had sneaked Grimm and some other venerable regulars into the game under false pretense.