February 1, 1988: 15-Minute Spree Keys 42-10 Rout
SAN DIEGO, JAN. 31 -- There was Doug Williams with a bum knee, a toothache and a spectacular right arm. There was a rookie named Timmy Smith, who started his first NFL game and ended up as the first running back to rush 200 yards in a Super Bowl. There was a defense that quickly figured out the magic that used to be John Elway. There was an offensive line that played the game of its collective life.
But most of all, there was that second quarter.
With the most stunning 15-minute offensive display in pro football playoff history, the Washington Redskins upset the Denver Broncos, 42-10, to win Super Bowl XXII today before 73,302 at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
The victory, the Redskins’ 14th against four losses in the 1987 season, gave the organization its second Super Bowl victory in six seasons. It doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that both titles came in seasons interrupted by players strikes as Coach Joe Gibbs kept a steady hand at Redskin Park.
As they had done so many times this season, the Redskins came from behind today to win. But they never had a comeback like this one.
After quickly falling behind, 10-0, the Redskins exploded for five touchdowns in 18 second-quarter plays. Their 35 points were the most scored in a quarter in NFL playoff history, and their six touchdowns were the most by a team in a Super Bowl.
”We played the best we have played all year,” Gibbs said. “I was shocked we played as well as we did. . . . It just happens it was in the Super Bowl.”
”We never let down,” Williams said after a Super Bowl record 340-yard passing performance that earned him the game’s most valuable player award. The 32-year-old veteran, playing in his first Super Bowl, suffered a strained left knee when he slipped and fell late in the first quarter. He missed two plays and came back with a limp, but threw four touchdown passes and led his team to a Super Bowl record 602 yards total offense.
”Doug is one of the greatest success stories,” Gibbs said. “This is a great story for him.”
It also was a great story for Smith and wide receiver Ricky Sanders, who both broke Super Bowl records. Smith -- a surprise starter in place of George Rogers because Gibbs wanted to go with a quicker, breakaway, outside back -- gained 204 yards on 22 carries. He scored two touchdowns, one on a 58-yard run in the second quarter, and erased a record that is particularly galling to the Redskins. The last time Washington was in a Super Bowl, it lost to the Los Angeles Raiders, 38-9, and Raiders running back Marcus Allen gained 191 yards.
Sanders caught two touchdown passes in the second quarter -- 80 and 50 yards long -- and finished with nine catches for 193 yards, erasing Lynn Swann’s Super Bowl record.
The Redskins played the game of their lives on offense. But more subtly, their defense turned Elway and his calm, cool and collected offense into a ragged, undisciplined, ineffective band of angry amigos.
Elway completed only 14 of 38 passes. He was sacked five times for minus 50 yards by an unrelenting five-man pass rush. He was intercepted three times, twice by cornerback Barry Wilburn, once by nickel back Brian Davis.
With about nine minutes left in the first quarter, the Redskins could have been facing a 17-0 deficit had they not recovered their fumbled kickoff return.
But the Redskins did recover that fumble. And they did keep the Broncos’ lead to 10.
And then, in perhaps the most amazing second quarter in pro football, they scored five touchdowns to take a 35-10 halftime lead.
After hyperflexing his left knee late in the first quarter, Williams threw four touchdown passes and handed off to Smith for a fifth in his dazzling second quarter. Here’s the touchdown list: Williams started by throwing an 80-yard bomb to Sanders; then came a 27-yard pass to diving Gary Clark; Smith’s 58-yard tightrope down the right sideline was next; a 50-yard reception by Sanders followed; and tight end Clint Didier’s eight-yard scoring catch ended it.
Meanwhile, the Washington defense, which looked totally confused in Denver’s first two series, changed shoes -- honest, changed shoes -- and ruined Elway’s potentially glorious afternoon. The Redskins switched to shoes with longer cleats after Elway put 10 points on the board in four minutes, and stopped the Broncos the rest of the way.
How could the first six minutes of a game look so opposite from the 15 minutes of the second quarter? How could the Redskins slip and slide and fall for most of the first quarter, then right themselves for their most impressive offensive outburst ever?
The numbers are startling: They ran 20 plays in the first quarter and gained only 63 yards. They ran 17 plays in the second quarter and gained 356 yards. That’s an average of about 21 yards per play. Williams was nine of 11 for 228 yards in the quarter. They had five realistic chances to score and scored five touchdowns.
”They got so far ahead, it made it very hard to catch up,” said Denver Coach Dan Reeves.
And all this was done by a quarterback who had a surprise root canal Saturday afternoon and played with a knee brace in the second half to protect his throbbing leg.
But first things first. The first quarter was a nightmare for the Redskins: They gave up the quickest touchdown in Super Bowl history; Williams was injured and missed two plays; Clark dropped one pass and fell trying to catch another, and the offense began possessions from their 18, 17, 16 and 16.
With one flick of his right arm, Elway sent a pass winging toward wide receiver Ricky Nattiel -- and into the Super Bowl record book. The stadium clock read 13:11 when Elway and his amigos stepped onto the field for their first play. It read 13:03 when they scored the game’s first points.
Throwing from the shotgun on first down at his 44-yard line, Elway heaved the ball 50 yards to Nattiel, who was a couple steps behind Wilburn inside the Washington 10. Wilburn caught up and threw his arms around Nattiel, but it was too late, because Nattiel was in the end zone for a stunning touchdown.
Rich Karlis kicked the extra point, and Denver led, 7-0.
The Redskins were hapless in the early going, and Denver soon scored again. This time, though, it was a 24-yard field goal by Karlis, who missed a 23-yarder in last year’s Super Bowl. The Redskins held on third down and three at the 6 when Elway tried a quarterback draw, a play on which he scored in Denver’s regular season victory over Washington in 1986. Today, Dave Butz stopped him for a one-yard loss, forcing Denver to settle for the field goal.
On the ensuing kickoff, Sanders fumbled on a tackle by Ken Bell.
There was a Super Bowl record pileup, and when everyone finally peeled off, Washington’s Ravin Caldwell was holding the ball at the Washington 16. This was a vital point in the game. Had Denver taken over, it could have controlled the game.
There was one other telling moment in the first quarter. On first down at the Washington 30, Elway looked over the Redskins defense and abruptly stood up to called timeout. It wasn’t clear what he saw, but the timeout was followed by an incompletion, another incompletion, a near-interception by Wilburn, and an 18-yard sack by strong safety Alvin Walton, forcing a punt.
On the Redskins’ next series, Williams was injured when he slipped setting up to pass and was tackled. In came Jay Schroeder, who was sacked for a loss of eight yards by Karl Mecklenburg and then threw an incompletion when Kelvin Bryant dropped a pass.
But then the second quarter started. The 80-yard pass to Sanders came on the Redskins’ first play of the period. Ali Haji-Sheikh’s first of a Super Bowl record six extra points made it 10-7 with 14:07 left in the first half.
The Redskins had the ball again with 12:59 left and scored in 2:44 on Clark’s diving catch on a third-and-one play at the 27.
After Karlis missed a 43-yard field goal attempt with 7:23 left, it took two plays for the Redskins to score their third touchdown on Smith’s 58-yard run down the sideline. Smith ran 10 times for 131 yards in the first half.
Another Denver punt preceded the second Williams-to-Sanders scoring pass, this one 50 yards long with 3:42 left. And an interception of Elway by Wilburn at the Washington 21 led to the other touchdown, Didier’s eight-yard catch with 1:04 remaining in the half.
The third quarter was scoreless. It didn’t matter.
Finally, Smith scored the second touchdown of his NFL career -- both in this game -- on a four-yard run with 13:09 remaining in the game.
He ran off the field with a smile on his face. Williams walked off with the game ball. Gibbs moved slowly across the field, looking serious.
The game was over.
They all had survived another strike season.
They all had won another Super Bowl.