A man named Bush is president. America is at war in Iraq. Joe Gibbs is the storied coach of the Washington Redskins. The economy stinks. John Tesh is a cultural icon. Somebody please tell me, what year is this?
While some of you in your heart of hearts still believe in the power of Tesh, we're here to administer the smelling salts. No, this is not 1992. But it sure seems like it. We're through the looking glass here, with 1992 providing an eerie reflection of the present day. There wasn't much to celebrate in America, or in the nation's capital, during the fall of 1991 and the first month of 1992, but there was one, lone saving grace -- the Redskins.
Art Monk had seven catches for 113 yards and had an apparent touchdown reversed by replay -- the first in Super Bowl history.
(David Longstreath - AP File Photo)
After a 14-2 regular season, the Redskins steamrolled through the playoffs and into Super Bowl XXVI. It was a spectacular season in which an aging, determined squad of Redskin lifers and a platoon of new blood melded into a great team whose last, great stand would come on the 26th of that January in the first, and thank God last, Super Bowl to be held in Minneapolis.
With snow covering the ground outside and a cozy artificial environment percolating inside the Metrodome, it was time to kick off what would quickly emerge as another in a long line of spectacular failures for the Buffalo Bills. That theme got an early jump start the week before when Buffalo running back Thurman Thomas whined that he wasn't getting enough respect and, in fact, was the Michael Jordan of professional football. That was before he lost his helmet and missed most of Buffalo's first possession, thus earning distinction as the Bobby Boucher of professional football.
Almost as disturbing as Buffalo's opening possession -- which boasted a busted play and a sack of Bills quarterback Jim Kelly by the legendary Jumpy Geathers -- was the ensuing first-period commercial for the epic Sylvester Stallone tour de force, "Stop, or My Mom Will Shoot." It may have been the most laughable Super Bowl ad ever and led many watching at home to utter the phrase, "Stop, or I'll Shoot Myself."
The Redskins started to roll downhill on their second possession behind the play of Art Monk, a signature towel dangling from his waist and flapping in the Metrodome air conditioning. Monk caught four passes for 71 yards on Washington's first possession and appeared to score the game's first touchdown on a two-yard reception. But several Jumbotron replays later, the officials did the unthinkable and overturned the first touchdown in Super Bowl history after replays confirmed Monk did not get both feet down. Seconds later, the Redskins botched a field goal. Can somebody please page Norv Turner? Talk about paying it forward.
Washington dominated the first period on both sides of the ball, but the game was scoreless. Then the Redskins unveiled their version of the no-huddle offense that the Bills had used almost exclusively during the season. It was almost as if Washington enjoyed taunting Buffalo by highjacking the Bills' not-so-secret-weapon - and almost perfecting it. Eight minutes later, the Redskins were up 17-0, and the Bills were reeling but not down for the count. Yet.
Two plays at the end of the first half would offer an obscene glimpse into Buffalo's fragile psyche:
* With under a minute remaining and the Bills deep in Redskins territory, receiver Don Beebe drops a sure touchdown pass when he looks up and sees safety Brad Edwards waiting to ring his clock.
* On the next play, receiver Andre Reed is blatantly interfered with on a pass across the middle. When no flag is tossed, Reed throws a very public tantrum in which he removes his helmet and spikes it off the Metrodome floor. This the refs did see and happily gave Reed a 15-yard penalty that knocked the Bills out of field-goal range. Can somebody please page Michael Westbrook?
Calling the game was the once signature broadcast team of John Madden and Pat Summerall. They provided an often corny, sometimes uncomfortable but more-than-adequate performance. Madden's best line of the day -- and one that made men across American shudder -- came when he described two Buffalo defenders as "the bread" and Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien as "the bologna" when they sandwiched Rypien on a second-period hit. The sandwich meat industry nor effeminate men never experienced a worse public crisis than the days following that remark.
Commercially speaking, the best ad of the afternoon was arguably the Bugs Bunny/Michael Jordan effort on behalf of Nike that combined the dry wit and wily charm of a cartoon rabbit and Mr. Air himself. Diet Pepsi pulled out all the stops with the "Uh huh" girls and the recently passed Ray Charles. McDonalds peppered us constantly with the slogan "What you want is what you get." So basically, all McDonalds was willing to guarantee at that point was that they would accurately fill your order. They set the bar high back then.
The halftime show seemed incredibly inappropriate for a sporting event. There was lots of singing and dancing and prancing around by men and women alike. It made Peter Pan look like The Terminator and forced many people, in an effort to jump-start selective amnesia, to ponder questions such as why in the world was Gibbs wearing a thick jacket -- indoors.
The third quarter mercifully arrived. Unfortunately, the Bills left their second-half game plan in the locker room. After receiving the kickoff, it took Buffalo all of one play to construct another major goof -- this time an interception by Redskin linebacker Kurt Gouveia, which he returned to the one-yard line. One play later and a mere 16 seconds into the second half, the Redskins were up 24-0. This after Kelly, in an effort to threaten his teammates into playing well, reportedly screamed: "We have to win this game!"
The Bills would climb back to within 24-10 during the third quarter, but Rypien and the Redskins put the game away with an impressive drive that culminated in a 31-yard touchdown pass to Gary Clark (seven catches, 114 yards) that knocked the wind out of the Bills for good. That play produced arguably the game's signature moment when a giddy Rypien raced toward the sideline and repeatedly pointed gleefully into the stands, all the while flashing a 1,000-watt grin that in itself was worth 1,000 words.
In the end -- a 37-24 victory for Washington -- Rypien was named the game's most valuable player, although many Redskins played impressively. Monk (seven catches, 113 yards) finally broke through with his best Super Bowl performance, Gerald Riggs scored twice and kicker Chip Lohmiller was perfect, accounting for 13 points of his own.
Little would anyone realize that the Redskins would soon embark on a precipitous fall in the standings and in reputation, and that Super Bowl XXVI would be the last great memory in franchise history.
This story was first published on washingtonpost.com on Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2004.