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A Long-Lasting Taste

By Thomas Boswell
Tuesday, September 20, 2005

IRVING, Tex.

My son is 18 years old and has rooted fanatically for the Redskins since he was a boy. He has Redskins stickers on his truck and sundry regalia. He jumps with joy or despair every week. I've never figured out why. By the time he understood football, Joe Gibbs and all his trophies were long gone from Washington. All he had was annual disappointment and Daniel Snyder.

At least my father had years of Sammy Baugh. In youth, I had Sonny Jurgensen and George Allen. So, like millions of Washingtonians for generations, we had our reasons for burgundy and gold feelings. We'd been to the mountaintop at an impressionable age. My son just took his Redskins heritage on blind faith.

Now, though it's just one victory in the second game of a season that may end up in any fashion the football fates choose, my son has one nearly unbelievable national-TV Gibbs-over-Parcells, Redskins-over-Cowboys miracle victory on which to hang his hat.

Never fear, the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry is back. So is the twice-annual mayhem between those two geriatric coaches, Joe Gibbs and Bill Parcells. After losing 14 of their last 15 meetings with Dallas, the Redskins finally prevailed, 14-13, on Monday night. And they did it in a way so stunning that, conceivably, the mythology surrounding this game may surpass in memory all of those 14 losses.

This one was payback for Patrick Crayton's 39-yard touchdown reception with 30 seconds to play here last December to give the Cowboys a 13-10 victory over the Redskins. This one, for those for even longer memories, was payback for Clint Longley's silly bomb to beat the Redskins on Thanksgiving day. I still remember my late father's grief-stricken look that day: the rotten, lucky, undeserving Cowboys, always heaving some brainless bomb when they should be beaten. And having somebody catch it.

So, let Dallas and Parcells chew on this one for a few decades, because the taste of this defeat will stay in Dallas mouths for many a year. Washington didn't strike once for a long incredibly unlikely scoring strike, like the last-minute Crayton and Longley plays. No, the Redskins' Mark Brunell -- the reviled, the mocked, the benched and forgotten Brunell -- unleashed two long, arching and absolutely in-stride scoring strikes of 39 and 70 yards to new Redskin Santana Moss with 3 minutes 46 seconds left and 2:35 left in the fourth quarter to turn a 13-0 deficit into a one-point victory.

Then, to make this smash-mouth win perfect, at least in Washington eyes, the Cowboys got the ball back twice. Fair play, right? And Gregg Williams's defense stopped them twice.

The first Redskins touchdown pass, just to make the gall even more bitter for the Cowboys, came on a desperate fourth-and-15 heave as Brunell, flushed out of the pocket as he had been much of the night, threw on the run and hit Moss near the Dallas goal line.

The second score was even more unexpected, if such was possible. For three quarters, the Cowboys held the Redskins to 160 yards of offense. All the same images of futility that dogged the Redskins throughout the first 17 games of Gibbs's return to coaching were evident again. For months, the Redskins had said that they wanted to get the ball downfield. Yet the only time they seemed able to do it was when they punted.

However, on first down from their 30-yard line, the Redskins went for the long ball with Moss beating the Cowboys' best safety, hard-hitting Roy Williams, as well as cornerback Terence Newman.

At game's end, Gibbs's face was beaming with joy, a sight seldom seen for regular season games in his Hall of Fame heyday. Parcells seemed blanched as he walked toward midfield, while Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wandered around the field as if lost. Why, this was the night the Cowboys had devoted halftime to inducting Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith into their sacred Ring of Honor. How dare the Redskins spoil it?

Heh, heh.

What made this Redskins victory so special, so redemptive for Gibbs's entire Second Coming Agenda, was that -- until those Brunell-to-Moss lightning bolts -- this game had looked like a confirmation that Gibbs's offensive system was moribund, an anachronism. With four minutes to play, the Redskins were not only scoreless but had not come remotely close to threatening the Dallas goal line. Anyone who wanted to ask, "Does Gibbs's offensive system still work?" had tons of ammunition. As for the switch to Brunell from Patrick Ramsey, how could that be called a success either? No points is no points.

Finally, however, with his 76-yard scoring drive and his 70-yard scoring strike, Brunell underlined one of the primary reasons that Gibbs kept faith in him: his athletic ability to make scrambling spectacular plays.

Ever since Gibbs returned, Washington has awaited a night like this when a season began 2-0 and the Cowboys were beaten in Dallas. Last year, such a thing seemed remote. In this preseason, as both Brunell and Ramsey struggled, it seemed that this, also, might not be the Redskins' year.

One victory is far too little to construct playoff hopes upon. But teams require inspiration to fuel them. And 64-year-old legendary coaches, when they come out of retirement, need new miracles to convince another generation that both their charisma and their methodology still have permanent power.

After a bye week, the Redskins face testing games against Seattle, Denver and Kansas City. However, when they face such battles now, they will have the fresh memory of a victory as improbable as any in the entire Redskins-Cowboys rivalry.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company