Matchup Is One for the Ages

In the first game at D.C. Stadium on Oct. 1, 1961, Jim Kerr of the Redskins evades the Giants' Bob Simms. New York won, 24-21, and Washington ended the season 1-12-1.
In the first game at D.C. Stadium on Oct. 1, 1961, Jim Kerr of the Redskins evades the Giants' Bob Simms. New York won, 24-21, and Washington ended the season 1-12-1. (By Richard Darcey -- The Washington Post)

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By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 26, 2005

LaVar Arrington has played a number of games against the New York Giants over his first five years in the NFL, but when he was asked the other day to recall a particularly meaningful game between the teams since he joined the Redskins in 2000, he was hard-pressed to do so.

"I'd have to think about that," he said at first. "No, wait. With [Steve] Spurrier, we were undefeated [2-0 in 2003]. Yeah, that was a big game. We kind of skidded out of line in that one [a 24-21 overtime loss]. They kind of exposed us that day."

The Redskins beat the New England Patriots the following week to go 3-1 in the high-water mark of the Spurrier era, only to finish 5-11 and have Spurrier walk away from the job after two seasons.

It's been awhile since Redskins-Giants was a weeklong topic of conversation in either city. On Sunday, the Redskins will face the Giants for the 147th time and both are 4-2 in a three-way tie with Philadelphia for first place in the NFC East. The Dallas Cowboys are close behind at 4-3 in the only division in which all four teams have winning records. The death yesterday of longtime Giants co-owner Wellington Mara guarantees that Sunday's game at Giants Stadium will be added to a long list of historic confrontations between the franchises.

The first game the Redskins played in Washington came against the Giants on Sept. 16, 1937. Only eight days earlier, Sammy Baugh, the rookie from Texas Christian University, had stepped off an Eastern Airlines plane at Washington-Hoover Airport to begin his first season in Washington. A crowd of 24,492 showed up at Griffith Stadium to see his debut, and in his pregame talk to his team (as documented by the late Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich), Redskins Coach Ray Flaherty offered up an inspired speech.

"All right, you guys," he said. "You've got a football game out there. What are you going to do about it? You're gonna kick hell out of those Giants, that's what. You've got to. You've moved into a new town, you and me and all of us. And the future of pro football in Washington depends on this game tonight, here. You've got pretty good jobs, and that means we've got to win this ballgame. Not only that, there's a hell of a crowd out there tonight. They're gonna come out to see what pro football is like. We'll show 'em. I want 60 minutes of the best that's in you. I won't take anything less. Sixty minutes of 100 percent effort. Those Giants are going to be tough tonight. You know how they hate us."

The Redskins won that night, with Riley Smith, the team's No. 1 draft pick from Alabama in 1936, scoring all the points in a 13-3 victory. Four months later, the Redskins ended the regular season with a 49-14 drubbing of the Giants on a day when Baugh completed 11 of 15 passes and future Hall of Famer Cliff Battles scored on runs of 75 and 76 yards.

More than 10,000 Washington fans traveled to New York for that game and, led by team owner George Preston Marshall, paraded up Broadway behind the team's marching band to the Polo Grounds to watch the Redskins sweep the season series. The Redskins have won both regular season games against the Giants 16 times; the Giants have swept 26 times.

By the mid-1940s, both teams had fallen on hard times, a trend that continued for the Redskins until the George Allen era began in 1971. The Giants, on the other hand, became serious contenders again in the 1950s, winning an NFL title in 1956 with a talented rookie middle linebacker named Sam Huff. The Giants, with Vince Lombardi coaching the offense and Tom Landry the defense, dominated the Redskins from 1956 to '63, going 13-2-1 over that span, including a 53-0 rout in 1961.

Huff eventually was traded to the Redskins, much to his dismay at the time. But in one of the more memorable Washington victories over the Giants in 1966, he exacted some measure of revenge on Allie Sherman, the coach who had traded him. The Redskins were 5-6 at the time and the Giants 1-8-1, with the league's worst defense in a season in which they would yield 501 points.

The Redskins posted a 72-41 victory, a team record for points, and the last three came courtesy of Huff, who had predicted on a New York radio show before the game that Sonny Jurgensen's offense would score 60 points on the Giants.

"In the final seconds, we were just trying to kill the clock," Huff wrote in his autobiography. "We had a fourth down at the Giants 22 and timeout was called with seven seconds left. While Otto [Graham, the head coach] was talking to Sonny, I took it upon myself to yell for the field goal team to get out there, and before anyone knew what was happening, [Charlie] Gogolak had kicked a 29-yard field goal for a final score of 72-41. After the game, Otto took a lot of heat for kicking the field goal and rubbing it in. But it wasn't Otto's decision, it was all mine. That was a day of judgment, and in my mind, justice was finally done."

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