Redskins Mania Makes a Comeback
With Record Win Over Rival, Fans Begin to Imagine a Return to Glory

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 19, 2005

It was a blowout, an unbelievable blowout. And for fans who watched their Redskins annihilate the Dallas Cowboys yesterday, disbelief gave way to elation as Washington quickly and decisively pummeled its arch rival, 35-7. The victory, by the largest margin ever over the Cowboys, kept the Redskins' postseason hopes alive.

On the Cowboys' very first play from scrimmage, quarterback Drew Bledsoe's pass was tipped by Phillip Daniels and intercepted by Cornelius Griffin. There was no letup. Redskins tight end Chris Cooley caught three of quarterback Mark Brunell's four touchdown passes. Clinton Portis ran for 112 yards. Daniels finished with four sacks and a fumble recovery. The score was 28-0 at halftime.

The victory, arguably the Redskins' biggest ever at FedEx Field, keeps them in contention for a playoff berth as a wild card entry. To a degree, the team's fortunes depend on the outcome of games against the New York Giants on Saturday at FedEx Field and the Philadelphia Eagles in the season finale on New Year's Day. It would be the Redskins' first postseason appearance since 1999.

"This is just wonderful, even better than Redskins victories over the Cowboys in the past," said Jeanne O'Neill, who should know: She has been coming to Redskins games since 1947.

"I love [Coach] Joe Gibbs, and the defense did a superb job," said O'Neill, 86, of Alexandria. "My boys did it!"

As O'Neill and other longtime fans well remember, contests between the two NFC East foes have produced some of the great moments in NFL history.

It was in 1971 that Dallas came to town, led by a Naval Academy grad who had been riding the bench behind quarterback Craig Morton when the season opened. Future Hall-of-Famer Roger Staubach led the Cowboys to a 13-0 victory over the Redskins at RFK that day, on the way to the team's first Super Bowl victory.

There was the Redskins' Monday night victory over the Cowboys in 1973, and Cowboys rookie quarterback Clint Longley throwing a 50-yard touchdown pass to Drew Pearson on Thanksgiving Day in 1974; like a Clint Eastwood gunslinger, Longley rode off into the sunset after that one miracle pass.

There was the Redskins NFC championship game in 1982, a 31-17 victory over the Cowboys, and the team's 1991 come-from-behind win in Texas Stadium.

"America's team" meant legendary Coach Tom Landry and his successor Jimmy Johnson, quarterbacks Staubach, Danny White and Troy Aikman, as well as such electrifying receivers as "Bullet" Bob Hayes, Pearson and Michael Irvin.

The Redskins, of course, had their own big names, starting with a young coach named Joe Gibbs and including running back John Riggins, quarterback Joe Theismann, receiver Charley Taylor and defensive back Darrell Green, to name a few.

From the early 1970s until the 1990s, both teams were perennial Super Bowl contenders.

Both teams fell on hard times in the past decade, and the rivalry came close to withering, although the Redskins' dramatic come-from-behind victory over Dallas the second week of the season -- in Dallas -- stirred memories of the glory days. But despite that last-minute win -- only the second in the most recent 16 tries -- this season had been a disappointment. As recently as two weeks ago, the team was playing for last place.

Four former Redskins showed that the Cowboys rivalry remains in their blood.

Reached in places including Georgia and FedEx Field, the veterans, all contacted before halftime, were filled with enthusiasm for yesterday's performance. Particularly as it came against Dallas.

"It don't get no better," said Ed Simmons, a mainstay at offensive tackle in the early 1990s. He was watching the game at FedEx. "This is like our championship, our playoff. . . . Do or die."

Simmons, who lives in Washington state, shows up for games when he is in town and continues to root for his old team "with a passion."

Also at FedEx was Raleigh McKenzie, a former offensive lineman and now a teacher in Loudoun County and still "a big fan," who exulted that yesterday was "bringing back the good old days."

At home in Montgomery County, Neal Olkewicz, a middle linebacker in the 1980s, also was "loving every minute of it right now."

He was excited about the way this game seemed to summon the competitive spirit. The contest against the Cowboys was "the first one that's meant much at the end of the year.

"It's been a while," Olkewicz said with a hint of nostalgia.

At his home in Georgia, Jeff Bostic, the former center who is now a broadcaster, had been watching the Skins "from the first kickoff."

Did the game and the old rivalry still mean anything to him?

Well, look at it this way. Bostic said he had not one but two favorite teams. "Washington and whoever is playing Dallas."

From the start, Redskins fans were cautiously optimistic yesterday.

"I feel good about this one," Georgene Thompson said as she rooted for the home team at Players Lounge in Southeast Washington.

Soon after, her daughter, Angela, who was bartending, told the crowd, "The point is not to get too excited."

But there was little chance of that. As soon as the game started, Redskin fans were hooting and hollering and razzing the Cowboys fans who had come ready for battle.

The loudest of them was Darrin Roach, who came in a Cowboy jersey, Cowboy hat and Cowboy jacket. "Let's go, Cowboys," he said to mostly blank stares. He became a Dallas fan because he was so fond of watching westerns and rooting for the real cowboys.

As the points piled up, he said: "Remember, the Redskins only play one half."

Few would hear any of it, cheering and jeering. At each score, Thompson was in Roach's face, making him get up from his bar stool for a reluctant chest bump.

Others crowded around Roach at quarterback sacks, turnovers and every time the Redskins made his team punt. By the time the score was 35-0, Roach had begun another chant: "Let's go, Giants, let's go,'' referring to the Redskins' next opponent. "Let's go, Giants, let's go."

Not even his old buddies could offer him sympathy. They wanted the Redskins to pile on points and beat the Cowboys as bad as they could.

"He's my man," Anthony Moore, 43, who watches games at Players all the time, said of Roach. "But today he's my mortal enemy. Cowboys fans, he added, "won't show their face tomorrow. They'll go into hiding."

Not even fans as ardent as Moore had dared hope for a victory so overwhelming.

The 28-point margin of victory topped the 27-point victories over the Cowboys in 1986 and 1996, and the 37-10 win in 1996 that came when playoff-bound Dallas rested its star players in the final game at RFK Stadium.

On "Fox News Sunday," Condoleezza Rice predicted a win for the Redskins, the three-point favorites, mainly because of the team had home-field advantage. But nobody, absolutely nobody, predicted a blowout. Former D.C. mayor Marion Barry, prognosticating at Chuck and Billy's Bar and Grill on Georgia Avenue NW on Saturday night, called it 21-10, Redskins. Kuhns predicted a 21-17 Redskins win.

Pat Welch, a Hampton electrician who had been tailgating for six hours while wearing his usual game-day regalia, shoulder pads and a helmet, predicted a 24-10 Redskins win.

At Chuck and Billy's, where owner Chuck Gary had decreed that a blue-and-white Cowboys banner would stay on the wall until the Redskins defeated the Cowboys twice in a row, Barry was trying to wager a friendly little bet with a gaggle of loud Cowboys fans at the bar. He got no takers. "Fair-weather friends," he called them. "That flag's coming down," he said, on his way out.

Barry was right. Last night, the flag was ripped down. And at the stadium, Redskins fans were serenading their Cowboy counterparts with the Willie Nelson classic, "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys."

Staff writers Robert Pierre, Ian Shapira, Beth Broadwater and Martin Weil contributed to this report.

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