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Theismann Out for the Year, Redskins WinBy Christine Brennan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 19, 1985
As the Washington Redskins jumped for joy on the turf of RFK Stadium around midnight at the thought of a season salvaged, their quarterback, Joe Theismann, lay in an operating room at Arlington Hospital, his season over.
What a confusing, wrenching, draining victory this was for the Redskins (6-5).
They came from behind to win, 23-21, over the New York Giants (7-4) before 53,371 last night, pulling within one game of the NFC East leaders -- the Giants and Dallas Cowboys -- with five games to play.
But they must play the rest of the season with 24-year-old, second year quarterback Jay Schroeder (pronounced SHRAY-der). Based on what happened last night, that might not be so bad. He completed 13 of 20 passes he threw for 221 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. The scoring pass -- 14 yards to Clint Didier -- gave the REdskins their winning margin with 8:21 to play.
But what happened in the first minute of the second quarter, on a flea-flicker, changed everything. Theismann, the Redskins' starting quarterback over the last eight seasons, was crushed by two New York linebackers on a sack and broke the fibula (the long, thin outer bone running between the knee and ankle) and tibia (shinbone) in his right leg.
He suffered a compound fracture, which means a bone cut through the skin. According to team doctor Charles Jackson, he will be in a cast three months and may not be able to begin rehabilitation for six months.
Theismann, 36, an 11-year-veteran, left last night's game on a stretcher and was taken to Arlington Hospital for surgery, which was completed successfully early this morning. He was carried off the field to a standing ovation from both teams, which is quite rare.
"I went out on the field and told him, 'You really left us in a mess,'" Coach Joe Gibbs said.
To back up Schroeder the rest of the seasons, the Redskins said they would bring back Babe Laufenberg, cut near the end of preseason.
The play that changed the game, and, no doubt, the Redskins' season, began at the Washington 46.
Theismann handed off to running back John Riggins, who then pitched the ball back to Theismann in the pocket. Unable to find an open receiver, Theismann was engulfed by the New York defense, which is ranked No. 1 in the NFL.
Linebacker Harry Carson grabbed Theismann's jersey and stopped him. Then, linebacker Lawrence Taylor hit Theismann from behind, causing Theismann's leg to buckle underneath him. Finally, linebacker Gary Reasons jumped on top of Theismann, forcing all of his weight -- and all of Theismann's -- on the leg.
"You get a sick feeling in your stomach when that happens, " said guard Jeff Bostic.
Images of the game were dominated by Theismann's injury. Yet, as soon as Theismann was carried off and the warm words and applause from both huddles quieted, the Redskins and Giants continued doing what they had been doing.
That is, playing football.
To that end, Gibbs said, "Jay Schroeder was great. He's our leader. You never know about a player until the heat is on, but tonight he showed he could be a great one."
Said Schroeder, who had thrown eight passes this season before last night: "I feel real good. It was a good team thing. I got in there, and they just rallied around."
Even if Theismann's injury had not been so dominant, this still would have been considered one strange game. The Redskins recovered two onside kicks, the first they had tried this season. Riggins, usually so reliable, fumbled twice and gained just seven yards on 11 carries; George Rogers fumbled once and gained only 23 yards on seven carries.
Finally, Gibbs' only option was to go with third-down back Keith Griffin, who hasn't fumbled this year.
"I said, 'What the heck,'" Gibbs said.
The Redskins rode one ebb-and-flow drive to a 7-0 lead, and a quick burst by the Giants tied the score four minutes later. Otherwise, the game mirrored so many othe games this season. The Redskins had a 7-0 lead and a first down at the New York 30, with an opportunity to take a big lead early.
That chance ended with a 15-yard sack of Theismann by defensive end Leonard Marshall, putting the Redskins out of field goal range.
Two plays later, Joe Morris ran 56 yards for the first of his three touchdowns, which tied the game at 2ith 4:20 remaining in the first quarter. It was a standoff for the rest of the half.
That first Washington drive was exciting and depressing, often from play to play. On fourth and three from the Redskins 43, Steve Cox went back in punt formation, but had a decidedly different play in mind.
He fielded the snap from Bostic on one bounce, hesitated, then cocked his arm and threw a blooper of a pass 11 yards down field to strong safety-turned-receiver Raphel Cherry.
Cherry was wide open, but that changed by the time the pass came along, and Cherry was crunched by safety Kenny Hill as soon as the ball reached his arms. He hung on though, jumped up and down and hugged his teammates, and the Redskins had a most improbable first down at the New York 46.
Theismann immediately looked deep to Art Monk, who appeared open nearing the end zone. But the ball was underthrown and nearly intercepted, and a likely touchdown turned into a long incompletion.
Second down saw a one-yard run by Riggins, forcing third and long. This time, Theismann found Monk for a gain of 11 to the 34.
After another one-yard run by Riggins and a three-yard pass to Monk, Theismann threw a pass he hadn't thrown much this season -- a liner right into coverage.
Gary Clark, crossing from the right, caught the ball and the tackles of Ted Watts and Herb Welch at the same time, but hung onto the ball and had another first down at the 15.
After an encroachment penalty, Theismann threw to tight end Don Warren, alone in the right flat. Warren gathered in the ball, turned toward the end zone and jumped over Taylor for the 10-yard touchdown with nearly seven minutes gone in the game.
On the drive in which Theismann was injured, the Redskins moved to the New York four early in the second quarter, but Riggins fumbled in a pack and Taylor recovered.
How do you figure the Redskins' third quarter? Schroeder, who doesn't run even one offensive play all week in Washington's practices, led the Redskins to the go-ahead touchdown in four slick plays at the beginning of the second half after the first onside kick.
But two more touchdowns by Morris allowed the Giants to take the lead.
First things first. The Redskins completely fooled the Giants on one onside kick, and all Cox had to do was wait for the ball to dribble the required 10 yards before he landed on it at the Washington 46.
The first play from scrimmage was a quarterback's dream -- a deep, arching spiral that floated into Monk's arms inside the 10. The crowd, worked into an emotional lather after Theismann went out, went wild. The pass traveled 50 yards and set up the Redskins at the New York four.
It took three plays, but Riggins finally bulled over the left side to give the Redskins a 14-7 lead.
The Giants came back with Morris' touchdowns, the first 41 yards, the next eight (set up by Riggins' fumble at the Redskins 24 after the Washington defense held the Giants on fourth and one).
All of Morris' touchdowns went left, and the first two appeared to be the same play, a counter that completely fooled the Redskins' defense. Midway through the third quarter, the Giants led, 21-14. But the Redskins were not finished.
A drive across the third and fourth quarters ended in Mark Moseley's 28-yard field goal, which brought Washington to within four, 21-17, with 11:25 to play.
The Redskins again tried an onside kick, and again, it worked, as Greg Williams fell on the ball at the New York 46. Schroeder drove the Redskins deep into Giants territory, then threw a 14-yard pass to Didier, off cornerback Elvis Patterson's hands, for the touchdown that gave the Redskins the lead. Moseley missed the extra point, but it turned out not to matter as the Washington defense turned back every Giants try.
But the story of this game was Theismann and Schroeder.
"For a guy who never took a snap to fill the shoes he did, it's just a feat," defensive tackle Dave Butz said of Schroeder. "I still have a hard time believing it."