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  Riptide: Currently Stirring

By Tony Kornheiser
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, September 3, 1991; Page C01

Tony Kornheiser So much for the 1-3 record in exhibition games. How many times do we have to tell you that exhibition games mean absolutely nothing? Nada. Zippo. Zilch. The only teams that try to win exhibition games are bad teams with brand-new coaches, like New England, and bad teams with relatively new coaches, like Phoenix. (Bad teams regularly have brand-new or relatively new coaches. Memo to Detroit Lions fans: Look for Wayne Fontes in your rearview mirror soon.)

Steady, veteran teams like the Redskins feel no urgency about exhibitions, and guard against exhausting themselves before the real season begins. It's no coincidence the only teams from last year's playoffs to post losing exhibition records this summer -- Washington (1-3), Buffalo (1-3) and Chicago (2-3), a trio of the most stable teams in the league -- all won their opening games Sunday.

Try to remember this for next year.

Now to more pressing concerns: airline reservations and hotel accommodations in Minneapolis for the Super Bowl.

What do you mean I'm jumping the gun? Oh come on, you're not going to be a party pooper and point out how Barry Sanders didn't play, and how Rodney Peete hadn't thrown a pass in five weeks, are you? Details, details.

Look, it was 45-0.

That's road kill, baby.

Sanders is good, but he ain't 45 points good. I can't believe anyone called his bookie and said: "Jeez, I just heard Barry Sanders isn't playing. Change my bet. Get me off the Lions. Gimme the the Redskins, minus 44 1/2."

It would have been 52-0 had Joe Gibbs not sent in Jeff Rutledge to run the new Heavy Jumbo Kneeling Package. By intentionally kneeling down for four two-yard losses, and taking a five-yard penalty for letting the clock continue to tick, the Redskins steadily moved the ball backward from the Detroit 1, to the 14. (Incidentally, this was Detroit's best sustained drive of the game, and had people wondering how much closer the score might have been had the Redskins made Rypien kneel down every play.) Gibbs was quite gentlemanly. Had that putz from the University of Houston been coaching the Redskins, the score would have been 93-0, and he'd be calling time out to set up one last tackle-eligible gizmo play.

Among many stars, Rypien's shone most brightly. He had the exact game that Redskins fans -- not to mention The Ripster himself -- had been longing for, the one that makes sugarplums dance in their heads. This puts an end to all talk about how Rypien's holdout cost him valuable training time. (Not that it was such a long holdout anyway. He came to camp 48 hours after the rest of the veterans; 48 hours is nothing, I know Redskins who've been unconscious longer than that.)

It was vitally important for Rypien to get off to a quick start -- not just to quell any anxiety about him, but also to defuse the ongoing time bomb of a quarterback controversy. Jay and Doug. Doug and Rip. Rip and Stan. (It may have spread to Rip and Cary, but for Cary's devastating knee injury. Even as I write this, a team of doctors, including Dr. Joyce Brothers, Dr. Vinnie Boombatz and Dr. Julius Erving, are looking at X-rays, wondering whether to amputate now, or hold off a bit, hoping Conklin might someday walk again.) The controversy never materialized in training camp this year because Humphries mysteriously vanished from the radar screen; some suspect he was under house arrest in the Crimea.

Rip had the job almost by default. But he didn't have enthusiastic support. Rypien gets booed quicker than George Steinbrenner. Redskins fans were so eager to boo Rypien they traveled to the exhibition against the Jets to boo him in South Carolina! However briefly it lasts, that changed markedly Sunday -- which is what 15 for 19 can do for a fella. Rypien didn't give anyone an excuse to stir, as he completed his first six passes and the Redskins jauntily sauntered ahead 21-0 in less time than it takes Soviet republics to declare independence. "Getting off to a fast start excited me," Rypien said. "You don't ever come out and say it publicly, but inner-wise you're thinking, 'Gosh, I needed this for myself.' " All Rypien heard were cheers. Midway through the fourth quarter Gibbs cannily sent in Rutledge for a second-down play, so Rypien could trot off with the sweet sound reverberating in his ears. "It didn't hurt to let Rip hear a few cheers," Gibbs explained, winking.

By any measure Rypien was outstanding, particularly on third downs, when he kept drives alive by hitting eight of nine passes. And let's not forget his surprising 11-yard canter, which led directly to the Redskins' first touchdown. "The biggest evaluation on a quarterback is to see what he does when the play isn't there, like on that scramble," Gibbs said. "Anyone can make the play when it's there. Rip didn't turn it over when it wasn't there. He made good decisions." This is all the Redskins ask of Rypien: good decisions. It's a talented enough team to accommodate Rypien's laborious apprenticeship, providing he doesn't backslide. He doesn't have to be a charismatic, gifted thrower like John Elway for the Redskins to win. He can be a high- percentage, sharp thinker like Phil Simms.

Now there I go mentioning Super Bowl quarterbacks. Somebody quick, hose me down. I apologize. I don't know what I could have been thinking. . . . That Randall Cunningham is out for the season? That the Giants' hex might be broken because Parcells retired and Simms isn't starting? That Tom Tupa doesn't quite conjure up memories of Johnny Unitas? That suddenly Monday night's game at Dallas seems way bigger than it ought to so early in the season?

I must keep telling myself: It's only Detroit. It's only Detroit. It's only Detroit.

© Copyright 1991 The Washington Post Company

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