That very day, Ryan had joked about how uptight Gibbs probably was, while he, Ryan, was loose and confident, knowing that he had a Super Bowl contender. Indeed, to help prepare for the Redskins, Ryan had taken his Eagles to Tampa, the site of Super Bowl XXVI, for a week of practice. "We plan to be back here," he said with a smile.
Yet when journalists pressed Gibbs to comment on Ryan, they got nothing. "Jump into the conversation at any point, Joe," one reporter joked. But Gibbs stood firm, arms folded across his chest, smiling a half-smile, simply talking about the challenge ahead.
Until that Wednesday night. Then the floodgates burst. Then the fury against Ryan poured out. Then it was clear that this would be more than a playoff game. Why? After all the big games the Redskins had played, why did this one take on such an extra dimension?
At Redskin Park, the answer was simple. Two months earlier, in a nationally televised Monday night game at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium, the Eagles had beaten the Redskins badly. They had knocked nine Redskins, including two quarterbacks, out of the game. Five Redskins had to be carried off the field. The final score, 28-14, scarcely reflected the severity of the whipping.
Worse than the defeat were the accompanying insults. As the game wore down, an Eagle reacted to one injured Redskin lying on the turf by yelling, "Do you guys need any more body bags?" Another time an Eagle shouted, "You guys are going to need an extra bus just to carry all the stretchers!"
After the game it was even worse. The Eagles publicly poked fun at the Redskins, with Eagles defensive tackle Jerome Brown telling reporters, "They acted like they didn't want to play us anymore."
At Redskin Park, that game became known as The Body Bag Game, and it would be hard to underestimate its effect on a proud team filled with veterans like Joe Jacoby, Jeff Bostic, Earnest Byner, Art Monk and others. That game became the chief rallying cry for a stunning three-year run.
When the Redskins filed off their bus outside the Vet for that playoff game on January 4, 1991, they were stone-faced and determined. Gibbs had injected a Notre Dame-Miami hatred into them and on the Redskins' first play from scrimmage, he was amazed by what he saw.