The following week in San Francisco, however, they lost, 28-10, to Joe Montana and the 49ers. That ended a year that had been successful in many ways but unsatisfying in others, not least because the Redskins had gone 0-4 against the NFC's best teams, the Giants and the 49ers. Improved as they were, they still had given little indication of what lay ahead.
The approach to the 1991 season certainly wasn't encouraging. Rypien missed the first 10 days of training camp in a contract dispute. Once he did arrive, he looked so bad that fans in the bleachers at Dickinson College actually booed during his first practice. Nobody could remember the last time a player had been booed at a training-camp practice. That night a senior team official said: "Rip's in for a long year. This holdout was a terrible mistake. He has put all kinds of pressure on himself. What happened out there today is just the beginning."
The Redskins proceeded to lose three of their four preseason games. After one loss, Jack Kent Cooke began a conversation with Gibbs by saying: "Well, you've completely screwed this team up."
"How's that, Mr. Cooke?"
Cooke told Gibbs that he had assembled not just the wrong kind of players but the wrong kind of people. To make sure Gibbs felt the needle, Cooke added: "That Jimmy Johnson down in Dallas, he knows how to put a team together."
"Well, Mr. Cooke," Gibbs recalled saying, "I think you're wrong. I like our players."
Cooke may have felt like eating his words shortly afterward. In the season opener, those players shocked him and a lot of other people including themselves with their most lopsided victory in history, a 45-0 drumming of the Detroit Lions. After the ragged summer, the Redskins finally showed the world how extraordinary they would be that season smart and tough and opportunistic and winners. Among other things, Rypien threw a pair of touchdown passes against the Lions, Brian Mitchell returned a punt for a touchdown, and cornerback Darrell Green had a pair of interceptions.
Rypien was on his way to establishing himself as, if not an artistic or stylistic quarterback, certainly a successful one. He didn't have the strong arm of John Elway or the quick release of Dan Marino or the athletic skills of Steve Young. But he was other things.