That season the Redskins defense allowed 222 points, or about half of what it had surrendered the year before. Kuharich was chosen 1955 coach of the year in the NFL, and Redskins general manager Dick McCann said that he had done "the greatest reconstruction job since the Civil War."
The Redskins and their fans actually had reason for optimism as the 1956 season approached, but the fates were not on their side. On August 17, 1956, after an exhibition victory over the Rams in the Los Angeles Coliseum, halfback Janowicz was returning to training camp at nearby Occidental College when the car in which he was riding crashed into a telephone pole. Janowicz, whose 88 points were second only to Doak Walker of the Detroit Lions among NFL scorers in 1955, was in a coma for several days and never resumed his NFL career.
Quarterback Al Dorow was injured in another car wreck that same week and was sidelined for a month. With LeBaron wrenching his left knee in a preseason game, the Redskins opened the season with a rookie, Fred Wyatt, at quarterback. With Wyatt and a recuperated Dorow, Washington lost its first three games in 1956. The Redskins righted themselves against a Browns team that would have a rare off year, then beat the Cardinals before playing another game considered among the 50 best in Redskins history.
That was on November 11 in Griffith Stadium against a Detroit Lions team that included four future Hall of Famers: quarterback Bobby Layne, middle linebacker Joe Schmidt and defensive backs Yale Lary and Jack Christiansen. The Lions had won the NFL championship in 1952 and 1953. In 1956, they entered the Redskins game with a 6-0 record.
Even though LeBaron was healthy, Kuharich stayed with Dorow at quarterback. Dick James was a rookie that year, but he had shown big-play potential by returning the opening kickoff of the season 83 yards. Halfback Billy Wells, the team's most valuable player in 1954, had returned after two years in the service. The defense had been spotty the five previous games, allowing 30 or more points twice but holding opponents to 14 or fewer points the other three times.
The Redskins took a 3-0 lead on a field goal by the man who replaced Janowicz as the placekicker, the colorful Sam Baker. (During training camp, Baker had taken one of roommate Drazenovich's fancy suits and run it up a flag pole near the dining hall.)
Defensive backs Hecker and Joe (Scooter) Scudero both intercepted Layne and James increased the lead to 10-0 late in the first quarter with a 59-yard, nothing's-gonna-stop-me run.