You'll pardon me, but this is where I came in. When last the Redskins were seen at RFK, they couldn't protect the passer, who on third down couldn't complete a pass to his wide receivers, who couldn't get open anyway, thereby giving the defense all the best of it whenever the Redskins thought to run the ball. The Redskins lost their last three games at RFK last season, and now they have lost the only preseason game they'll play in front of their adoring fans. The last adjective is used ironically.
Some kind hearts thought the adoring fans who have filled RFK for 91 straight regular season games would understand that this is a rebuilding year -- and by understanding come to demonstrate sympathy for the mess left from George Allen's reign of planned obsolescence.Maybe, just maybe, the customers would cheer passionately for the rising up of these new, underdog Redskins.
These adoring fans last night booed a former part time French teacher for missing an extra point only 4 1/2 hours after he knew he was a Redskin again. They booed an offensive back who lay unconscious, or at least bedazzled, by a kick in the mouth, and they booed the Redskins for -- honest -- not calling a timeout late in the first half.
If the Redskins go 4-12 this season, these adoring fans may petition Edward Bennett Williams to pretty please move these guys to Baltimore.
Anyway, Cleveland won, 21-9, and the customers were still booing, when the Redskins walked off the field after shaking hands with their conquerors, who, it might be said, are fully capable of improving two of three games over their strong finish 8-8 season last year.
The Redskins, too, were 8-8. But their level of mediocrity was reached negatively with a five game losing streak at season's end. It presaged the troubles so obvious in the four game exhibition schedule now finished.
Whatever Joe Theismann's abilities are, and they seem to fluctuate from week to week, the quarterback has no chance at consistent performances when his offensive line is beaten soundly, as it was last night. And when his wide receivers, Danny Buggs, for one, don't make the third down catch when it by damn has to be made.
It must be maddening to the Redskins' brains to see Buggs, who in motion has all the speed and grace of the finest receivers, work his way clear and then fail to grasp to his bosom a Theismann pass perfectly thrown. Especially so after the pair, a minute earlier, had done the thing effortlessly.
To show the frustration possible, consider the Redskins' 13-play scoring drive early in the third quarter.
On the first third-down play, third-and-14 to be precise, Theismann threw to Buggs wide open deep in the middle for a 20 yard gain. With that sort of work, the Redskins can rise above the mediocrity Allen all but guaranteed with his delayed-decay philosophy.
Then, early in the fourth quarter, behind 21-6 and needing another long drive to lay a foundation of confidence for the long, long season to come, the Redskins came to third and 11 at the Cleveland 45. Theismann had completed one third down pass, this one to rookie tight end Don Warren, and now he put one perfectly to Buggs on that deep middled pattern.
Buggs dropped it.
No defender's hand was near.
End of drive.
Of the 50 men on Coach Jack Pardee's roster yesterday, 20 were not here for his first season opener two years ago. This is a team in transition from Allen's geriatric cases to Pardee's anonymous kids. Theismann has called the Redskins kind of an "advanced expansion team," with youngsters playing side-by-side with a few veterans.
Very little in the four-game preseason work showed that these youngsters are ready to be playoff contenders, as Allen's teams always were. The weaknesses so apparent last season certainly had not turned into strengths by last night.
The NFL has 28 teams. The Redskins ranked 24th in defense against the run last season, 17th in total defense. The Pruitt Brothers of Cleveland, Greg and Mike, gained 145 yards in 30 tries last night -- four more than eight Redskins managed.
One look at a statistics sheet, however kind of heart you may be, is enough to tell you these Redskins have a distance of ground to cover if, this long, long season, they hope to match the 8-8 mediocrity of 1978.
Look at the scoring statistics. The Redskins' leading scorer after four games is a guy who only played in two -- placekicker Mark Moseley, with 15 points on five field goals.
Look again. The second-leading scorer is another kicker, Nick Lowery, the former French teacher at Dartmouth. For all we know, he may have been conjugating verbs in his home at McLean yesterday when the Redskins called, for the second week in a row, and asked if he would stand in for Moseley of the tender thigh.
Lowery has seven points. About 9:15 last night, the Redskins' adoring fans booed him for missing the extra point after Benny Malone's touchdown. Later, Lowery hit a 35-yard field goal.
Theismann, too, was booed when he didn't make a tackle to stop a Cleveland touchdown. He was out maneuvered by a 230 pound linebacker who stole the ball from Ike Forte, the kicked-in-the-mouth pass receiver.
The adoring fans saved some adoration for the defensive players, also. They spread it around. First, Joe Jones, an end, and then Dave Butz, a tackle, when they tried to pick up fumbles on the run only to lose them to more discreet Browns who simply smothered them under their bellies.
This is not, one rushes to say, a call for huzzahs for the plucky, undermanned Redskins. These guys ride in fancy cars because the customers pay tall piles of money to see them do wonderful things. If less than wonderful, they get what's coming to them.
Cleveland made enough mistakes to lose last night; five penalties for 53 yards, one fumble, one interception. But the Redskins did worse; nine penalties, three lost fumbles, two interceptions.
One quakes in anticipation of the adoration possible when, oh, Dallas, say, comes to town Nov. 18.