There was good reason for the big smile on Coach Jack Pardee's face. He felt he could have been "a big goat" today, but now he could celebrate another thrilling victory with his Redskin players.
"Thank God for Lemar (Parrish), who overcame good coaching," Pardee said with irony after his athletes had finished singing a series of victory songs in the locker-room. "He got me off the hook."
Pardee, normally mild-mannered, had stormed onto the field with five minutes remaining after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Dallas Hickman on a St. Louis field-goal attempt had kept alive a Cardinal touchdown threat.
"I couldn't get an explanation from anyone about the call," Pardee explained. "I was just trying to get someone's attention."
Instead, he picked up another penalty for being on the field. That gave the Cardinals a first down at the Redskin two, but Parrish intercepted a Jim Hart pass on the next play and Washington was able to escape with a 17-7 victory.
Hickman had been charged with using the back of a teammate to vault in the air while trying to block Steve Little's field-goal attempt. But Little never got off the boot. The center snap was mishandled by holder Roger Wehrli and the Redskins had recovered the ensuing fumble. Pardee said. "I wanted to point that out to the ref. I wanted to make sure he wasn't wrong. But I guess they know what they are doing."
"A stupid play on my part," Hickman said.
The play is called a Leapin Lena and designed to send three or four especially large and mean Redskins at the must vulnerable part of the field goal team -- the snapper -- while Hickman comes in behind, jumps and tries to smack the ball with his outstretched hands
"I guess the official was watching me all the time," Hickman said. "I guess I put my hands on somebody to help with the leap. It's called 'leveraging.'"
"They (soccer-style kickers such as Little) tend to kick the ball low, so you have a chance to jump and get it. The guy evidently was watching me all along. Apparently, I had my hand down.
The Redskin defense not only saved Pardee; it also kept the heat off the offense, which could generate only a Mark Mosely field goal after Washington jumped to a 14-0 first quarter lead.
"We did everything we wanted to do but dropped passes and a couple of close third-down measurements hurt us,: said Offensive Coordinator Joe Walton. "If we catch a couple or get a first down, we hold the ball a lot longer."
For the day, Washington gained only 191 total yards, just 100 on the ground. The Redskins gained only 59 yards after intermission.
"We were cautious," Pardee said. "When you are playing a team like St. Louis, you have to be conscious of field position. You don't want to give them the ball too many times at your own end."
So quarterback Joe Theismann concentrated on short passes again, finishing eight of 15 for 91 yards and no sacks. He didn't throw an interception, nor did Washington lose a fumble. The one Redskin turnover came on a Buddy Hardeman halfback-option pass. In contrast, the Cardinals fumbled the ball away four times, tossed one interception, and gave up three sacks.
Part of Washington's defensive success can be attributed to the play of middle linebacker Don Hover, who had eight tackles (two fewer than Ken Houston).
"This was by far my best game," said Hover, playing only his fourth game as a pro middle linebacker. "I was reacting more than thinking out there.
"But give credit to the front four. They played great. They kept the Cardinal line off me and I could move a lot more freely and go better with the flow."
The Redskins, utilizing safety Ken Houston on blitzes against runs, throttled Cardinal back Ottis Anderson, holding him to 67 yards on 19 carries. Anderson, who had gained 339 yards entering the game, was so ineffective that the Cardinals began passing almost exclusively after intermission.
"He's a good back, a real good one," Hover said. "But they tried to go outside a lot and we were able to turn him in. I think I was able to give help to our outside people better than I have before.
"We're getting better every week. It takes time to get to know each other and to play with each other. Unlike last year, when we went downhill at the end, I think we'll be better as the season goes on, unless we have injuries."
Not that the defense didn't get a good scare from Cardinal quarterback Jim Hart. Parrish, for one, was just glad the game had ended.
"I'm tired, really tired," he said after an afternoon where he concentrated mostly on man-to-man coverage. "Hart is a great one, he's always dangerous, that's why he is an All-Pro.
"And they have some kind of receivers. That (Pat) Tilley catches everything thrown to him. I'm just happy we could get out of this one."
As long as the Redskins were able to pressure Hart -- Joe Jones had two sacks -- he was having trouble moving the ball effectively.
The Redskins apparently had no major injuries. Pete Wysocki, Rich Milot and Brad Dusek have sprained necks and will be X-rayed Monday. Karl Lorch has a bruised foot and Paul Smith a hip pointer. Smith was hurt the second series and was replaced by Dave Butz, who has a bad knee and was not expected to play.