Whatever the Redskins do in Sunday's Super Bowl against the Steelers likely will be an improvement over their 38-7 loss at Pittsburgh earlier this season. In that debacle, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth caught passes at will. That won't happen again. We have Jack Pardee's word for it.
"They embarrassed us that day," the Redskins' coach said today in his last press conference of the most unusual Super Bowl week in memory. "If we have to, we'll go to the 12-man defense the Cowboys used a lot this year."
With Ken Houston back in the lineup after two months out with a broken wrist, the Redskins' secondary is at full strength for its test against Swann and Stallworth, primary targets of quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who announced today he will play in his favorite blonde toupee.
"Terry doesn't go to the toupee unless he's overconfident," Pardee said. "But considering how we got into this game, I guess he has reason to think it's going to be easy for the Steelers. I understand Jack Lambert is going to leave his teeth in, too. We'll try our best to show Terry and Jack that we deserve to be in this game. We owe that much to Mr. Fauntroy."
It was Walter Fauntroy who put the Redskins into this Super Bowl by his dogged pursuit of an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the finish of the Redskins-Dallas game. The congressman from the District of Columbia, as everyone knows, forced Pete Rozelle, the NFL commissioner, to study films of the Redskins' efforts to call that last-second timeout in Dallas.
Fauntroy had made the Redskin case his personal crusade. Taking time out from his talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization, the congressman attacked NFL game officials as possibly dishonest and charged that the NFL was the next thing to professional wrestling. Cynics pointed out that few members of the PLO vote in the District while Fauntroy's outrageous charges would endear him to the thousands of Washingtonians who felt cheated in the Dallas affair.
Those cynics were struck silent a week ago, though, when Rozelle stepped into the well of the House of Representatives, his arm around Fauntroy's shoulders, and said on national television that his zebras had really blown one this time.
"Luckily, with the two-week break between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl, we have time to rectify the error," Rozelle said.
"We have talked to the Los Angeles Rams, who, as you know, beat Tampa Bay for the right to play the Steelers in the Super Bowl. The Rams' owner, Georgia Rosenbloom, said she would like for her boys to be in the big game but she thought she could arrange a tennis date that afternoon if she didn't have to go to the game. She wanted to do the right thing.
"So," Rozelle said, "we have been in touch with the Dallas Cowboys and everything is set up for a replay of the final second of the Redskins-Dallas game."
What a scene that was. Washingtonians will never forget it. Dallas didn't like the Rozelle plan (if the Redskins won, they went straight to the Super Bowl because there was no time for another game; if the Cowboys kept their 35-34 lead, the Rams went because, the first time around, they beat Dallas).
Tex Schramm made a fuss. At one point he asked, "Is Ayatollah Rozelle losing his turban?" So the Dallas fans boycotted the replay, refusing to buy tickets for what Schramm called "the biggest crime since George Allen."
Of the 45,312 Redskin fans who chartered 747s to fly to Dallas last week, a used car dealer from Culpeper, Va., Claiborne Hodding Whiteside, best summed up the team's astonishing victory. He said, "It was eerie, the guys warming up for an hour to play one second in Texas Stadium in front of no Texans. Roger Staubach wore a three-piece suit. I watched Mark Moseley warming up. He never missed until he got back to the magic spot, 59 yards. Four straight times he missed. But in the game, my Lord, that thing would have been good from 69 yards."
That the Redskins will play the Steelers is unexpected, even unprecedented, but it is in keeping with the air of unreality here in Hollywood. Turn on the television and who's the news anchorman? Brent Musburger, Jayne Kennedy's buddy.
Pick up the morning paper and in the sports page who is predicting the outcome of the Super Bowl? Experts such as Sally Struthers, who says she really likes Joe Theismann's legs. The master of the malaprop, Norm Crosby, picks the Redskins for several reasons, none of them intelligible.
"I just love (Crosby says) these griddleiron battles. The fans and fannies yelling and jeering, the players smashing into each other on the praying field. Boy, I see it all now, all the exercitation as Bradshaw fades back to pass to Swann, deep in the Redskins' defensive background, and has the ball inherited by Houston, who returns for a splashdown between the goal-posters."
Seriously, the Redskins' work in the secondary will be important in this historic Super Bowl. In that earlier 38-7 game, the Redskins tried to cover Swann and Stallworth man to man, which is next to impossible. That pair of receivers, probably the best in the NFL today, caught something like 716 passes that day.
"But we didn't have Ken Houston for most of the game," Pardee told the assembled media here. "And we've learned a lot from that game, in addition to what we've picked up in Steeler films since then. Just in case, too, we have brought along Mr. Fauntroy this week, not only in thanks for his help in the Dallas affair but for his advice and counsel should Swann and Stallworth keep getting open."
At an earlier press conference this week, Fauntroy said he really knew nothing about football, he just knew right from wrong, and it certainly isn't right, he said, to let the Pittsburgh Steelers keep winning all these Super Bowls.
"Three Super Bowls is enough for any team," said the delegate from the District. "Last time the Redskins were in the Super Bowl, it was not fair to have them play the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins, remember, were undefeated. That's not fair. And now we have to play a team that has won three Super Bowls. If we don't win this time, you can bet I'll be on the phone to the commissioner."
But with a new defensive scheme against Swann and Stallworth ("I could help them," said George Allen), the Redskins go into this Super Bowl having a chance to ride Joe Theismann's passing and John Riggins' running to an unexpected victory.
"We're going to make a tin can out of the Steel Curtain," Coy Bacon said.