"Joe Bird was the switch," Joe Theismann was saying. "Joe Bird (Lavender) turned on the Redskins with that (first) interception. And with another one. And another one. Sounds like that song, doesn't it?"
Turned on by Joe B., Joe T. burst into song: ". . . and another one bites the dust."
The Plucky Little Fellows (hereafter to be called the Pluckies) stunned nearly everyone who had seen them play during most of the season, including themselves and the San Diego Chargers. Yesterday, they could do no wrong. They beat a potential Super Bowl team by 23 points, and it could have been 33. Giddiness was rampant. Kisses flew from the field to the sideline.
An emotional man even in times of relative peace, Theismann went looney immediately after Ike Forte landed in the end zone on a three-yard run for the Pluckies' final touchdown. He turned toward the offensive wizard, Joe Walton, and blew him a 50-yard kiss, pressing the thumb and middle two fingers of his passing hand to his lips and letting fly.
"Yeah, Mua!" Thiesmann said later. "Like the Italians say. It's a private thing between me and Joe. For I don't know how long, Joe's been telling me that there will come a time on the field when you see a defense and say: 'I gotcha.' You'll see a defense and know you have the perfect play to beat it.
"It happened (as the Redskins lined up on third and goal from the Charger three with a few ticks more than seven minutes left in the game). I audibled. tIt worked. And I loved it."
It was a Mua! sort of game for all the Pluckies, especially the defense. Air Coryell got shot down and then strafed on the ground. There was flak all over RFK Stadium, a good deal of it between Redskin Tony Peters and Charger Kellen Winslow, who is built like a B-52 AND a 747. Once Peters was penalized for being nasty to Kellen.
"Tony told me he slipped," said Monte Coleman, grinning. "He said he slipped and his elbow just happened to catch Winslow's throat."
Winslow allows coaches to consider themselves geniuses. Usually, he makes Don Coryell seem inventive and the Chargers the most entertaining show this side of a Bum Phillips press conference. Indirectly, yesterday, he allowed Redskin coaches a rare chance to gloat.
It was not that they knew Winslow charges the Chargers. Even Liz Taylor, up in Jack Kent Cooke's mezzanine digs, could have realized that. But Pardee and Richie Petitbon sensed when quarterback Dan Fouts would call on Kellen. Two of the times they guessed right were the turning points. c
The first was the Chargers' fifth play from scrimmage, when Lavender intercepted a Fouts flip and ran 51 yards for a touchdown.
"The formation they were in (three wide receivers and one tight end, with no one in motion) they almost always go to Winslow," Petitbon said. "We led them to believe we were in man coverage. Ninety-eight per cent of the time we are in man in a nickel situation like that.
"That pass (to Winslow) is a tough one to cover in man. At the snap, though, we switched to zone. And it worked. We'd done a good job of selling."
What was Lavender to do on the play?
"Get ready to catch the ball," Petitbon said.
What if Fouts had not been in a funk and thrown to his alternate catcher?
"We'd probably have intercepted that one, too," said Petitbon.
Petitbon did not mean to downgrade the Chargers. He thought he was being realistic, that a matchup between the best pass offense in the NFL and the best pass defense would not be as one-sided as a casual fan might realize.
"If a team wants to pass," he said, "we'll be all right."
The Chargers might overdose on passing. They had a chance to cripple the Redskins on their first possession of the third quarter. Down by 10 points, they soared nearly the length of the field to a second and goal from the Redskin four. Of course, Fouts wanted to pass.
Fouts wanted to pass either to Winslow or halfback Hank Bauer. The Redksins wanted him to pass to Monte Coleman -- and he did.
"What they almost always do there," Petitbon said, "is go either to Winslow over the middle or the back circling into the (left) end zone. We doubled Winslow."
"If you pick your spots right," Pardee said, "you can set up a guy for a 103-yard interception."
Unless, as Coleman did, the interceptor gets flustered by the interceptee and allows himself to be dragged down before midfield.
Speaking of the plan, Lavender, Lemar Parrish and the other Redskin defenders executed so well, Petitbon said: "We attacked 'em more than most people have been, with a lot of man-on-man real close. Some of the calls could have gone either way, but they didn't get many.
"And we dogged him (Fouts). We didn't think we could get him, but we knew we had to get pressure on him. We had five or six man coverages and we kept mixing 'em. We had five dogs that we used at least once. We set the tempo early -- and kept it up."
Although he was not obviously outstanding, like Lavender, the other Redskin cornerback, Parrish, was as effective. He was alone a good deal of the time against the receiver many consider the best in football, John Jefferson. Before Parrish, Jefferson had 69 catches this season. After Parrish, he had 71. Earlier, Parrish pitched a shutout against a man considered nearly Jefferson's equal, Wes Chandler.
"I figure I can hold my own with anyone in the world," Parrish said.
The Redskins were so splendid on pass defense, and Fouts so obsessed with passing, that one wondered if the Chargers were not too predictable.
"Not at all," Petitbon insisted. "In fact, they probably are the least predictable team in football."
So how did the Redskins foil Fouts? Did they crack the Charger sideline code, intercept the plays as an assistant was signaling to Fouts? Houston did that in the playoffs last season.
"Let's just say we did a good research job," Petitbon said.
For the first time in weeks, Pardee was smiling. He is fond of anticipating questions, so an hour after his post-game press conference he said: "Why don't we do this every week? Why don't we intercept five passes? Why doesn't one back catch 12 passes? Why don't Karl Lorch and Dave Butz sack the quarterback three times?"
Why don't they Jack?
"That'll keep you coming back again. We'll try to do it again next week."