I love the stuff the Redskins did. Give me more. Give me halfback passes on third and one. Send in a pack of wide receivers on third and goal at the four. Order Joe Theismann to sprint out and throw. As for the customers booing at the recent failings of such theatrics, Chuck Mills' definition of a football fan is applicable.
"A fan is a guy," said the old Wake Forest coach, "who sits 40 rows up in the stands and wonders why a 17-year-old kid can't hit another 17-year-old kid with a ball from 40 yards away . . . Then he goes out to the parking lot and can't find his car."
The Redskins won't throw 48 passes again this year. Because Joe Gibbs believed the Cowboy secondary vulnerable, the game plan called for Theismann to blacken the skies with bombs. Because the Cowboys also took a two-touchdown lead, the Redskins threw even more. Those circumstances won't converge again.
But Gibbs' willingness, even eagerness, to throw from anywhere at any time against a good team is signal that here is one Californian come to the nation's capital to fulfill his campaign promises. Fresh from San Diego, where he helped build the Charger offense, Gibbs' mandate from owner Jack Kent Cooke is to make the Redskins exciting, enthusiastic and victorious.
Well, as Tex Schramm said when Duane Thomas called him a liar, thief and crook, "Two out of three ain't bad."
I hesitate to say losing to Dallas is inconsequential, as it is never a good idea to concede defeat to the forces of darkness. Yet we must look reality in the eye. The Cowboys are the better team. Defeat was no surprise. The trick is to look beyond the scoreboard. Did the Redskins do anything to persuade us they are much better than the 6-10 mediocrities of last year?
Yes, they did.
The offensive line's rookies were all as canny as Papa Starke. With time to run nice patterns, the receivers caught all but one or two catchable passes.
The running backs were victims of the circumstances demanding all the passing. Despair not over their low profile. John Riggins, Joe Washington and Wilbur Jackson will win games.
The secondary gave up two long scoring passes and had a third nullified by penalty. It is too good to let that happen again. The special teams were all right.
Most worrisome is the defensive line. That problem won't go away. And its deficiencies put inordinate stress on the linebackers, who often faced the impossible chore of eluding blockers in time to lay a hand on Tony Dorsett.
Theismann was not good Sunday for the same reasons that always render a good quarterback not good. He hurried. He threw while scrambling. He tried to force the ball into the eye of a needle.
Good question: why, without slowing down as he scrambled toward the right sideline, would Theismann leap off his right foot and try to throw a ball 40 yards? It can't be done.
Theismann's honest answer: "I don't know why."
Theismann did it because he reaches for the stars when he ought to cut his losses. He hopes he can work a miracle, when he ought to throw the thing into the ground and make a first down next play. This miracle-reaching produces exciting football, and Joe is surely enthusiastic at it, but the Cooke-Gibbs deal on adjectives also includes victorious.
Victories will come when Theismann, against teams lesser in evil than the cursed Cowboys, throws 30 times, not once in hopeful desperation. Victory will come when Gibbs gives Riggins, Washington and Jackson honest work on the ground. Most surely, victory will come when Theismann takes best advantage of the offense Gibbs gives him. He didn't do that Sunday, and one example suffices.
On third and goal four yards from a touchdown, the Redskins were losing, 23-10, with about five minutes to play. They reached this spot on a play loved by all us daredevils: a halfback pass on third and one from the 41.
On third and goal, Gibbs took out his big guys, Riggins and two tight ends. He put in three little pass catchers. From the "Flood" formation, the little guys start from the same side and flood the end zone.
It is Theismann's job to find the one most open.
What Theismann did, this day, was try to put the ball through the eye of a needle and into the hands of the first receiver he saw.
The pass was intercepted and taken back 96 yards, causing a lot of the customers to boo Theismann.
There will be other, better days.