You are everyone's friend when you lose to them big. The Eagles love the Redskins, just love 'em, love 'em the way you love a kid brother you can beat up for practice. To hear Dick Vermeil, you'd think Joe Gibbs is Lombardi reborn. Next thing you know some Eagle probably will pronounce the most infuriating of damning-with-faint-praise judgments. Heaven help you when someone loves you enough to say you are a great 0-4 team.
"The Redskins are the best 0-4 team I've ever seen," said Carl Hairston, the Eagles' defensive end.
Er, Carl, do you remember the score? Your side won, 36-13.
"They're really good," said the veteran who has played against Washington teams coached by George Allen, Jack Pardee and now Joe Gibbs.
But, Carl, your side outscored the Redskins, 22-0, the last 10 minutes. What's good about a team giving up 30 points a week?
"They've always had a good passing attack, they've got a good, young offensive line, and when things start coming to them, they'll be very good in the future," Hairston said.
They were very good today most of the time. For three quarters, they beat a Super Bowl team on both sides of the line of scrimmage. But when the Eagles made good things happen in the fourth quarter, the Redskins were as bad as an 0-4 team can get. The Eagles did not use a helicopter to drop Harold Carmichael into the end zone, but they scored every other way.
The Redskins, meanwhile, watched a lot.
It was like watching an avalanche come down on your head.
From 14-13, the Redskins went to 36-13 faster than you can say Mount St. Helen's is a wonderful mountain most of the time.
"We finally played Eagle football the second half," said Vermeil. "But give credit to the Washington Redskins. The Redskins did a super job coaching, as I knew they would. We have better players. We should win. They outcoached us and outplayed us the first half . . . We were fortunate it was close as it was the first half (the Eagles led, 7-6, because the Redskins managed only two field goals in four trips near the end zone).
"I give the Redskins all respect. Our program is just further along than theirs."
Vermeil said Joe Gibbs' offense is well conceived and well executed. He also said the Redskins' quarterback, Joe Theismann, "is super, just super, I've always thought he was super, always been a fan of his." The difference is the number of good players the Eagles have, Vermeil said, adding, "We're a strong, physical football team in the second half of games."
Left unsaid, but easily assumed from the evidence today, is that the Redskins are not a strong, physical football team in the second half of games. Not only did Philadelphia move the ball the length of the field twice -- in the most critical emotional times, as we shall see -- the Eagles were good enough and alert enough to take advantage of the Redskin mistakes that are inevitable when even the world's greatest 0-4 team plays an ordinary Super Bowl team.
Coaches preach the importance of moving the ball the first time you have it in the second half. They also preach how important it is to come back with a touchdown after the other guy scores. The Eagles did all of that today.
They drove 71 yards with the second-half kickoff to make it 14-6.
After the Redskins scored their only touchdown, the Eagles immediately drove 51 yards to go up, 21-13.
"We had two beautiful offensive drives," Vermeil said. "We finally looked like a football team."
In a matter of eight minutes, the Eagles made five big plays, the plays that separate good teams from great teams and leave 0-4 teams seeming so inept as to be laughable. Here are those plays, in order:
Charles Smith's 29-yard touchdown catch putting the Eagles ahead, 21-13, was the product of good coaching in league with pure talent. The Eagles knew the Redskins' cornerback, Lemar Parrish, had a bad knee. "He had it drained this week, and the coaches counted on that," Smith said. "We knew there would be a time." Smith left Parrish far behind on a corner route.
Reggie Wilkes' interception of a tipped pass by Theismann set up a field goal two minutes later. "I'd missed a tackle in the flat just before that, and I wasn't going to be burned again," the linebacker said. "The ball was thrown behind Riggins, he just deflected it, and I looked it in all the way."
Ken Clarke tossed Theismann down for a safety the next time the Redskins had the ball. "We had two guys forcing from the left side," said Clarke, a second-string middle guard. "And Theismann just ran in my direction. I could see him debating whether to throw the ball or take a sack. I didn't let him finish deciding."
Two Washington, D.C., high school products, Al Chesley and Greg Brown, teamed up to produce the last touchdown. First, linebacker Chesley stuck his helmet into Tom Flick's neck, causing a fumble. Then defensive end Brown picked it up and scored. "Flick coughed it up," Chesley said, and Brown said of his touchdown, "I was so excited I almost jumped out of the stadium."
One thing more: A bit of philosophy from Charles Smith, who knelt in thanksgiving prayer in the end zone after beating the gimpy Parrish.
"I've had some cold days and some dog days," Smith said, "but the Lord never left me for long. He always arrives in the nick of time."
Any advice for the Redskins, Charles?
"Pray," he said, smiling a winner's smile.