Today, moments after the Washington Redskins had earned their second straight road victory over a 1981 playoff team, Coach Joe Gibbs said, he gathered his players in the locker room and told them: "We're hot, let's not strike now."
But it is doubtful that even today's rain-marred 21-13 victory over Tampa Bay will persuade the Redskins to ignore a strike call by their union this week, if one is issued Monday as expected.
"We've got something going and it's a shame that a strike has to happen now," said halfback Clarence Harmon. "But if there is a strike, we'll go out. There's no doubt about it."
The Redskins certainly are riding an emotional high. Not even Gibbs had expected them to open this season with two victories. And now, he says, he is "sick about having things stopped this week. I hope to hang that there isn't a strike. It will foul everything up. You hate to get off to a great start and see this happen, especially now that we are going to play two games at home."
Washington has won five straight (and 10 of its last 13) over the last two seasons, the longest regular-season winning streak in the National Football League. But unlike last season, the Redskins have shown in the opening weeks that away from RFK Stadium they can compete successfully with some of the NFL's best teams.
And unlike in last week's game in Philadelphia, when the offense clearly carried the day, the Redskins were much more balanced today. They won this game with the help of a blocked punt by their special teams, their defense and 136 bruising yards from John Riggins, who tied a 45-year-old team record with 34 carries.
They also got considerable aid from Buccaneer quarterback Doug Williams, who fumbled four center snaps in the midst of a sometimes torrential rainstorm the first half. The Redskins recovered three fumbles, turning two into field goals by Mark Moseley. Moseley, although missing on two extra point kicks, got a third field goal, giving him six -- in six tries -- in two games.
Besides the field goals, the special teams contributed what proved to be the winning touchdown when reserve safety Curtis Jordan, once a Buccaneer, blocked Larry Swider's second-quarter punt, then recovered the ball in the end zone. That put the Redskins ahead, 18-6, and Tampa Bay never again got closer than five points.
The rain turned the first half into a version of football follies. There were weird punts, hydroplaning players and wobbly passes. The unforgiving sellout crowd in Tampa Stadium was booing the home team relentlessly, and Williams in particular, by the time the half ended.
Remarkably, the Redskins didn't have a turnover. Quarterback Joe Theismann, who has a history of being a good mudder -- in a rainstorm at Notre Dame, he threw for 528 yards against USC -- never came close to botching a snap. Instead of forcing passes or risking fumbles trying to scramble, he said, he decided to stay in the pocket, even though he wound up being sacked six times.
"I purposely practice in the rain, just to get used to it," said Theismann, who completed 12 of 22 passes for 112 yards, 270 fewer than last week. "I concentrate more and I slow down my movements, just to make sure I handle the snap. Keeping possession and not messing up the snaps become my priority."
The game even had some controversy. Late in the fourth period, Williams threw what appeared to be a 71-yard touchdown pass to receiver Kevin House that would have cut the Redskins' lead to 21-20. But officials ruled House had stepped out of bounds while running his route, making him an ineligible receiver until a teammate touched the ball.
House admitted he went out of bounds, but complained that he was forced out by rookie cornerback Vernon Dean. However, league rules say a receiver is ineligible even if he is blocked out of bounds.
Aside from his fumbles, Williams kept things exciting all game with his wild scrambles against the Dexter Manley-led pass rush, and with his long passes to House. The speedy receiver had five catches for 105 yards, 62 on a touchdown in the second quarter. Williams was his team's leading rusher, with 49 yards on nine carries.
Riggins, the 11-year veteran, became the key man in the Redskins' offense once it began raining before the opening kickoff.
After James Wilder scored on a seven-yard run with 13:56 left in the game to pull the Buccaneers to 18-13, the Redskins put together an impressive 16-play, 63-yard drive that consumed 9 1/2 minutes.
Despite a bruised hip, Riggins carried four times in that drive, which was aided by a third-down holding penalty against the Buccaneers. He ran seven straight times for 48 yards as Washington used up the last 3 1/2 minutes. Cliff Battles, in 1937, had set the Redskins' record of 34 carries in a game.
"John is like a slow motion train running through that heavy stuff," Theismann said. "You just give him the ball and watch people bounce off him."
Most of Washington's rushing yards in the fourth quarter came on runs to the right side, even though tackle George Starke was out with bruised ribs, guard Mark May was playing right tackle for the first time as a pro and a reserve, Fred Dean, was at May's guard spot.
"I thought that we would lose the game if we didn't have a long march at the end," said Gibbs, whose team allowed Tampa Bay only six plays in the last 15 minutes. "We hadn't gotten enough points off the early fumbles and that concerned me. You feel it will backfire on you."
Theismann's eight-yard pass to Charlie Brown in the first quarter ended the Redskins' only touchdown drive. Williams' fumble at the Buccaneers' 28 led to a 35-yard field goal by Moseley. And, after House scored, Williams' fumble at the Buccaneers' 12 set up a 21-yard kick by Moseley for a 12-6 lead.
On Tampa Bay's next possession, Swider lined up at his 10 to punt. The Redskins called a block scheme that Wayne Sevier, the special teams coach, said has been successful four times in the last four years.
"We saw (in game films) that the center put his head down when he was going to hike it," Sevier said. "We used that as our key to get a quick start."
Two Redskins rushed Swider from each flank. The Buccaneers had only three men available to block them, which allowed Jordan to break free.
Jordan blocked the kick cleanly. Teammate Greg Williams tried to pick up the ball, but instead knocked it into the end zone where Jordan, a game captain, fell on it.
"The blocking back (Cecil Johnson) had to take either Clint Didier or myself," said Jordan, who was signed by the Redskins late last season after the Buccaneers tried to clear him through waivers off their injured reserve list. "He went to Didier and I knew I had it. No one touched me. I got it right in the chest. It was my first NFL touchdown (in six years) and it was my greatest moment, especially against my buddies. I can't repeat what they said to me."
Said Gibbs: "Everything got crazy out there for a while because of the rain. We lost our headphones and we just had to guess where the ball was. It made it hard to call plays. You wind up feeling very lucky to win."
Now the Redskins must confront the possibility of a strike. Even with a 2-0 record, defensive tackle Dave Butz says, the players have to be concerned about "more important things.
"I'm looking down the road, not just at what is happening now," Butz said. "We have to be concerned about the long-range problems we have. That's what is important. We will strike on Tuesday, it's going to happen."