From atop the National Football Conference standings, the Washington Redskins took special interest in yesterday's leaguewide Pro Bowl balloting. On this blue-collar team, there was considerable hope that a 7-1 record would produce several all-stars.
"One of the things that has been strongly in the back of our team's mind is gaining respect from other people in the league and hoping that we would get some recognition for our players," said Coach Joe Gibbs. "That's one of the things that drives this team. And I'd be extremely disappointed if only one or two made it . . . All we can do is play as hard as we can every week and hope they will recognize we have talent." (NFL story, Page D3).
But at the same time, Gibbs acknowledged that the Redskins' lack of success in previous years and their present image of a scrambling, scratching, barely-pull-it-out team could hurt his players' chances in the ballots, the results of which will be announced Thursday.
"I think teams fear people like San Diego and Cincinnati, but, being honest, I don't think they have that fear of us," Gibbs said. "They still are looking at this team and saying, 'How in the world did these guys get to where they are?' I just don't think they picture us as being one of the two teams with the best record. And I don't think anyone will pick us to go the route (win the Super Bowl) from now on.
"Why? We've gone about getting to 7-1 a little different than normal teams. We started off 0-4 in preseason, then went into the regular season with that hanging over our heads, that we hadn't won a game in preseason. And then to respond and come back and play close, tight games every week and win, that's something.
"But I think maybe it's helped us some. We have the feeling that something good will happen, if we are prepared and go out and give it our best shot . . . I think they grabbed the realization a while back that it would take a team effort to win. Because of that, they haven't depended on someone else."
Last year, the San Francisco 49ers had six players voted into the Pro Bowl after improving from 4-12 to 13-3. This year, Gibbs probably is expecting that many Redskins to make the NFC team.
But kicker Mark Moseley seems the only sure bet, although defensive tackle Dave Butz, fullback John Riggins, kick returner Mike Nelms, receivers Charlie Brown and Art Monk, quarterback Joe Theismann and an offensive lineman, possibly guard Russ Grimm, should receive serious consideration. Others, such as safety Tony Peters and linebacker Rich Milot, have had fine seasons but face better-known competition.
And why do these Redskins keep winning?
"It's our players, the kind of people we have," Gibbs said. "They've had a very high level of performance each week, they've played very hard and had a lot of great efforts by a lot of guys every week.
"It's been a total team contribution, where someone bails us out somewhere. And I haven't seen a week where we've come out emotionally flat," said Gibbs.
"We don't have anyone on our team that I don't think is a real team person. Whether it's Joe Theismann throwing a block or Charlie Brown blocking as well as he does, they all are willing to make sacrifices."
Gibbs also spent time yesterday reviewing possible playoff matchups for the Redskins, who need only to beat St. Louis here Sunday -- or have Dallas lose Monday night at Minnesota -- to secure the No. 1 seeding, and home-field advantage, for the NFC playoffs.
Although there is a myriad of possibilities, it appears most likely that, if the Redskins finish No. 1, they will play Minnesota or San Francisco in the first round, with Detroit and Chicago potential opponents. The coaches already have arranged to exchange game films, to begin preparations for the Redskins' first home playoff game since 1972.
A loss Sunday, coupled with a Dallas victory, would give the Redskins the No. 2 seeding and a possible matchup with Tampa Bay, plus the previous named teams.
It is highly unlikely that the Redskins will play a division opponent in the opening round.
"We want to finish first," Gibbs said. "We'll do anything we can to get it. We can determine our own fate. That's the way you always want it."
Receiver Alvin Garrett's sprained ankle could keep him out for at least two weeks, Gibbs said. Gibbs said he thought fullback Riggins (thigh bruise) and linebacker Monte Coleman (sore shoulder) will play Sunday . . . Grimm, playing with two stress fractures in his lower left leg, was used at guard, center and tackle in New Orleans . . . Gibbs said the Redskins' 27 points and 448 yards against the Saints were signs "the offense is coming together. We felt all along we had the plays and the players. But we still missed four more big plays" . . . A thigh pull limited Nelms to returning punts in that game, but he still replaced Eddie Brown as the Redskins' all-time punt return leader. Nelms now holds five team records. And Riggins is the seventh-leading rusher in NFL history, with 8,089 yards.
Jeff Hayes averaged 45 yards a punt in New Orleans, the rookie's best performance in what has been a frustrating season . . . The Redskins are fourth in the NFC in total defense and second in fewest points allowed. The defense has held opponents to fewer than 200 yards two straight weeks, the first time that has happened here since 1972 . . .And the 198 rushing yards against the Saints were the Redskins' most in a game this year . . . Brown is second in receiving yards (662) in the NFC, averaging 22.8 yards, and is third in touchdowns . . . The Redskins have 27 quarterback sacks, just five fewer than last year's 16-game total.