Minnesota receiver Sammy White said he simply had no excuse, not the wind, not the velocity of the football, not a hand in his face. "I just dropped it, that's all, what else can you say?"
You could say that White's drop of a sure touchdown pass with less than six minutes left in the third quarter--one of four drops by White yesterday--cost his team a chance to get back into the football game. The Vikings were trailing, 21-7, and, said White, "It makes it a very different ball game if I hang on.
"I just don't know what happened. The pass was right there, I beat my man (Vernon Dean). I had to make an adjustment because the wind was a little tricky, but I made the adjustment. The wind is no excuse for a professional receiver. It never should have happened."
But it did, and the Redskins went on to a 21-7 playoff victory that all of the Vikings agreed Washington deserved. They couldn't hold onto the football, they said they couldn't get a break from the officials and most of all, they couldn't stop John Riggins.
The Vikings had a few complaints, particularly wide receiver Sam McCullum, who said he had been interfered with on the play immediately following White's dropped touchdown pass.
When the Vikings were at fourth down with six yards to go on the Redskin 28, Minnesota Coach Bud Grant decided not to try a field goal. "The middle was wide open and Sam had a clear shot," Grant said of his decision. "You win ball games with touchdowns, not first downs. There was a chance to put the ball into the end zone and he took it."
McCullum said he simply ran a basic post pattern and Redskins nickel back Joe Lavender was with him step for step. "I saw the ball and I would have caught the ball," McCullum said. "But Lavender was on top of me. He pushed me from the back, knocked me off stride and I couldn't get to it. He had to go for the football and he did. He just got lucky and got away with it.
"It was a definite pass interference call," McCullum continued. "I thought it was a terrible call. A terrible 'no call.' But we've been having bad luck with officials all year. That's a break of the game and I tell you what, we got beat by a very fine football team out there."
Minnesota quarterback Tommy Kramer said he had no qualms about Grant's decision to go for the first down on the McCullum pass. "That's the call we wanted. We had to score three times to win, so why not go for it there. We should have had it, too.
"I definitely thought it was interference. I saw it all the way. But it was also a judgment call. I'm not going to say that one call cost us the game. We had a couple of bad penalties later on (in the fourth quarter) down near the goal line. We just hurt ourselves."
Kramer added, "I don't blame Sammy White. He had to make a tough catch. I tried to put the ball up there against the wind. The wind just took it and he kinda lost it. Sammy doesn't usually do that. Everybody has a bad day now and then. What can you do?"
Minnesota's defense had a dreadful day trying to contain Riggins, who gained 185 yards in 37 carries and earned the everlasting respect of Viking linebacker Scott Studwell.
"He just came blowing by us all day," Studwell said. "We were getting beat at the line of scrimmage, and we just couldn't fill the right holes. I was responsible for a lot of that, but they blocked real well and they did the job. I went up and contratulated him after the game. It was a great effort on his part, and we didn't play very well."
Grant said the Vikings tried all manner of maneuvers to stop Riggins, including a four-man line instead of the Vikings' usual three-four alignment at times in the third and fourth quarters. "It didn't make any difference," Grant said. "People still had to block for him, and that's what they did."
Minnesota defensive end Doug Martin said the Redskins did nothing fancy to spring Riggins. "It was all basic football, just block and let him go. You couldn't get any more basic than that. He turns three-yard losses into 10-yard gains. We just couldn't wrap him up.
"He read his blocks and he went. They kept us busy all day and we couldn't get to him. Riggins just ran in the cracks, or should I say holes. No question, those were some of the biggest holes you'll ever see."