"Guess when you're a Killer Bee you only sting once--and die." Jeff Bostic--The Miami Dolphins actually stung twice before the Redskins buried them in Super Bowl XVII. One long pass play and one long kickoff return, then surely the longest second half a Don Shula team has experienced in recent memory.
Flat-out, no apologies, no rebuttals accepted from any other pocket of prejudice in the nation, this was the most entertaining Super Bowl of them all. Not that many of the previous 16 were anything special. But winning the best one more than makes up for losing the worst one, 10 years before to the same team.
Having seen how the Redskins had romped 15 hours earlier, we got a feeling this morning for why. Start with the coach, Joe Gibbs, being hit by a bolt of game-plan wisdom about 3 a.m. earlier in the week. In terms those of us whose alphabet includes letters other than an X and an O understand, what he found was a way to make Woody Hayes look sporty in designer jeans.
"Joe gets better as the night goes on," Joe Bugel, the offensive line coach, explained. "We knew we had to run the ball; we were trying to get John (Riggins) 200 yards, even if it took 75 carries. But we also felt there had to be something to disorient the Dolphins.
"That was whippin' us. I'm pretty sure it was around 3 o'clock, or his 15th candy bar, when he finally hit on something that all of us said, 'Wow! That's it!' "
It was called "explode package."
It worked like dynamite.
That and some other gadgets let Riggins stay healthy--and get wealthier after setting records for carries (38) and rushing yards (166). With the Redskins as long as Riggins chooses to remain one, three yards and a cloud of dust also includes one Smurf trailing smoke now and then.
This explode package Gibbs doddled was sprung on the Dolphins when the Redskins got 20 yards or so from a touchdown. There are five receivers involved in the scheme and all of them move once before the all-set lull, to get the defense thinking twice. Then somebody goes in motion.
The Redskins gambled that Miami would have trouble coping with formations they had not used for weeks, or ever. These Dolphins are quick learners, but perhaps not able to think quickly on their fins. Alvin Garrett burned them for a touchdown off an explode-package play.
"We changed all of our looks," Gibbs elaborated, "because if the Dolphins can get focused on something they can take it away. We used tight-end reverses, Garrett reverses, flea-flickers. That was to keep the safeties from bunching up on John."
One play would set up another. And another. Even incomplete flea-flickers were not failures, for those safeties had to play safe. And when Riggins has gotten an extra few inches lately he's turned them into several extra yards. And one indelible moment.
The play Redskins faithful will pass from generation to generation was the 43-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-a-foot with 10 minutes left in the game. It went for a touchdown, in part, because earlier variations had not. That and Don McNeal slipping just before the snap.
In similar short-yardage situations earlier, the Redskins had (a) sent the tight end in motion to the right and run right, (b) sent the tight end in motion to the right and run left, (c) run without any tight-end motion. The spectacularly wonderful fourth time, tight end Clint Didier trotted in motion to the right, then spun around and went left. Riggins followed.
Nearly every Redskin this morning said that would be the scene he would recall most vividly, Riggins shooting through a hole several Hogs had rooted for him, bouncing off the late-arriving McNeal and outlegging Glenn Blackwood to the end zone.
"That's because it put us ahead," said Charlie Brown, "to stay."
"Most beautiful sight I've seen in football," said center Bostic. "I knew once he broke through the line nobody was going to stop him."
On defense, the anatomy of a Super butt-kickin' involved a few dozen very educated guesses by Redskins coaches planted on the field and perched in the press box--and being correct nearly every time.
The astonishing fact is that the Redskins limited Miami to 34 yards and two first downs the entire second half. Still, if quarterback Joe Theismann had not made the defensive play of the game, smacking Kim Bokamper's arms as he was about to grab a tipped pass for a Dolphins touchdown, all that brilliance would have ended in defeat.
The Redskins stopped a Miami staple, a delayed handoff to Tony Nathan, by blitzing a linebacker from one angle inside and slanting part of the line another angle outside.
"We put 'em in 15 passing situations in the second half," said Larry Peccatiello, the linebacker coach, "and that's a lot. That's when they're most predictable--and we can make specific calls."
"We kinda knew what they were going to do," the defensive coordinator, Richie Petitbon, admitted. "I think (quarterback David) Woodley might have panicked a bit, really. A couple of times he just hummed it downfield."
Gibbs and his staff have scored some impressive knockouts in winning the Super Bowl their second season with the Redskins.
"Beat (Bud) Grant, (Tom) Landry and Shula during the (playoff) streak," Petitbon volunteered. "Strike or no strike, those are the guys you've got to beat."
Each decade has a special highlight for Petitbon: winning the NFL title with the Chicago Bears in '63; being with the Redskins in '72, though not active for Super Stupor; overseeing the defense on Washington's first NFL champion in four decades.
"Interesting pattern," he said. "Playing for the championship every 10 years; winning it every other time."
He paused, then offered one more educated guess:
"This won't be this team's last Super Bowl."