Joe Gibbs was living a dream today. He hadn't slept all night and he was feeling "kind of overwhelmed" by the Washington Redskins' victory in Super Bowl XVII. But he was alert enough to realize his team could be facing a difficult task next season.
"When you win, you create your own monster," he said. "You start thinking you are better than you are. That will kill us quicker than anything because we are a total team. If we forget that, we'll get beat and we'll get beat badly next season.
"It is our job to realize what kind of team we are, that we had to fight every inch of the way to get this far. We aren't a dominating team, we have to have every player play hard. If we start thinking otherwise, we'll be doomed . . . We don't want to be a one-year sensation."
What Gibbs wants to preserve is the attitude and atmosphere that produced both an unexpected National Football League title and a team personality that found room for the Hogs, the Smurfs, the Fun Bunch and fullback John Riggins, who usually wears hunter's camoflauge clothing to work.
The Redskins defeated the Miami Dolphins, 27-17, Sunday to finish 12-1 in their own, unique manner. They were loose and approachable all week, but performed on game day in a typically physical, aggressive fashion that Gibbs demanded all season. Here were 26 former free agents, cast as underdogs even after compiling the league's best record, playing in the biggest game of their careers with the poise and execution of athletes and teams far more experienced.
Gibbs, who claimed all he wanted this year was an 8-8 record, said the full impact of the Redskins' stunning achievements this season--among them winning seven straight and 15 of their last 16 games over two seasons--still hadn't hit him. But he had enough time since the Redskins' triumph over Miami to realize that of the last six teams to reach the Super Bowl, none have been back the next year.
"We are going to demand even more from them (his players) in weight training and offseason conditioning," he said. "If anything, we want to be at a higher level than we were this year. Some guys can't deal with success. It can be very easy to get carried away with yourself. The first thing is everyone wants more money, so it creates problems with contracts. People are harder to sign.
"We are two games away from disaster, even after winning the Super Bowl," Gibbs continued. "If we lose two in a row next year, we are back to the point where everyone is saying things about us. You can't get a 'C' in this business. It's either an 'A' or a flunk. Get two flunks and you are in trouble.
"We now have something to live up to. We have been trying to work our way up. Now we have something to defend. We are in a completely different position. We snuck up on some people this year as underdogs; now we'll be favorites. Some teams can handle that change in roles; some aren't good enough.
"The most important thing next year is having the proper frame of mind, to realize what kind of players we are, what kind of team we are and how hard we had to work to get this far. They have to realize every year is new unto itself and you have to prove yourself again . . . What's happened to past Super Bowl champions lately should set off an alarm button in our heads."
Facing an audience of more than 200 media persons today before heading back to Washington, Gibbs was as candid as he had been throughout Super Bowl week.
What made his day in the sun even more interesting was that until the end of the 1980 season, Gibbs never had been offered a job as head coach on any level, and had been interviewed only once for that job, at Arizona. Yet, two years after being hired by the Redskins, he had reached the top of his profession.
He called himself "a very average person who loves what I do and works hard at it. But I get embarrassed at being called a genius or anything like that. People who are a success in this business are the ones who have been in for 10 years. My goal is to be one of those people. If 10 years from now I'm standing here, then maybe I'll feel I'm a success."
But even to achieve this one-game success, Gibbs drove himself and his staff hard last week devising a game plan to neutralize the Dolphins. He was determined to coach his first Super Bowl in a typically go-right-at-them, confident fashion and he did, combining the power of Riggins' running--"We thought we could be physical against them"--and the blocking of the massive Hogs of the offensive line with the finese of reverses and flea-flicker passes.
His use of motion and formation changes, where he is particularly innovative, confused the Dolphins at times and helped loosen up their secondary enough so it couldn't always play up close to help stop Riggins. That left the Dolphins' quick but outweighed front seven overmatched against the stronger Hogs, whose surges opened wide holes for Riggins. And Riggins set a Super Bowl record of 166 yards on a record 38 carries.
Likewise, the Redskins' defense was just as aggressive. The front four manhandled Miami's good offensive line, taking away the running game and putting young quarterback David Woodley at the mercy of defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon's blitzes and combination secondary coverages.
The Redskins double-covered the tight ends and the running backs on pass routes, leaving their cornerbacks one on one against the other receivers. But Woodley kept missing long passes against this single coverage. He failed on his last eight passes, and the Dolphins were 0-11 passing in the second half.
Gibbs was as relaxed with his players much of the week as he was with the media. Except at midweek where he expressed anger over late arrivals, Gibbs kept the atmosphere free and easy.
Guard Russ Grimm kept it a bit freer than Gibbs would have liked. In his Super Bowl Diary in The Washington Post, Grimm made frequent reference to the good times he and the rest of the offensive linemen were having going out on the town. But Gibbs didn't know anything about it until this morning, when the Los Angeles Times quoted Grimm about a late-night episode Wednesday, when he and the Hogs got back at 3 a.m. and awakened the rest of the team.
"It bothered me," said Gibbs. "I'm going to talk to Russ about it. Russ said I told the players to follow their normal weekly routine, but I didn't mean for them to go that far."
Nevertheless, Gibbs likes to keep things light. "I think we run a tight ship, but we use common sense," he said. "I tell my players that they can con me for a while or a few months, but I'm going to know everything about you eventually and as soon as I find out you aren't one our of guys, you are out . . . When they break a rule, it's a fine, no questions asked. I tell them we want to create a family here, where you won't be threatened with a trade and where everyone gets along. But step away from what I want and you won't stay around."