On a 98-degree afternoon, it could have been no sweat for the Redskins today had Dave Butz plopped on that football quaking at his feet in fear of being smooshed. He had slapped it from quarterback Ron Jaworski inside the Eagle 20; his recovery and a not-unexpected, soon-to-follow touchdown giving Washington an 11-point lead early in the third period would have inspired the mentally wilting to proclaim:
BUTZ SNATCHES VICTORY FROM FEET OF JAWS.
Okay, it wasn't that hot.
"The Dallas game (Monday night in RFK Stadium) was worse," Butz insisted, and every teammate agreed. "I lost 12 or 13 pounds in that one. On Wednesday, I still was only at 292 (compared to his playing weight of 297). So much humidity. Humidity will kill you."
That and fumbles.
The Eagles are two pass blockers away from being Rocky rather than rocky, somebody who can keep such as Butz from maiming Jaworski on, say, second and long fairly close to his own end zone. That was the situation when Butz could have crushed them, with the Redskins ahead by 7-3.
Astonishingly quick, Butz blew by a flapping bird and separated Jaworski from the ball with a chop to the arm. There it was, several inches away, acting pretty much as you and I would looking up at a ready-to-pounce 297-pounder acting mean.
The blessed ball wouldn't stay still.
"Too damn close," said Butz, smiling now because the Redskins won anyway. "Someone was on the back of my leg as I went for it. I (accidentally) hit it with two fingers, barely touched it."
He demonstrated with the middle fingers of his right hand, a motion similar to flicking a fly from picnic potato salad. Only a 297-pounder also has a powerful flick.
"Knocked it flying," Butz admitted.
To where Stan Walters could cradle it for the Eagles.
"Thought footballs weighed more than that," Butz mused.
There followed a heavyweight drive by Philly, 79 yards in all for what could have been a momentum-turning touchdown had Ron Smith not dropped a certain first-down pass two drives later. Then the King (John Riggins) and the Trash Man (Nick Giaquinto) got the Redskins righted.
Victory was tough enough for Coach Joe Gibbs to open a press conference by saying, "Very humble, very thankful."
"If we hadn't intercepted the first play of the game," said Butz, referring to the theft by Mark Murphy, "maybe the outcome might have been different. But you make your own chances."
Redskins coaches tried to help by substituting massive linemen whenever possible, trying to keep Butz and his buddies fierce if not fresh. It was wonderful strategy, for those as wise as 11-year veteran Butz.
"What some guys forget is that you have to go off the field and then come back on when you get a blow," he said. "That can take a lot out of you. I want to put out when the ball's snapped, so I didn't run on and off. That's something lots of players don't think about."
Butz thought of another time too few Redskins failed to think:
The Dallas Downfall.
"Some guys didn't realize we were beating hell out of a damn good football team," he said. "They didn't realize how (great) teams can come back from so far so fast."
So there was no sense of security on the Washington sideline until Mark Moseley's third field goal. This game was over 19 seconds before it was over. Had Butz chosen to lecture the frustrated Eagles, he would have reminded them that Mike Nelms isn't down till he's tamped.
Maybe a half-dozen birds thought Nelms could move no more when they trapped him, head on, near the left sideline on the second play of the fourth quarter. He didn't move as far as he wanted, just 18 yards.
When somebody suggested that might have been the best of his great escapes, Nelms kept his blank expression. He was about to deliver the hard blow of truth.
"Nobody grabbed me," Nelms said.
He had run into a wall of Eagles, all of whom seemed to be clawing at him.
"I don't remember anyone grabbing me," Nelms insisted. "I went straight, and there was nothing there. So I came back out, clean. I looked right and it was clean. So I kept going."
Then the offense kept going, in part because the Trash Man and Joe Theismann turned disaster into delight. The quarterback was about to cut his third-down losses, tuck the ball to his tummy and accept a sack. Instead, he suddenly popped back up and threw to Giaquinto.
Not content with five yards and a first down, Giaquinto squirmed from Wes Hopkins and scooted for 16 more. Riggins scored from 14 yards on the next play and Washington had the touchdown lead it would maintain the rest of the game.
As nicknames go on the Redskins, Trash Man is ordinary. Gibbs thought of it, as a complementary way of saying Giaquinto always is around to make inelegant-looking plays end up with a sweet scent. Even with a Big Rig, it's useful to have a pickup handy.
Riggins was more grateful for a play that didn't happen than any that did.
"Thought I'd be having an appointment with Dr. (Stanford) Lavine at the hospital tomorrow morning," he said. "When I broke up the middle once in the third quarter, I got the type shot that ends careers, if it comes to the knee. As it was, the ankle got it. Matter of fact, the ankle's already sore.
"But a 100th of a second sooner and I'm on a stretcher, and then on to the hospital."