Joe Gibbs walked out on the Redskins during a training camp practice; thousands of Washingtonians tuned them out at halftime Monday night -- and for the same reason. They had no more emotion than blades of grass that similarly were getting tromped on.
"Everybody was flat," linebacker Rich Milot admitted. "Maybe it was a little emotional burnout carried over from last year, when we were so high for Dallas and the Rams and then seemed to lose it late against the 49ers (in the second half of the NFC title game)."
Having fumbled emotion away against the 49ers, the Redskins are hoping they have recovered it against the same gang nine months and about 2,500 miles from where it originally got lost. Could they be the first people ever to have found their hearts in San Francisco?
The stinker half Monday night was as pathetic as the Redskins have played under Gibbs. The Hogs failed to open any obvious holes for John Riggins, and the fullback "didn't have my best eyes" to find those tiny splotches of daylight that did exist.
Quarterback Joe Theismann last season was as secure as a baby at bedtime tucked inside that pass pocket. Early Monday night, the Hog Pen crumbled. Theismann ran for his life, and very nearly didn't make it after an especially hard love tap from safety Jeff Fuller.
"All I can remember," Theismann said later, tenderly touching the top of his head that required three stitches, "is George Starke saying, 'No, Joe, you've got to go this way.' "
Sorry as the offense was the first half, the defense was worse. Granted, Joe Montana is as slick as quarterbacks come and has embarrassed many a well-conceived scheme in his time. But no team musters about 6 1/2 yards a play without some slumbering giants on the other side of the line. The play-by-play sheet, all but laughing, reported:
"Montana passes to Craig for 12 yards . . . Tyler swept right side for 20 yards . . . Montana passes to Francis down the middle for 12 yards . . . Montana passes to Solomon for 22 yards . . . Montana ran for 12 yards . . ."
And that was just the first two times the 49ers had the ball.
According to the defensive-stat chart, Redskins tackles Dave Butz and Darryl Grant had just one solo tackle each the entire game. There was a Neal Olkewicz-Larry Kubin revolving door at middle linebacker. As usual, the secondary was seconds late arriving at the scene of the pass-completion crime.
Special teams weren't anything special.
What could go wrong did, 27-3 wrong to be precise, and only because Mark Moseley bumped a 38-yarder through on the final play before halftime.
Teamocide is as good a way as any to describe the disgrace. The Redskins were killing themselves. Had Gibbs taken his clipboard and rattled about 26 heads at halftime, no Washington judge would have punished him.
Astonishingly, all hands returned alive and no more bruised. Fact is, Gibbs was not even overly cross during intermission. Or so everybody said. All he did was remind the NFC champs that they were playing like chimps, or some such, and that they had better begin crawling out of that enormous 24-point crater.
So inspired was the defense that Montana passed to tight end Earl Cooper for 14 yards on first down. Then a moderately wonderful scene took place for Gibbs: the Niners only got five more first downs the rest of the quarter.
And the formerly impotent Redskins offense took flight. Theismann was '83 sharp all of a sudden and Art Monk might have grabbed an orbiting satellite had that been required on third and long.
"Lots of times," Riggins said, "the team that runs up the big halftime score is the one in trouble. They relax; they've gotten ahead too far too early."
Whatever, with 3:44 left in the game, the Redskins were just six points behind. And the kickoff team proceeded to nail Dana McLemore at the 49ers' 14. One more turnover and a nightmare surely would fade into fantasy.
Trouble is, Dexter Manley was called for a personal foul after Roger Craig fell a yard short of a first down with 1:52 left.
Optimists will see the second-half turnaround as the spark that ignites a turnaround Sunday against the torrid Giants; skeptics will say: "Yeah, but they still couldn't hold firm with the game on the line. Any time anybody really needs a first down, all they do is look for 32 (Vernon Dean) or 24 (Anthony Washington) in the secondary and pluck 'em clean."
I'm inclined toward charity this early in the season. That second half merits a second chance here.
"The mental state of the team is much more important than the result," Riggins said. "Had we not come back, there would have been a lot of long faces, people looking at the floor."
The postgame mood was surprisingly chipper.
"I've got confidence we can click off 10 wins in a row," Riggins said. "I'm very positive. The critical thing is that this team has character. We don't have to run (long and often to win); we can throw."
He then offered two analogies, one realistic and one hopeful.
"It's like a plane flight," he said of the game. "We started dead into the mountain and then got the nose up a bit. We crashed, but didn't burn. There were lots of survivors; we're pickin' up the pieces.
"Weeb (Ewbank, the former Jets coach for whom Riggins played) once said he'd seen sicker cows get well. Course he didn't know at the time his were gonna die. But I think this one is gonna live."