All week long, Coach Joe Gibbs has warned his Washington Redskins against looking ahead to next week's game against Dallas at RFK Stadium.
"Right now," Gibbs said he has told his 3-2 team, "we've got to worry about the guys with the horseshoes."
He's referring to the Indianapolis Colts, of course, and hoping that those 8-point underdogs don't brand his Redskins with an upset in a game Sunday at 1 p.m. (EDT) in the 61,000-seat Hoosier Dome (WDVM-TV-9).
"I'm totally convinced that every time we think about something other than our opponent; when something distracts us even a little bit," Gibbs said, "then we get beat and, sometimes, we get beat bad.
"Like when we started off this season (with an 0-2 record)," Gibbs added. "Whether we were thinking too much of ourselves or not, we just didn't give an all-out effort . . . Last year, we played the whole season as if it was a scary, life-or-death struggle. For some reason, this team seems to need to be a come-from-behind team."
Fullback John Riggins, averaging 23 carries and 89 yards per game in his 13th professional season, is expected to start Sunday despite continuing pain in his lower back.
And Gibbs said that Ken Coffey likely will start at strong safety in place of Tony Peters, who did not practice this week because of an abdominal muscle pull, and that either Virgil Seay or Mark McGrath will play in place of all-pro wide receiver Charlie Brown, who is out with a pulled hamstring.
The Colts (2-3) are a team that's difficult to figure. Their two victories have come against easy marks, Houston (35-21) and Buffalo (31-17 last week). Their losses were at the hands of the New York Jets (23-14), the St. Louis Cardinals (34-33) and the Miami Dolphins (44-7).
"The jury is still out on us," free safety Nesby Glasgow said. "If we would have went down to Miami and played competitively, we would have been in the 'up-and-coming' category. Now, it's like we're, 'Wait and see' and, 'Will they fall apart against the Redskins?' I think it's too early to get an adequate reading on us. I do think that we have finally reached the point where teams have to play competitively now to beat us."
Make no mistake, the Colts are a running team, averaging 163 rushing yards per game, second best in the league, a half yard better than the Redskins. The keys for Indianapolis are running back Curtis Dickey (86 carries for 394 yards) and fullback Randy McMillen (62 for 299).
Not only are the Redskins and Colts statistically near even in rushing, they are statistically near even in passing. Joe Theismann has thrown for an average of 163 yards per game, a half yard better than the Colts' Mike Pagel.
The unfortunate thing for the Colts is that they have to play defense, too. Or try, anyway. The Colts have had difficulty stopping the run, which is a disadvantage, to say the least, when playing a team like the Redskins.
Indianapolis has given up 135 rushing yards per game (18th in the league). When you figure that the Jets' Freeman McNeil ran for 112 yards against these Colts, St. Louis' Ottis Anderson ran for 119 and Buffalo rookie Greg Bell ran for 144, you have to believe that Riggins and the Hogs will get their share, too. And then some.
One might also think that the Colts' young and troubled cornerbacks (rookie Eugene Daniel and third-year man James Burroughs) might provide just the tonic for Theismann and his passing game.
The fact is, most of the Colts are young. Glasgow, merely a sixth-year player, is the second-most experienced Colt, ranking behind only kick returner Larry Anderson, who has played in the league for seven seasons. (Conversely, 20 of the 49 Redskins have played in the NFL for six or more seasons).
In fact, only seven Colts remain from the 1981 season, the year before Coach Frank Kush took over and began trying to shake the mediocrity out of the organization.
The move from Baltimore has had its advantages, Glasgow said. "It's like we're the new toy on the block," he said. "It has opened a lot of doors for us as far as promotional deals and getting cars."
Unfortunately for the Colts (7-9 last year), it hasn't helped them create a winning record, a goal it hasn't realized since the team finished 10-4 in 1977 under Coach Ted Marchibroda.
The Colts' special teams have been reasonably consistent this season, possessing both Rohn Stark, the league's top-ranked punter (45.9-yard average) and kick returner Phil Smith, who ranks third in the league with a 26.9-yard return average and who returned a punt 96 yards for a touchdown against the Cardinals.
The last time these teams played was in 1981 and the Redskins won, 38-14, at RFK Stadium, which dropped the Colts to 1-14 for the season. "There aren't enough players left here for this to be considered a rivalry," Glasgow said. "It seems like everybody is gone now. I know the Redskins have some happy ex-Colts, like Joe Washington and Ken Huff."
Huff is the offensive guard who came to the Redskins before last season, after he engaged in a contract-related feud with team owner Robert Irsay. So now Huff, who has been replacing Mark May on short-yardage and goal-line plays recently, looks forward to Sunday's game, saying:
"I left the Colts with the owner telling everyone that I couldn't play football anymore. Well, I'd like to shake (Irsay's) hand and thank him before the game. I knew he didn't know what he was doing at the time, but it was the best thing that has ever happened to me."
Glasgow said the players' relationships with Kush have improved since 1982, Kush's first season. "Probably, the lines of communications are a lot better," Glasgow said. "I think (Kush) is still a strong-minded, disciplinarian-type of coach. I think he's more open to hearing what we have got to say now."
Has Kush mellowed to the point of being considered "open," Glasgow was asked?
His response came quickly: "No," he said, without elaborating.