Last week, the day before the Dallas game, in an uncharacteristic outburst reminiscent of Howard Beale, the newscaster in the movie "Network," Joe Gibbs said he was mad as hell, and he wasn't going to take it any more. Gibbs accused the Cowboys' coaches, players, football beat writers and presumably the entire Ewing family of wagging a propaganda war against the Redskins.
"They're saying things," Gibbs said, "like, 'We're just trying to survive,' or, 'We're just trying to hang on until the end of the season.' I think they've made a real concerted effort to lull us to sleep. I just want everybody to know that we're not buying it. Their offense is quite a bit better than ours . . . Their defense is better than ours, too . . . They've purposely tried to do this to us. I think it's a charade, a propaganda ploy."
This was curious on two levels.
One, Washington beat Dallas, 34-14. As in, anybody get the license plate of that truck? By Gibbs' pregame analysis, the better team lost. Not only don't I believe that, I doubt that Gibbs does either.
And two, doesn't Gibbs -- for that matter, don't most football coaches -- use the same kind of "propaganda ploy" week after week after week? Football coaches are notorious for playing down their strengths and magnifying their weaknesses. One of the duties of a football coach seems to be to convince anyone within earshot that on his team all ingrown toenails are really broken legs, and on their team all third-string halfbacks are really O.J. Simpsons. When was the last time you heard an NFL coach say before a game -- "The only way we could lose this one is if we all come down with paralyzing malaria?"
Gibbs is a charter member of the "On any given Sunday . . . " club. Yesterday a friend of mine woke up to Gibbs' WTOP radio show. Gibbs was saying how you just can't take any team for granted, even a future opponent like Buffalo. My friend heard Gibbs say this about the Bills: "(Quarterback Joe Ferguson) could have a big day against us, and they could get on a roll." Buffalo is 0-7. It could get on a roll; it could get on the whole loaf of bread, and still shouldn't win unless the Redskins all come down with paralyzing malaria.
I mean no disrespect to Gibbs. I accept that he honestly believes his team must play to its optimum level to win, especially considering the wide range of injuries it has sustained this season. And the record shows that Gibbs has done a consistently excellent job of preparing his team to play. Ever since starting out 0-5 in 1981, Gibbs' Redskins have won 41 of 50 games, including playoff games. They have never lost to a team whose record was below .500, and the only non-playoff team to beat them was Green Bay last season, 48-47.
If nothing else, a 41-9 record should indicate that the Redskins are one of the very few teams in the NFL that can win a game or two, even while playing at less than peak efficiency. There are only three other teams that belong in this category: the Raiders, the Dolphins and the 49ers -- interestingly, the three teams that most recently beat the Redskins.
Those teams are the top drawer in the NFL.
Under them are some teams that, perhaps, on any given Sunday could beat any other team: St. Louis, certainly, and Denver, because of defense -- its offense is in a coma -- and, maybe, Pittsburgh, just from memory, and the Rams, because Eric Dickerson really might be O.J. Simpson.
Who else? The Cowboys? They look as if they've been locked in a microwave so far this year. Seattle? Not without Curt Warner. The Chargers? Their concept of a prevent defense is to hijack their oppponents' bus. The Patriots? The Redskins beat them, 26-10, in New England. The Chiefs? They lost to the Jets. The Jets? Be serious. The Jets have beaten five teams whose composite record is 8-27. If the Jets make the playoffs they ought to vote a full share to the NFL schedule maker. The Bears? They're simply the best team in a plague-ridden division. The Giants? They've given up 94 points in losses to the Redskins, the 49ers and the Rams; if they played San Diego, the scoreboard would brown-out.
The remaining 10 teams are under 40 games under .500.
You want to see Houston play Cleveland? There are lots of great seats left. Bring your family. Bring your whole town. Bring Mongolia.
The NFL is in trouble. Its television ratings are down across the board: 13 percent on CBS; 11 percent on NBC; 9 percent on ABC. There are valid reasons for this decline in viewer interest: Pay-TV has fractionalized the marketplace, siphoning off potential viewers to movies and music videos as never before; the recently kind weather may be keeping people outside playing, rather than inside watching; the year-round proliferation of football -- not just NFL games, but USFL and now, after deregulation, all these college games -- has stranded the viewer in a kind of televised football grid-lock. As Jimmy the Greek asks, "How many eyes does a person have?" The Boomerang Effect. Duck! Here it comes again.
But most of all, the games have become boring. Outside of the four superior teams, and the few others you'd like to see play those superior teams, there is nothing to compel a viewer to watch. One broadcaster says, "You could Xerox the first game of the season and replay it for 16 straight weeks and no one would know the difference."
Joe Gibbs worried about Dallas trying "to lull us to sleep."
The NFL should worry that we're almost lulled.