As a season was quietly packed into mothballs yesterday at Redskin Park, only one rumble of discord was heard through the silence created by Chicago 23, Washington 19.
"I really wanted to play; I thought I could have played," said Redskins wide receiver Charlie Brown, a two-time all-pro who has been bothered by a mildly strained knee recently. "(The coaches) knew I wanted to play. I said to (receivers coach) Charley Taylor that I wanted to go in.
"I told Coach (Don) Breaux (the running backs coach), too. I also told Coach (Joe) Gibbs during the the game, but (he) can get so caught up in what's going on in the game, so I didn't bother him again."
Joe Gibbs said yesterday there was a reason that Brown played so sparingly, without making a catch, in Sunday's division playoff game against the Bears at RFK Stadium. "Charlie never said to me, 'Hey, I'm 100 percent.' I always hold back on something like that," Gibbs said. "It's a hard situation."
In fact, Brown said yesterday that his knee was "90 percent" recovered. Gibbs added, "I know he wanted to play; he kept looking at me. I just didn't feel that it was the way to go."
Perhaps it was fitting that the final word on this Redskins season came from fullback John Riggins.
Near the end of a brief team meeting for players and coaches early yesterday, several players said that Riggins stood up in the back of the room, beer in hand, and gave thanks to Gibbs and his staff.
"The coaches got a standing ovation," said tackle Mark May. Quarterback Joe Theismann said, "I sure stood up and applauded. No question. This year was Joe's (Gibbs') greatest challenge."
In the closing act, Riggins hopped into his Mercedes, drove onto the team's AstroTurf practice field, screeched a couple 360-degree turns and drove off. Players laughed and shook their heads. Some wondered whether Riggins, 35, will drive back for another season.
"I really felt like at the end of the year, when we won the last four games, that we had the chance to do something great," Gibbs said. "(Chicago) made great plays; they made things happen. When you get down to it, the difference is four points . . . This was an upside-down year for us. There's a lot to be proud of, but at the same time, we came up short."
There was regret on both offense and defense for mistakes made Sunday. The defensive coach, Richie Petitbon, was not disturbed that his unit yielded 104 yards rushing to running back Walter Payton.
"What we did against him would have been all right if we hadn't given up the big plays," Petitbon said.
Petitbon bemoaned two plays: a 75-yard touchdown pass play from quarterback Steve Fuller to wide receiver Willie Gault that evolved from a 10-yard pattern ("Darrell Green just missed the tackle," Petitbon said), and a 33-yard gain on a third-down shovel pass from Fuller to fullback Matt Suhey that helped set up another Chicago score.
"Realistically," Petitbon said of a defense that has been affected by injury all season, "we've been dancing in a mine field all season and it all just ended on Sunday."
Gibbs was most disturbed that Theismann was sacked seven times.
That means Theismann has been sacked 21 times in three weeks. Yesterday, the quarterback said, "I figured it out that, at that rate, it would be 112 sacks over a 16-game season. That would be a long year."
Near the end of the first quarter, starting right guard Ken Huff suffered a fractured fibula and strained ligaments in his ankle. So May shifted from right tackle to right guard and Morris Towns was inserted at tackle. Towns hadn't played all season.
"I really feel our offensive line would have been in trouble next week," said Gibbs, speaking about a conference title game against San Francisco that, for the Redskins, will never be.
"When I saw Kenny on the ground . . . I looked out and saw that as the biggest play of the game," Gibbs added.
He reiterated that, once Huff left the game, he did not feel confident attempting to run toward the right.
Theismann, who proved his resourcefulness and perhaps extended his lifetime a few years by running for 38 yards on five carries, completed only 22 of 42 for 292 yards. "I think I played very well," he said.
He took offense to some postgame comments made by the Bears that implied the Chicago pass rush had him "intimidated." Said Theismann, "I don't get intimidated and I don't get confused. But when they win, they can say anything they want.
"I think (Chicago linebacker) Al Harris said that I looked confused and that I didn't know where they were. That's wrong. I knew exactly where they were."
Gibbs seemed to have a prepared response to the question: "Now that defenses such as those of the Cardinals, Giants, Cowboys and Bears have crowded so many defenders to the line of scrimmage and have blitzed so often, how will you react next year in countering these common threads used by defenses?"
Gibbs said, pointedly, "We were beaten once in the last five games. If that's the common thread, then I'll take it."
"No, I don't feel like defenses have figured us out," Theismann said. "We stopped ourselves (Sunday).
"One time, Joe Washington gets a first down and gets hit and fumbles. Another time, Calvin Muhammad makes a great catch and fumbles."
"Probably 25 times in the game we have to do this or that and we could have gotten a big play," Gibbs said, before fading into one of his most frequent phrases of the season, "We just couldn't get the big play when we had to have it."
As lockers and Super Bowl hopes were emptied yesterday, you could hear the echoes. "Kind of eerie, isn't it?" Pete Cronan, special teams captain, said.
And could it have been more fitting that the last to leave Redskin Park were team trainer Bubba Tyer and assistant trainer Keoki Kaumu?
In all, 28 Redskins were placed on the injured list since training camp and Tyer reiterated, "We still ought to get the team picture this year taken in the training room."
There were various other season-ending perspectives. Players voted wide receiver Art Monk, who had a league-record 106 catches during the regular season and 10 more Sunday, as the team's most valuable player.
Linebacker Rich Milot spoke the obvious when he said, "It just seemed like a very, very long year."
Kick returner Mike Nelms said that reaching a third consecutive Super Bowl "would have been like going to Mars, after having gone to the moon twice."
Gibbs shook his head and, realizing that only Miami (1971-72-73 seasons) has reached three consecutive Super Bowls, said, "It's hard (to accomplish), but not out of the realm of possibility. I don't agree with the thought that you can't be a dominant team."
Finally, Gibbs was left to say things such as, "We'll take a real hard look at every position" in the offseason and, "I think there's an unusual number of guys who will have to make (career) decisions."
Asked if the Redskins are in need of major overhaul, team owner Jack Kent Cooke said, "I wouldn't think so. (But) I have no idea at this moment. I am still nursing the wounds."
Cooke complimented the Bears on their play Sunday, but added, "I would like to meet them again. I wish it were possible to play them next week or the week after or the week after. I feel the conclusion would be very different."
Are the years of Redskins dominance over? "No, I don't think the party is over," Theismann said, "I feel like it is still in session."
In the end, Cooke returned to a quote from the English poet John Dryden. It's the same quote he had recited at the team's welcome home luncheon before this season, when the memory of the Redskins' 38-9 loss to the Los Angeles Raiders in the Super Bowl was so fresh.
Cooke said, " 'I am a little hurt, but I am not slain, I will lay me down for to bleed a while. Then I will rise and fight with you again.' "