Almost daily for months, in rain and sunshine, on fake turf and God's green grass, the Washington Redskins devote 10 minutes or so of practice time to blitz drills. By now, you would think they had prepared for everything save Rambo swinging from the strong side on a vine.
Quarterback Joe Theismann may be seeing light-blue creatures with oil derricks on their hats crawling up his back for the next several days. He escaped with his life yesterday in RFK Stadium, same as the Redskins did.
Any Houston team without Ralph Sampson and Akeem Olajuwon doesn't figure to be too tough -- and the Dolphin-killing Oilers were 10-point underdogs to a gang coming off a 30-point loss.
Everything began and ended pretty much as expected, with a sort of Moon walk by the Redskins' answers to Neil Armstrong.
On the third and fifth plays from scrimmage, Oilers quarterback Warren Moon was buried by Rich Milot and Dave Butz, respectively. Penalties nullified everything but the bruises on Milot's sack.
On the next-to-last play from scrimmage -- three-plus hours later -- Moon was mugged by Charles Mann and Dexter Manley two yards shy of the Oilers' end zone. This led to one of the few times victory by the home team was greeted with boos, lots of the RFK faithful angry that Theismann had covered the ball instead of the point spread.
In between those wicked Moon shots, there was quite a lot more drama than Washingtonians were prepared to tolerate. The Redskins were much too kind much too often.
A couple of generous Joes were blamed most. First, Coach Joe Gibbs was second-guessed for kicking a field goal instead of plodding for the yard on fourth down from the Oilers' 17 early in the second quarter.
John Riggins gets the first down against everyone but the Raiders, doesn't he? Besides, 20-0 has the Oilers all but out on their feet.
Next thing you know, Theismann is all but out on his feet, staggering after surrendering the ball on one of those blitzes the Redskins dedicate themselves each practice to stopping.
In footballspeak, what the Oilers threw at the Redskins is known as "11 up." Everybody on the defense plants himself within two yards of the line of scrimmage.
This is not an innovation on the order of, say, the middle linebacker suddenly hopping atop the shoulders of the nose tackle to get a better jump on the ball.
Sandlot teams crowd 11 guys within spitting distance of the ball now and then. But never ever have the Oilers blitzed two defensive backs from the inside and another from the outside.
That fumble and some nice running and passing by Moon moved the Oilers to 16-10 five seconds before intermission. Never trust a Texas team in the final moments of the first half.
No dummies, the Oilers threw that same blitz at the Redskins two other times. It yielded another fumble, in the third quarter, and a sack, in the fourth.
The Redskins' counter to a pair of defensive backs blitzing from the inside and one from the outside is to turn their backs on the outside fellow. Let him speed ahead unblocked.
Yep, Theismann and the receivers are supposed to adjust quickly enough either for a short pass or throwaway. First time, a startled Theismann literally did not know what hit him; second time, he thought he could get the ball off before Rod Kush rattled his ribs; third time, he got smart and ate the ball, minus mustard.
For the afternoon, Theismann completed 15 of 22 passes for a touchdown and won praise from Gibbs for not going bonkers under pressure.
"I have more respect for him in the bad times than good," Gibbs said.
Bring on the disrespect, said Theismann, laughing.
For the good times to roll again, Theismann must keep from turning the ball over at the rate of an NBA point guard. After two games, Theismann has a staggering six interceptions and two fumbles.
The only stinker of a throw yesterday came near the end of the third quarter, when Theismann should have done some conjugating.
His friend, Don Warren, was open; an Oiler, Steve Brown, was more open; Redskin thinkers, off by the bench, were most open.
In the future, Joe, hit the open coach.
Still, for all his flaws, real and imagined, Theismann saved the game. All by his lonesome. If he had not thrown his body toward interceptor Brown -- and gotten a penalty out of it -- Houston would have gone ahead, possibly for good.
About the instant Brown was trotting into the end zone apparently for a touchdown to lift the Oilers into a 19-16 lead, a yellow hankie was fluttering to earth at about the Redskins' 16.
Illegal block, Oilers.
Tony Zendejas later hooked a 42-yard field goal attempt.
"Imagine," Theismann said, "me being important for saving a touchdown and blocking (on a reverse by Art Monk). Anything for the cause."
Of his, and the offense's, troubles, Theismann added: "We're still picking up the pieces, coordinating the wide receivers and the quarterback. Maybe we're pressing a little too much."
Same perhaps with Zendejas.
The fans were terribly rude to the loser in that 40 Yards War with Mark Moseley in the preseason, especially after that 33-yarder late in the fourth quarter bounced off the right upright.
Executives high above the action were grateful. They had given Zendejas a $150,000 bonus, fully expecting him to win an early game for the Redskins. Nobody expected he would do it in quite that way.