It was Dallas, Dec. 16, 1979, the last time the right things didn't happen on the final weekend of the season for the Washington Redskins to make the playoffs.

Kicker Mark Moseley helplessly watched time run out before he could try a desperation 57-yard field goal to win the game. Then a fan spit in his face.

Rookie linebackers Neal Olkewicz, Rich Milot and Monte Coleman couldn't believe their first pro season would end so abruptly. In the locker room, Coleman cried; the first and only time, he says, he wept after a game.

Strong safety Tony Peters, in his first year here after four in Cleveland, said no one believed they would miss the playoffs. A hardened veteran, he called it "heartbreaking."

The present Redskins (9-6) have a brief, poignant history of relying on other teams to help get them into the playoffs. This weekend, they need to win Saturday at 4 p.m. at St. Louis, plus have either the New York Giants or the San Francisco 49ers lose at home, to become an NFC wild-card team. By the time the Redskins take the field, the Giants' 12:30 game against Pittsburgh should be over. The 49ers play Dallas on Sunday.

But, no matter what happens, it can't be as strange as '79.

The Redskins were 10-5 going into their game with the Cowboys. If they beat Dallas (also 10-5), the Redskins would be in the playoffs for the first time in three years.

But, even if they lost to the Cowboys, they would still qualify if St. Louis (5-10) could stay within 31 points of the defensive, black-and-blue Chicago Bears (9-6), who were fighting for that last playoff spot.

Thirty-one points? Was this a lock, or what?

"We felt we were in," Peters said.

But no. On one of the craziest days in Redskins history, Washington squandered a 13-point lead in the final seven minutes to Roger Staubach to lose, 35-34, while the Bears demolished the Cardinals, 42-6, to reach the playoffs in the Redskins' place.

"Very unbelievable, huh?" Olkewicz said earlier this week at Redskin Park.

"Even if we lost to Dallas, we figured there was no way for the Bears to score that many points. At that time, they were scoring something like 10 points a game and winning with their defense. Here they score 40-something. Unbelievable."

Many of the players on that '79 Redskins team are gone now, but most of those who are still around remember it very, very well.

The team knew the Chicago-St. Louis score at halftime, although most of the players don't remember it registering until after the game. They led Dallas, 17-14, at the half, and figured they were playing well enough to win.

"I remember going into the third quarter thinking we had Dallas beat," Milot said. A 17-point spurt in the fourth quarter, led by two John Riggins touchdowns, gave the Redskins a 34-21 lead with 6:54 to play.

That was too much time for Staubach.

"Roger made one of those miraculous comebacks, and that was it," Peters said.

Then it hit Peters what had happened at Chicago.

"The game we were in was so intense and emotional, I wasn't paying much attention to the other score. But I knew one thing: if we did lose, there was no way St. Louis would lose by so many points."

To Coleman, it seemed like St. Louis lost "by 100."

"Now at the time, I didn't really appreciate the whole situation," he said. "But that's the only game I ever cried since I've been in the pros. I cried after that ball game because I felt sorry for us and I felt sorry for the guys that really appreciated it, like the Kenny Houstons. We had a real good team that possibly could have gone farther than the first round."

The Redskins ended with a 10-6 record, to this day the only team in NFC history to win 10 games and not make the playoffs.

Guess who could become the second NFC team in history to do that?

"It looks like we're about in the same situation," Milot said. "We needed help then -- not a whole lot of help, though -- and we need it now."

"It was an exciting year, a lot like this one," Moseley said. "There were injuries, a lot of things happening, a lot of strange things."

The last curious thing to happen in '79 still is celebrated in Washington-Dallas lore.

A funeral wreath, sent to the Cowboys by an anonymous donor before the game, found its way into defensive end Harvey Martin's hands. Martin found his way to the Redskins' locker room and tossed the wreath in after the game.

It ricocheted off a locker and hit Moseley in the knee, leaving a gash.

"To add insult to injury . . . " Moseley said. "That was a hard loss."

Ironically, the tie-breaking system that resulted in the Bears going to the playoffs because they had a better net-point differential in all games than the Redskins was changed the next season. Another category, common opponents, was added and was rated more important than net points in deciding ties.

In another twist of playoff fate, the Cowboys were angry with the Redskins that season because they believed the Redskins ran up the score on them in their first game, a 34-20 Washington win.

With 14 seconds to play, coach Jack Pardee sent Moseley in to kick a 45-yard field goal for the final points.

Pardee later said he had to do it because of the importance of points in an eventual tie-breaker. As it turned out, he had five points too few when the season ended.

A Redskin or two confused that playoff nightmare with one two years earlier.

In 1977, the Redskins (9-5) lost another net-point tie-breaker to the Bears. Sitting in front of their television sets at home, their season over the day before, they agonizingly watched Chicago's Bob Thomas kick a 28-yard field goal with nine seconds left in a snowy overtime game with the Giants to win, 12-9.

"Wasn't that the one in '79?" defensive tackle Dave Butz asked. "See, how soon they forget."