If this is it for the Washington Redskins, if their 27-16 victory on the Missouri tundra proves to be their final game of 1985, it likely will be remembered for three reasons:
It was very cold.
It made George Rogers a hero.
It forced Washington to cheer for the Dallas Cowboys.
Rogers, who fumbled the first play of the game then promised his coaches he would make up for it, ran for a team-record 206 yards today in front of 28,090 shivering spectators at Busch Memorial Stadium (there were 18,605 no-shows) to provide a good omen for the weekend: you sometimes get a second chance.
The Redskins got one today after falling behind, 9-0, in a bumbling first quarter, as they came back with 13 second-quarter points and Rogers ended up with the third 1,000-yard season of his five-year career.
Now, will they get another Sunday while watching the Cowboys play San Francisco on television?
The victory gives the Redskins a 10-6 record (winning five of their last six) and a relatively slim chance to make the playoffs. They will get a wild-card berth if Dallas (10-5) beats or ties the 49ers (9-6) at Candlestick Park at 4 p.m. Sunday.
"You can bring yourself to root for anyone if it means you get in yourself," said quarterback Jay Schroeder.
Another Redskins playoff oppportunity vanished this afternoon when the New York Giants beat Pittsburgh, 28-10, to secure one NFC wild-card spot. Coach Joe Gibbs told his players not to watch the game on TV in the hotel, but they all knew the score before they began their game.
"I think it eats up your emotion to watch it," Gibbs said.
The Redskins or the 49ers will become the other wild-card team and will play at the Meadowlands, probably next Sunday.
The loss ended a miserable 5-11 season for the Cardinals. Team owner William Bidwill fired Coach Jim Hanifan and his entire coaching staff after the game. In six seasons here, Hanifan had a 39-49-1 record.
Prior to Bidwill's decision, the only drama of the afternoon was Rogers' fumble, and the promise he made -- and kept.
As he ran behind -- and into -- tackle Mark May on the Redskins' first play from scrimmage, Rogers was hit by defensive end Al Baker and lost the ball at the Washington 28.
It was his ninth fumble of the season, the sixth the Redskins lost.
Rogers ran off the field shaking his head, but instead of trudging to the bench "in complete depression," as Gibbs called Rogers' previous funks, he kept walking along the sideline, muttering, "I'll make up for this. I'll make up for this."
And he did.
He rushed 34 times today for the most yards any Redskin has ever had, surpassing the 195 Mike Thomas had against the Cardinals in 1976. Rogers' 206-yard rushing total is the highest in the NFL this season.
For Rogers, it was his 20th career 100-yard day, his fourth as a Redskin. He finished the regular season with 1,093 yards.
"What a great year he could have had if it weren't for the injuries and the fumbles," Gibbs said.
Rogers' day mirrored so many of the ones John Riggins used to have. Riggins, 36, who might retire in the offseason, refused to comment on his future or Rogers' performance today.
Riggins again did not play.
Schroeder, who said he had trouble throwing early because he was not planting his foot and setting up correctly, finally got untracked for a 16-for-31, 214-yard game. He said his ribs, his back and the cold did not bother him.
In his opinion, there was no one memorable play, just a lot of good, little ones.
"We were just moving the ball, moving the ball," he said. "That's Redskins football."
Apparently left uninspired by the intense cold and the Steelers' effort against the Giants earlier in the day, the Redskins made several mistakes to drop behind quickly.
After Rogers' fumble ("What a way to start, huh?" he said), the Cardinals couldn't miss from so close, although they gained just three yards before Novo Bojovic kicked a 42-yard field goal with 1:52 gone in the game.
The Redskins' misery continued on the next drive. Rogers immediately broke free for a 26-yard gain into St. Louis territory at the 48, and the Redskins continued to the 23, when two consecutive incompletions led to the first of three missed field goals by Mark Moseley. This one was 40 yards; the others were 39 and 32. He made 48- and 30-yarders.
In his last four games, Moseley has missed eight of 15 field goal attempts.
After an exchange of punts, the Cardinals scored their touchdown, an eight-yard reception by Roy Green, who bounced off cornerback Darrell Green and landed in the end zone in the arms of linebacker Neal Olkewicz.
The touchdown was set up by Stump Mitchell. After an incompletion at the Cardinals' 17, Mitchell burst up the middle for 20 yards on a draw. After a 15-yard catch by Green to the Washington 48, Mitchell again got the call on a run to the left.
Redskins defensive end Dexter Manley, who earlier had been called for a personal foul while pushing and shoving with center Randy Clark, had this play figured out. He wrapped his left arm around Mitchell in the backfield, but Mitchell spun around, out of Manley's grasp, and ran toward the right, finally tackled 40 yards later by defensive end Charles Mann.
On first down at the eight, quarterback Neil Lomax found Green alone inside the five, and Green turned with the ball and dove into the end zone for St. Louis' 9-0 lead. The snap and hold were bad on the extra point.
Washington's next drive was unique in that it featured a new wingback -- Darrell Green. After Barry Wilburn recovered St. Louis' onside kick at the Cardinals' 43, Green took a handoff from Schroeder on a reverse and gained six yards before coming out of the game.
"If we're having a tough time in a game, we'll try him," Gibbs said. "He's scored on everything else he's touched."
Rogers gained six to the 31, but three consecutive incompletions again ushered in Moseley, this time for a 48-yard field goal, which he made.
The Washington defense came to the rescue soon afterward. As Lomax scrambled, looking for a receiver on third and 12, linebacker Monte Coleman tackled him from behind, forcing him to drop the ball. Defensive tackle Dave Butz landed on the ball at the 38, and the Redskins were in business.
Rogers gained 11 yards on two carries before Schroeder fired a 27-yard scoring pass to Gary Clark, who had beaten cornerback Wayne Smith.
Moseley's extra point gave Washington the lead, 10-9, with 2:38 remaining, and his 30-yard field goal made it 13-9 at halftime.
In the third quarter, when he went over 1,000 yards, Rogers scored on a one-yard run, and Keith Griffin added a one-yard touchdown dive early in the fourth quarter.
Finally, in the last minute, Clyde Duncan caught a two-yard scoring pass from Lomax for St. Louis' only score of the final three quarters.
As they left the field, the Redskins didn't know if they would be back on the playing field next week, or next year.
"It's ironic," said May. "We hate Dallas, and now we have to cheer for them."