IRVING, TEX., OCT. 18 -- The Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys have played some pretty strange, intense, downright bizarre games over the years, but this one, Monday night at 9 at Texas Stadium, may be the weirdest of all.
The Redskins flew here today with a now-veteran replacement team that hasn't had much time to learn how or why to dislike Dallas. They may be a very good nonunion team, but they are one-touchdown underdogs in this game because the Cowboys have eight veterans back to play with their replacement team.
A crowd of about 50,000 is expected for what very well could be a competitive football game between two 3-1 teams tied for the NFC East lead.
"The Redskins aren't used to going into a game having very little chance to win it," Coach Joe Gibbs said today. "But you can't have a great victory unless you're a great underdog."
Two weeks ago, against St. Louis, the Redskins rallied their new team with college-like enthusiasm to upset the Cardinals, who also had several veterans on their roster. But almost everyone in the Redskins camp says this is different.
The Cardinals had one veteran defensive lineman back. The Cowboys have four. The Cardinals had three receivers, but didn't have their quarterback. The Cowboys have one receiver -- and their starting quarterback, Danny White. They also have running back Tony Dorsett, whether he wants to be there or not.
To win this game, the replacement team will have to figure out a way to keep defensive linemen Randy White, Ed (Too Tall) Jones and Don Smerek off quarterback Ed Rubbert and out of their backfield. Defensive tackle Kevin Brooks crossed the picket line, too, but he has a hamstring injury and is not expected to play.
The Redskins had little problem with St. Louis defensive end Curtis Greer two weeks ago, often double-teaming him with tackle Mark Carlson and a tight end. But what does a young offensive line do with three veterans, including a couple all-pros?
"They have to play the game of their lives," said assistant head coach/offense Joe Bugel. "None of them is really scared. They do fear not doing well. I think they will do well. We'll be disappointed if they don't play well."
One thing the Redskins can do to negate the Cowboys' pass rush is have Rubbert roll out and throw on the run, something he has shown he can do. Fortunately for Washington, Dallas has a defensive secondary filled with replacement players. Wide receiver Anthony Allen probably will have to shake free from them a time or two for the Redskins to be successful.
Doing well early is another thing the Redskins must do, their coaches say. The Redskins started poorly in games at Dallas the past couple of years, and lost both games miserably. Bugel said he will know in the first five minutes if the young Redskins are "too excited."
"You don't want to blow up in the first five minutes. The players will be emotional for this game. That's good, but you don't want a young team playing its last game on Monday night to be too emotional," Bugel said.
Gibbs said he expects Danny White and Dorsett to start, but Dallas Coach Tom Landry said he would wait to make those decisions until Monday afternoon. Last week, both players were booed at home. Neither played much -- Dorsett ran four times for 27 yards and one touchdown, White played 1 1/2 series and completed the three passes he threw for 59 yards.
They are not popular players in Dallas right now. A local newspaper poll found that respondents actually said they liked the replacement team more than the union Cowboys.
Emotions aside, the two replacement quarterbacks should not be overlooked. Rubbert has thrown for 510 yards, four touchdowns and only one interception in two games. His quarterback rating is 111.1. Dallas' Kevin Sweeney has thrown for 291 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. His rating is 111.8. If White starts, Sweeney might not play much, but the rookie from Fresno State has done almost all of the passing the past two weeks.
For the Redskins, punt returner Derrick Shepard, who had a 73-yard return against St. Louis but later was injured, is back. The Redskins have added a couple new players to their roster, including defensive tackle Henry Waechter, a five-year veteran with the Chicago Bears, and tight end David Truitt, a rookie from North Carolina who was with the Redskins in training camp.
As is usually the case before a Dallas-Washington game, both coaches have engaged in verbal psychological warfare.
"You wouldn't expect a team put together in 10 days to be able to play with a group of guys who have proven they're one of the best teams in the NFL," Gibbs said earlier in the week.
Landry responded: "Joe makes me feel like I don't even have to get my game plan ready."
This will be the last game both replacement teams play -- ever. Clearly, Redskins officials have their minds on getting their regular players ready for next week, too. They left assistant coaches Dan Henning and Emmitt Thomas behind at Redskin Park to direct practice for the veterans Monday.
But this is a night the replacements will never forget, no matter how it turns out.
"If we fall flat on our faces, everyone will have expected it all along," said Redskins defensive tackle Dan Benish. "But if we win, it will be something great.
"A lot of people here won't remember we beat St. Louis and we beat the New York Giants. But they'll certainly remember we beat Dallas."