"One more play! One more play!" The tired Washington Redskins defenders were almost giddy in their final huddle just after midnight Tuesday. They could barely believe what they were about to accomplish, and yet, somehow, they knew it all along. They were called replacements, the junior varsity, the "B" team, scabs; say what you will, they were about to do what no Washington team had done in Texas Stadium since 1984. They were about to beat the hated Dallas Cowboys.
Free safety Skip Lane, the media darling and quarterback of the defense, knelt inside a tight circle of teammates as the Cowboys, in their huddle, called their final play on fourth down and three at the Washington 13. Seven seconds remained. The Redskins led, 13-7.
"This is our game to win or lose," Lane said above the roar of 60,000 fans. "It's only right they've got the ball here. We've got to win it right now. Play deep, tackle them in front of the goal line and we win the game."
Quarterback Danny White took the snap, stepped back and looking, looking, fired shorter than the Redskins expected. He threw to wide receiver Kelvin Edwards at the 6. As the ball hit Edwards' hands, safety Joe Cofer hit Edwards, and the ball fell harmlessly to the artificial turf.
In a stadium stunned into sudden silence, 70 or so men dressed in burgundy rejoiced. Upstairs in the press box, five of the assistant coaches danced like school kids, "screaming and hollering and hugging everyone," said quarterbacks coach Jerry Rhome. Safety Danny Burmeister grabbed Lane. "We did it! We did it!" Burmeister yelled. It later struck Lane that they reacted as if they had won the World Series.
On the sideline, injured quarterback Ed Rubbert, an icebag stuck under his jersey to soothe his bruised right shoulder, thought for a moment that the Cowboys had one more down. But when he saw the defenders jump up and down, he realized it was over. Too sore to jump himself, he hugged the closest man he could find, punt returner Derrick Shepard. Moments later, he wrapped an arm around H-back Craig McEwen, someone he especially wanted to congratulate. "You played a great game," Rubbert told McEwen, who caught seven passes for 108 yards, including four third-down passes for first downs in the second half.
Two seconds were left when backup quarterback Tony Robinson took the final snap and downed the ball at the Washington 11. Now, officially, the game was over. The replacement Redskins had won in an upset, 13-7, to finish undefeated and run the collective Redskins' record to 4-1. Wide receiver Joe Phillips took Coach Joe Gibbs' right side, center Mike Wooten took his left, and Gibbs was hoisted into the air.
"No, no," Gibbs said, smiling. He soon was safely back on firm ground.
Minutes later, Gibbs had gathered his team together behind the closed doors of the dressing room. "This is one of the most exhilarating nights we've had as Redskins," Gibbs told them. "This meant a lot to me, to all of us. Thank you."
He told them they would all get game balls, to go along with the team picture and other souvenirs. Owner Jack Kent Cooke made a rare locker room appearance and shook hands all around. And then they packed up and left.
The last game played by the Redskins' nonunion team was one of the most memorable games a Washington team has ever played against Dallas. It can safely be said they went out on top. The Redskins, playing without even one veteran, didn't allow the Cowboys to run a play in Washington territory in the first half, and Dallas had six of its real starters playing. The Redskins led, 3-0, at halftime, but the score should have been more like 16-0, if only the Redskins hadn't squandered opportunities from the Dallas 5, 25 and 7.
In the locker room at halftime, the Redskins actually were mad. They were leading, yet they were frustrated. "We're self destructing," guard Darrick Brilz said to no one in particular. "We're in charge. We're running on them. We're just not scoring."
The defense felt a bit different. Sure, the defensive players wanted more points, but they knew they were on top of their game.
On the first play of the game, running back Tony Dorsett, playing to a chorus of boos, went off the right side for eight yards. Up came Lane, the commercial real estate broker who by all rights should have been watching on television. He barreled into Dorsett and stopped him, but Dorsett's shoulder pad jutted through Lane's face mask and opened a half-inch gash on the bridge of his nose.
Lane ran back to the huddle, blood streaming down his nose. Defensive tackle Dan Benish looked over at him. "Well," Benish said, "it's going to be a long day."
In the third quarter, the Redskins drove 80 yards to wide receiver Ted Wilson's 16-yard touchdown run on a reverse and a 10-0 lead. Rhome and offensive assistant Dan Henning, in the press box, were on the headphones to Gibbs. Rhome's time earlier had been preoccupied with talking to Robinson, who had not expected to play. "Be sure to check the weak safety," Rhome would say between series. "Get the ball off quicker." He wanted to remind Robinson of what he was supposed to do, not overload him, not scare him. They talked perhaps 15 times, a lot for one game.
On this drive, Rhome and Henning were suggesting that "the reverse is there, run the reverse." It had been brought up at halftime. Finally, on first and 16 after a penalty, Gibbs called the reverse. It worked like a dream.
Wilson took the ball and, when he saw the open space in front of him, "knew the only place I could have stopped was the end zone. That's how open it was."
The Cowboys had three veteran defensive linemen, but they also had eight replacement players behind them. The Redskins noticed them pursuing the run, chasing all to one side. Why not trick them, they thought. It worked.
Brilz, who was blocking Pac-10 opponents at Oregon State a year ago, had the unenviable task of blocking all-pro defensive tackle Randy White. He did well. Once, he knocked White completely off his feet. Most of the time, their battle was a draw, but a tie goes to the offensive lineman. Only a very few times, White got the better of him and either sacked or hit Robinson.
At one point, another offensive lineman commended Brilz' work by telling Randy White: "You're not bleep, Grandma."
White apparently did not respond.
The Cowboys scored a touchdown in the third quarter, and began their long march to the possible victory with 2:37 remaining and the ball at their 7. They moved quickly, and, with 41 seconds left and the ball at the Washington 20, Dorsett took a handoff on a draw. Benish saw it. He had played Dallas before, as an Atlanta Falcon. He had seen the Cowboys fool his team and run a draw for a 70-yard touchdown in a passing situation a couple years ago.
Not this time. He grabbed Dorsett's left ankle, and hung on for dear life.
"I really didn't know how to bring him down. I was thinking I've got to hang on. This is the game," Benish said.
Dorsett pulled away, finally, for three yards, until a group of defenders pounced on him. Valuable time was lost just by Benish hanging on.
The game took three hours and eight minutes. "It went too fast," Lane said. "I kept feeling like I was missing the moment. I imagine it will hit me when I get home: 'We beat the Cowboys.' It's sad. It will never be like this again."
Few slept on the long flight home. "Too much energy," one said. They drank beer and toasted one another. It was 5 a.m. when the buses pulled into the Dulles Marriott parking lot and the players quietly filed into the lobby to head back to their rooms. Two women were working behind the desk. The players don't remember hearing them say anything as they went by.
"They probably didn't even know we played," said Lane. "They probably didn't know who we were. That's all right. Three weeks ago, we weren't anybody, anyway."
Special correspondent Steve Berkowitz contributed to this report.