Uncertainty hovers above the Washington Redskins like a gathering storm as they prepare for the playoffs. Throughout this season they've been enamored of their talent, steadfastly insisting they're a very good team, perhaps even a championship one. But their results argue otherwise. They won 11 of 15 games, but failed to beat anyone convincingly since Buffalo, two months ago. Only one of their 11 victories came against a team that ended the season with a winning record, while three of their defeats were imposed by teams that ended the season with losing records.
Late in the season, far beyond the point where good teams have settled on their pivotal personnel, the Redskins were still auditioning at running back. But that's minor tinkering compared to the upheaval of switching quarterbacks for the playoffs. In playoff dry runs, the Redskins went on the road for their last two games and transmitted conflicting signals. They lost to struggling (7-6) Miami when Dan Marino vaporized their pass defense in the closing minutes, then overhauled stumbling Minnesota (8-7, third loss in a row) with a desperate comeback. Some people who saw that game still haven't exhaled.
The Redskins have lost to Atlanta, the worst team in the league. They've not won even two straight games by 10 points or more. In their one true consequential game -- Miami -- where a victory would have preserved home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs, they lost. Other than blind faith, nothing within their season suggests the Redskins can now go on the road against a divisional champion and win.
But they will.
They'll beat the Bears.
And when they do Joe Gibbs will mechanically proclaim that his team is no longer the "tremendous underdog" it was against Chicago, but is now "the biggest underdog in the history of sports," tactfully leaving "Western Civilization" and "the whole, wide universe" available to use during Super Bowl week.
(Dexter Manley, of course, won't think the Redskins are underdogs. As Dexter says, "We can beat anybody, even the Russians if we have to. Mikhail Gorbachev? We can beat him. We can beat Congress." Unfortunately, neither Congress nor the Russians are on the schedule next season, just the AFC Central. But it's keen observations like these that led Mike Ditka to say Dexter's IQ was "the size of a grapefruit." In Chicago they're setting up toll free numbers you can call to vote whether Dexter's IQ is higher than a grapefruit, lower than a grapefruit, equal to a grapefruit, or higher than a grapefruit but lower than most natural grains. I think Dexter can resolve this by debating a different citrus fruit each month.)
They'll beat the Bears because the Bears are in a worse funk, emotionally and physically, than the Redskins. Talk about lineup changes, Ditka has trashed so many starters that team meetings are being held in a dumpster. It's Hefty-Bag time for Otis Wilson, Todd Bell, Mike Richardson and, say it ain't so, The Fridge. Ditka didn't bother putting The Fridge on the bench. He gave him directly to the Chicago Environmental Protection Agency to use as a landfill. Have you seen The Fridge lately? He must weigh 380 pounds; a Chicago writer said he's one chocolate eclair away from exploding. If The Fridge cuts himself shaving, he'll probably fly around the bathroom like a balloon until he exhausts his air supply.
The Bears are the most overvalued team left in the playoffs. Six of their starters on defense are either new or playing a different position since the beginning of the season. Two mainstays on their offensive line, Jim Covert and Jay Hilgenberg, are nicked. Their best running back -- sorry, Sweetness -- Neal Anderson, won't play. The Redskins manacled Payton last year; they'll be happy to retire him this year. And for all Jim McMahon's irrefutable luminescence as a Chicago starter, he has a sore hamstring, and on a frozen, treacherous field the Bears are one slight and normally innocuous slip away from Mike Tomczak, who last season frightened the Bears so much that Ditka started Doug (Muggsy) Flutie in the playoffs.
Did you see the Bears' last three games, with Tomczak at quarterback? They lost, 41-0, to San Francisco, 34-21 to Seattle, and barely beat the Raiders, 6-3. You see a 6-3 score and automatically assume the game was played in abominable weather conditions. This one was in L.A., under warm sunshine. The only abominable aspect was the teams involved. Tomczak was indistinguishable from Marc Wilson, who quarterbacks like he was just struck by a bus.
The Bears are the same 11-4 as the Redskins. But eight of those victories came over teams whose combined record was 22-55-1. Like the Redskins, the Bears beat one team with a winning record -- Minnesota. The Redskins' four losses were by a total of 11 points; they're 15 points away from 15-0. The Bears are still 42 points away from 12-3. Why would anyone think the Bears are invincible? Because Ditka, the last man left on earth with an Eddie Munster haircut, can roller skate and throw gum at the same time?
You always hear the same stuff about the Bears, how they're the mighty Monsters of the Midway. What about The Wimp Factor? The Redskins practiced outside this week. (No problem, except for Dexter's sensitive rind.) The Bears hid like mice indoors in South Bend, Ind. On Sunday, who they gonna call, Coldbusters?
Last year the Redskins went to Chicago and won easily. This year there are different quarterbacks, different starters all over the place. The more things change, the more they stay the same.