Remember the beer commercial they show near Halloween with Elvira, Mistress of the Dark? She's pushing a shopping cart through a supermarket and she sees a poster of herself and says, "Wow, it's like de'ja` vu . . . Wow, it's like de'ja` vu."
Now remember 1982.
Wow, it's like de'ja` vu.
Another strike season, another late-season injury to Art Monk, another Super Bowl for the Washington Redskins.
See you in San Diego.
Don't forget to bring your asterisks.
Some weeks ago, in the clubhouse after the Dallas game, another one of the Redskins' patented breathless finishes, Rich Milot was thoughtfully reflecting on what to that point had been a troubled season. The strike had been bitterly received by the fans, and even though the Redskins were winning, there was the sense that their fans were maintaining an emotional distance. Humbled by the unconditional way their strike ended, the players were also uneasy about where they stood with management.
Internally, there were problems as well. Who would quarterback the team had become a hot potato. There were brief tempests at middle linebacker, at running back, and, it seemed, everywhere Jeff Bostic played. Special teams performances caused so much concern that the Redskins brought in a consultant to tidy up the mess. The sense on the street was that the replacement players had staked them to a lead too big to blow. Sensing themselves in a no-win bind, the Redskins were feeling rather unappreciated.
"When we first got back from the strike I thought that this season would be tainted, and that no matter who won the Super Bowl, it wouldn't mean as much as other years," Milot said that December afternoon. "But now after all we've gone through, after all the controversies and criticism, I think if we were to make it to the Super Bowl it would give us more satisfaction than the other times we went. Just because of how tough a struggle this year has been."
But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?
b) The end of the tunnel.
c) The Vikings wearing miners' helmets.
If you're one of those who insists that all champions be woven from destiny of one sort or another, this could be a tough call. Minnesota, which owned the worst entering record of the 10 playoff teams (8-7), endeavors to do something that only the 1985 Patriots have done: win three playoff games on the road and qualify for the Super Bowl. The Vikings have so far dismantled New Orleans and San Francisco, the teams with the best records in the NFL. Are they destined? Their Dome-mates, the Twins, won the World Series. Lest we forget, they had the worst entering record (85-77) of baseball's playoff teams -- the worst record, in fact, of any World Series champion ever. Like New York's Mets and Giants last year, and Pittsburgh's Pirates and Steelers in 1979, is this Minnesota's year?
On the other hand, destiny fans, could these cards have fallen any better for the Redskins? After they handed over the home field advantage in Miami, it seemed certain Washington would be going to San Francisco for its first playoff game. And even if the Redskins scored a mighty upset they'd still have to face either Chicago (11-4) on the road or New Orleans (12-3) at home.
The longest odds on the board were a Washington-Minnesota NFC title game at RFK. So Minnesota upsets New Orleans, rewarding the Redskins with the softer of their two possible matchups: at Chicago, which struggled late and was using a quarterback of questionable fitness. Then, to really clear the Redskins' path, the Vikings upset the 49ers on Saturday. The winner of Washington-Chicago gets to host the NFC championship game -- a pipe dream for Washington when the playoffs began -- and draws Minnesota, a team they've both already beaten.
I know Joe Gibbs doesn't want to hear this, but realistically Washington-Chicago was for triple miles to the Super Bowl. Playing with a new quarterback, shifting in midgame to a new primary running back, stunned by three frightful drops by their breakaway back, the Redskins still won. Shook off 0-14 and won. Made all the required defensive adjustments at halftime and won.
My only wonder is how Gibbs will attempt to paint the Redskins as underdogs playing at home against a team they beat two short weeks ago on the road. Sure, the Vikings are hot. The Redskins aren't? Sure, the Vikings may be motivated by revenge. The Bears weren't?
But even Gibbs, who'd make Columbia a nine-point favorite over the Redskins because they're brainy enough to understand complex formations (even if they're unable to execute them), couldn't Houdini himself out of being favored, though he blanched at the notion. "I don't think there is a favorite in this," he said yesterday, calling the Vikings "red hot . . . the hottest team going . . . playing the best football of anyone."
You could look it up. With Gibbs, Washington has never lost to the Vikings.
For the third time in six years, more often than any team in the 1980s, the Redskins are going to the Super Bowl.