SAN DIEGO -- No one in his proper mind would argue that this season's Washington Redskins were a dominant team. They won a division in which all of their rivals had losing records. Going into the playoffs they'd beaten only one team with a winning record, Minnesota -- in overtime -- and they'd lost to the NFL's worst team, Atlanta. Going into the Super Bowl seven of their 10 nonreplacement game victories had been by seven or fewer points. They had more close calls than Indiana Jones. Redskins Football: It's Not Just a Job, It's an Adventure.
Nor would anyone argue that these Redskins had a dominant player, someone who radiated glamor and celebrity from assorted magazine covers. Recent Super Bowl champions have had them. The 1982 Redskins had Theismann and Riggins. The Raiders had Marcus Allen. The 49ers had Joe Montana. The Bears' 46 defense was personified by Richard Dent and Mike Singletary. And the Giants' Lawrence Taylor may be the biggest star of all in the 1980s. This was supposed to be John Elway's ascension to that pantheon. Perhaps the closest player to that category on these Redskins is Darrell Green, and he's merely faster than life, not larger.
These Redskins don't scare anyone.
They just beat them.
(Al, baby, is that you?)
Because of what transpired during the strike, the Realskins had to play just two Big Games (Miami, Minnesota in consecutive road games) in the regular season, and three Must Games (Chicago, Minnesota, Denver) in the playoffs. They split the Bigs and and swept the Musts. Late in the season, nobody had it tougher. Nobody did it better.
With all due respect to the 49ers, these Washington Redskins are the best 45-man team Joe Gibbs ever has coached, and the best 45-man team in the NFL. There's no deeper, no more resilient, and no better-coached team in the game today. Neither Gibbs nor Bobby Beathard should have to take another step on concrete for the rest of the winter -- football people should be lining up to toss rose petals under their feet.
Beathard's acquisitions and Gibbs' teaching -- the keen eye and the steady hand -- are what have made the Redskins consistently competitive. This season's prime examples of their work came in separate three-game blocks during the replacement games and the playoffs. Faced with building from ground zero to get ready for Scab Ball, Beathard and Gibbs were the Wright Brothers of the NFL. "Bobby has been very creative getting me the players," Gibbs said Monday morning. And Gibbs has been very creative coaching them. It was an equal-opportunity situation, tabula rasa. All 28 teams had the same start-up time to get and train replacement players. The Redskins' were 3-0, and in two of those victories they were competing against teams well stocked with strike-breaking regulars. If that isn't teaching and coaching, what is?
The Redskins' success in the playoffs is no less illuminating. Gibbs and his staff have become known for their ability to adjust to formidable situations that arise during the game, to respond extemporaneously to unexpected circumstances, to "bench coach" as they say in basketball. They are honored for this because the trait is unusual considering the rigidity of most football coaches. Game plans are written not just in ink, but in stone. Now look at the Redskins' second half defensive performances in the playoffs: They yielded a total of six points in six quarters; 31 points allowed in the first halves, six in the second -- no touchdowns. The Bears may have limped into the playoffs, but they were home and had Jim McMahon starting. The Vikings had scored 80 points, demolishing New Orleans and San Francisco, and Denver had scored 72 in its previous two playoff games. Washington kneecapped them all.
And who do we get when we call the honor roll? Well, the all-time Super Bowl record holder for receiving yards in one game is now Ricky Sanders, and the all-time Super Bowl record holder for rushing yards in one game is now Timmy Smith, a rookie, and the all-time Super Bowl record holder for passing yards in one game is Doug Williams. The first two -- Sanders and Smith -- nobody in the country had heard of before Sunday evening. Not only weren't all three stars this year, they weren't even starters this year. Williams finally beat out Jay Schroeder. Sanders substituted for the injured Art Monk, and Smith did the same for George Rogers. Beathard plucked Williams and Sanders from the USFL for draft choices. Williams cost him a fifth, Sanders a third. Money well spent despite the fact that injuries allowed Smith to play a total of five games in his junior and senior seasons at Texas Tech.
Just last season, Schroeder, Monk and Russ Grimm made the Pro Bowl, and Rogers led the NFL in rushing touchdowns. On Sunday, none was a major factor in Washington's 42-10 victory. How many other teams could replace outstanding talent like that and not suffer a significant drop-off? All season long there was shuffling in the offensive line and creative substituting at linebacker, and still the essential character of the team remained intact. It is the mark of these Redskins -- and the highest tribute to Beathard and Gibbs -- that they have brought honor to the notion of replaceable parts. They are a team in the truest sense of the word, perfectly balanced, equally dependent on all the spokes in the wheel. It's a wonder Lee Iacocca hasn't tried to buy them and move them to Detroit.
And so we have another strike year and another Super Bowl victory for the National Labor Relations Board's favorite team.
You all know the words.
Let's sing another chorus.