Occasionally, a game confronts diametrical foes who are annoyed by everything the other team represents. In such cases, each team's success is not only a standing critique of the other, but also a kind of insult. The same thought is in every mind: "If they're doing it right, then doesn't that mean we must be doing it wrong?"
In games like this, they can't wait to play. And we can't wait to watch.
This afternoon, the quiet, heady, clean, bland Washington Redskins and their virtue-peddling leader, Joe Gibbs, go to Philadelphia. There in Veterans Stadium, they'll meet the vicious, bragging, exciting Philadelphia Eagles and their vain, bullying, dead-honest, totally loyal coach, Buddy Ryan.
The Eagles are chaos in shoulder pads and proud of it. The only thing they'd rather talk than trash is garbage. They count the quarterbacks they disable and have been accused of paying bounties for injuring foes. Their defense is a gambling, breath-holding, front-seven stampede. Their quarterback says of his scrambling offense, "Nobody knows what we're going to do, because half the time we don't know ourselves."
After watching the helter-skelter Eagles, ex-Redskin and Eagle Sonny Jurgensen said, "I don't think they practice during the week. I think they all have day jobs."
Yet the Eagles' team leaders -- lay preacher and marauding sacker Reggie White, and acrobatic Randall Cunningham -- are two of the most respected men in football. And they, like most of their teammates, are fanatically fond of the passion of Ryan, a leader who loves his men, if not too many other folks.
Some Eagles, like Andre Waters and Ron Heller, may lead The National's list of The NFL's dirtiest players. Yet the Eagles are also a free, fun-loving band of Buddies (36 are in the same bowling league) who wonder when it became a crime to get rough during a pro football game. Isn't that what it's about?
Under Ryan, the Eagles also have this habit of raising money for charity, pulling truckers out of their overturned cabs on the New Jersey Turnpike and saving families from burning homes. They fit their town. Call 'em mean and boastful football players and they'll say, "You bet." Call 'em bad people and they'll think you're crazy.
When the Redskins look at the Eagles, they think of Waters ending kicker Jess Atkinson's career with a cheap shot or of the Eagles gathering around a hurt Redskin seven weeks ago and taunting, "You guys need any more bodybags?" They think of Ryan, who's never won a playoff game and who may get fired if he loses today, mouthing off this week about Earnest Byner's fumbles.
Naturally, the Redskins, led by silent star Art Monk and mild-mannered Mark Rypien and coached by the ever-cautious Gibbs, won't say boo about the Eagles. Considering what happened seven weeks ago -- when the Redskins were reduced to playing a rookie halfback at quarterback on national TV -- it almost seems timid for the Redskins to keep so mum. But that's their style: speak softly and carry five big Hogs.
"Sixty percent of the things that can go wrong in life happen when your mouth is open," said one Redskins coach.
Never did two teams reflect their two coaches so completely. Seldom have two coaches liked each other less. And seldom has a playoff game seemed more like a coaching matchup.
Ryan's signature is defense, especially the blitz. Gibbs's signature is offense, especially beating the blitz. Ryan's pride is his defensive line. Gibbs's is his offensive line, which allows him to establish the run, then throw the bomb. Five yards, five yards, then 50. That's Gibbs.
After Philadelphia's 28-14 victory against Jeff Rutledge and Stan Humphries on Nov. 12, Redskins center Jeff Bostic said, "What they did tonight -- full blitz -- is what we've fed off for the last 10 years."
When Philadelphia has the ball, the contrast is wonderful. The Eagles like to play it loose. Let Randall ramble in his own end zone, then air the ball out 58 yards into the wind, let everybody play jump ball at midfield, then watch the whole gorgeous mess turn into a 95-yard touchdown.
The Redskins' defense is so technocryptic -- with 18 interchangeable men in key roles, depending on the situation -- that almost nobody understands it. For sure, Cunningham and Ryan never have. Some of the great quarterback's worst games have been against the Redskins and, this season, the Eagles' two worst offensive days (270 and 262 yards) came against Washington.
In those two games, Cunningham was sacked nine times and the Eagles' offense managed only 21 points. But the Eagles have run against the Redskins this season, averaging 4.4 yards a carry.
The Eagles, and the oddsmakers, think that Philadelphia will beat Washington the way it did in November -- with two touchdowns on turnover returns and a defense that makes the Redskins tuck their tails.
Privately, the Redskins' confidence is extremely high too. They think the Eagles are about to be taught a lesson.
In the last five weeks, the Redskins' running game -- the key to neutralizing the Eagles blitz -- has returned to John Riggins-level efficiency: 176 yards a game. Even Gerald Riggs is back. The key Eagle against the run -- Pro Bowler and co-captain Jerome Brown, the 295-pound tackle who helped the Eagles to their No. 1-ranked run defense -- is supposedly out (or slowed) with a shoulder injury.
Rypien will start against the Eagles for the first time in four games. His forte'? Read the defense. Then plant his stoic 6-foot-4, 234-pound frame in the face of the blitz and hit the "big play." When he last faced the Eagles: four touchdown passes, 288 yards on 23 passes, 37 Redskins points.
The Redskins assume the Eagles' big talk, and lack of poise, will haunt them while the Veterans Day massacre of veteran Jeff Rutledge in Veterans Stadium will motivate them.
Asked about his team's locker room mood after the last Eagles game, Gibbs said on Friday, "Probably like being in a board room after your company went broke."
As for this week's practices, he said, "This team has been businesslike in its approach." Businesslike? What, no suicide pacts? "I haven't heard about any," said Gibbs. "But I'd probably get in one with 'em."
The Redskins and Eagles have identical records. They've split games the last two years. Even their point totals -- for-and-against -- are almost identical. Eagles: 396-299. Redskins: 381-301.
No two teams could be more equal.
Or more different.
They can't wait. Neither can we. Prediction: Why not? This time, the Eagles will need "Buddybags." Redskins, 17-14.