PHILADELPHIA -- Let's not misinterpret what happened here. This was not an upset. Beating Bonehead Buddy Ryan in the playoffs is not rocket science. The Eagles have a marauding front seven, a magician at quarterback and the finest tight end in football. But no secondary, no offensive line, no running game beyond Randall Cunningham, and no threatening wide receivers. The Redskins are a better team than the Eagles, particularly in a playoff situation. Beating the 49ers, that would be an upset.
Joe Montana will not dally until the fourth quarter to complete his first pass to Roger Craig or Jerry Rice, as Cunningham did with Keith Byars and all of his wideouts. George Seifert will not yank Montana for no apparent reason, and replace him with a dead man, as Buddy did to Cunningham. Even if Seifert does decide to jerk Montana, the man he'd send in, Steve Young, is capable of moving his team up the field -- unlike Jim McMahon, who is a zombie.
What do you imagine was whistling through Buddy's empty noggin -- besides the wind -- when he had the brainstorm to pull Cunningham? What flavor Ultra Slim Fast milkshake is he drinking, Mr. Coconut Head? Cunningham is the most singularly feared offensive player in football. Admittedly, he was ineffective to that point in the third quarter. But no matter how forlorn he might seem, he's still never more than one snap away from making a touchdown all by himself. How many times do you have to see him on the highlights before you believe in his sudden magic? "He's the best player in the league," Todd Bowles said after the game. "I hate playing against him more than anyone else."
Jim McMahon? Maybe Buddy was having de'ja` vu. Maybe he thought it was 1985, and he was back in Chicago. Maybe he thought this McMahon was that McMahon, the comet in day-glo shades who smart-alecked the Bears to the Super Bowl, then disintegrated under a volley of injuries. Better Buddy should have served up Ed McMahon. Jim McMahon? Puh-leeze. If I'm Buddy, and my last move as a head coach is going to be that lamebrained, I'd send in Norman Braman at quarterback -- maybe I can get a free car out of it.
Right before the game ended Braman got on the elevator, going down from the loge level, and someone remarked that he looked like he'd been to a funeral. He had. Buddy's.
The Redskins have some problems. But coaching isn't one of them. Joe Gibbs is now 12-3 in the playoffs! The offense wasn't showy, but it managed to spring Earnest Byner on pass routes that were open wider than Dustin Hoffman's mouth in "Marathon Man." The Redskins pass defense was airtight. "The coaches gave us a perfect game plan," Charles Mann said. They have come to know Cunningham well and defend him wisely. The rushers remained disciplined, appreciating, as Tim Johnson explained, "Any time Randall gets loose -- meaning outside of contain -- he is one dangerous dude." When Cunningham had time to throw, he had no one to throw to; everyone was covered. "I didn't think we were going to take them all away like we did," Bowles said with relief.
It can be argued that the turning point came as Byner's alleged fumble was overruled by Instant Replay -- don't be surprised next season if The Squire boots Eugene McCarthy out of the box in favor of George Sladky; don't even be surprised if The Squire christens the new stadium "George Sladky Field" -- but the way they were playing defense, the Redskins might have won anyway. (That call put me in an awkward position. I loathe Instant Replay, but it's hard to pound the drums against it today. Tomorrow? Yeah, dump it.)
Not that stingy playoff defense should shock anybody. In 1982, the Redskins allowed an average of 12 points per playoff game. In 1986, it was also 12; same in 1987. In their last three regular season victories leading up to this Eagles game, the Redskins yielded an average of 11. Here, they gave up a measly six against the NFC's most prolific offense. Exaggerating deliberately to make his point, Mann crowed, "If the Philadelphia Eagles have the greatest quarterback who ever played, and we stopped them from scoring a touchdown, then we're headed in the right direction."
Now, let me correct an errant impression this column may be giving -- that the Redskins were yakking it up after the game. They weren't. In fact, most of them didn't say anything, including the chattier and most convivial folks, like Russ Grimm, Jeff Bostic, Darryl Grant and Jim Lachey. Mann, too, insisted, "I'm part of the No-Comment Conspiracy," before easing up. The policy was arrived at during a players-only meeting on Friday, in response to the bodacious woofing the Eagles had done after the infamous Monday Night Body-Bag game, and all last week. (Either that, or Gibbs has hired Marcel Marceau as an assistant. Tell me, how would he say "We all have to sleep on the couch?" in mime?)
The Redskins wanted the Eagles to dine on their own words. "I have nothing to say about Philly," cooed Grimm. "Go ask them why they lost. They've got all the answers." Bostic suggested there was a moral in the silence: "a lesson in humility for people who might need it," arching his eyebrows in the direction of the Eagles' locker room. Thankfully, some broke the omerta, like Bowles and Joe Jacoby. "They're our interpreters," Bostic cracked. But even those who did talk paid the code lip service, so to speak. As he was led into a crowded interview room, Mark Rypien winked at Lachey and asked, "Should I no-comment?"
Mark Schlereth explained: "We decided that after we won, we wouldn't talk about this game. The Eagles were past tense. They were history." This is aimed at the Eagles, then? "That'll boil it," Schlereth said, adding apologetically, "It comes from higher up than me -- guys with more years on the team than I have. On this one, I'm just being an Indian."
So the Redskins left Philadelphia with their heads high and their tongues tied. They'd won their first playoff game since the San Diego Super Bowl, and were overjoyed to do so in a Buddy-Bowl. They'd proven they were at least the second best team in the brutal NFC East, quite possibly the third best in the whole NFL. The hard road comes now.