October 26, 1987: Regulars Come Back, As Expected

The only trouble with the regular Redskins’ return to NFL combat was that they picked up exactly where they left off.

The real Jets are superior to the real Falcons, as those with long memories know. But for the Redskins not to have prevailed, as they eventually did, would have been a blow to themselves and at least a couple of virtues Americans hold dear.

Unity was taking it on the chinstrap in RFK Stadium. Here was a Jets house divided, with players who seemed to have raced across their teammates’ picket line before it got established, holding a nine-point lead early in the fourth quarter over The Team That Stayed Together.

Civility also was being bopped. RFK fans had been much more polite than expected, almost forgiving with their tepid response during pregame introductions.

”I might have been more hostile,” Rich Milot joked.

Not meaning to be unappreciative, the Realskins could more accurately have been called Drabskins more often than not.

”Not pretty,” R.C. Thielemann admitted.

”Isn’t this the way we always do it?” Joe Jacoby said. “Come from behind and win it at the end?”

Yes, that was the routine a good deal of last season. And, for omen watchers, that happened quite a lot when the Redskins won the Super Bowl after the strike-interrupted season in 1982.

Among the less obvious favors for which the Redskins were grateful was Arlington Hospital allowing Dave Butz to interrupt his stay long enough to muster three tackles and one quarterback sack.

Butz was taken to the hospital late Saturday night, when an intestinal virus eight days old kept getting more serious.

From afar, Butz looked healthy as ever during the game. But his losing 21 pounds is not quite the same as the rest of us.

”I’m down to 292,” he said. “I’d have to go back 15 years for the last time I’ve been under 300.”

To hear Butz tell it, fluids were being pumped into him at breakneck speed, he being something like six quarts shy. He was to return to the hospital after the game.

”I felt pretty good until the second half,” he said. “The second half, things started spinning a bit.”

Spinning was not a bad way to describe his teammates. Something good would happen, and then heads would spin quickly, back to the scene of an offensive crime.

”It’s the most penalties I’ve ever seen a Redskin team have,” Butz said. “In practice {after being on strike for nearly a month}, the defense had all the penalties; in the game, the offense got them.”

In truth, the frequency of penalties was not as close to record-awful as it seemed to Butz -- and others. The all-time high, perhaps a mark for the ages, was 17 against the Steelers in October 1948.

All the seven penalties yesterday did was keep alive a disturbing Realskins’ progression. They had five penalties the first game and six the second. Several were for Mark May hunkering too far behind the line of scrimmage (his helmet is supposed to be even with the center’s jersey number).

”They warned me the second play of the game,” May said of the unusual calls, “so I kept moving up. But I didn’t want to end up offsides.”

There was May-day joy, however, for helping make another Mark, Gastineau, disappear. The former sackman supreme was not even listed on the defensive stats.

”I shut out Gastineau,” May said. “He’s been back the last three weeks and I’ve been out six {with a knee injury before the strike}.”

As May was talking, a dislocated pinkie finger was being taped in place. Fingers often get damaged when they are wrapped tightly around something, but May denied having held more than his breath a few tense times.

Matters turned the Redskins’ direction midway through the fourth quarter. Quarterback Jay Schroeder and his receivers -- the teases -- finally began playing pitch and catch.

Also, Kelvin Bryant put aside his hamstring “twinge” long enough to literally take the game into his hands. One reception produced Washington’s second touchdown; three carries set up the winning field goal.

”Maybe he should get a twinge like that every week,” Jacoby suggested.

For the most part, the return for both teams went about as expected. NFL seers insist defenses always embarrass offenses immediately after a return to work, regardless of how long the absence.

Schroeder had been sidelined even before scab season, and was unusually erratic on his specialty throws. Fifty-yarders to open receivers that have ended as eerily-routine completions fell harmlessly at times.

Midway through the fourth quarter, an assertion Coach Joe Gibbs keeps giving was tested once more: “Jay brings us back.”

Several seconds after those words hit one notepad, on third and 10 from the Redskins 32 with slightly more than two minutes left in the game, Schroeder slipped deeper into his heroic mode.

Over one defender and in front of another, Schroeder’s pass led Ricky Sanders for a 39-yard gain. Some terrific blocking and running led to some stalling that ended with Ali Haji-Sheikh kicking the Redskins into a two-game lead in the NFC East.

Ironically, the more Thielemann blocked, the closer he came to one of the few anti-player signs in the stadium. That was the one, just behind the end zone that suggested he scoot back to Atlanta and allow the Scabskins to continue their work.

”At least,” Thielemann said, “somebody cares about me up here.”