December 16, 1991: Rypien Take A Ribbing

We just don’t understand. If we get part of our fingernail ripped off, we scream, roll around on the floor, go to the emergency room, complain about it for a week and tell the story for a year.

”You mean you took yourself out for that?” Coach Joe Gibbs wisecracked.

Center Jeff Bostic held his gnarled and disfigured hand up in Rypien’s face and said, “I lose a finger nail every week.”

Line coach Jim Hanifan told 290-pound Jim Lachey to keep a straight face, please, and stop laughing at the quarterback. “No, no, he’s a quarterback. It’s his passing hand. It’s serious.”

”Aw, gimme a break,” Lachey said he snorted, looking at his own swollen mitts. “Get the clippers. I’ll fix it.”

Rypien, his only bandage a single bandaid, was acutely shamefaced, despite another superb day with three touchdown passes (and a fourth dropped) for 230 yards on just nine completions in 19 passes.

”It’s the stupidest, worst, funniest injury I’ve ever had. . . . I am totally embarrassed. . . . When the X-rays came back, I was hoping for something. Just a little chip in the bone. But, nothing. They’re giving it to me bad. Teasing? Yeah, and deservedly so. ‘Out of game. Jammed fingernail.’

”We’ve got guys who play with incredible pain . . . putting dislocated shoulders back in place between plays. . . . This is pitiful. {Trainer} Bubba {Tyer} says it’ll hurt for a couple of days, then it’ll get better, even if the nail comes off. . . . I’ll play next week.”

Asked how he was going to treat his boo-boo, Rypien said, “Oh, this ‘Grade Four Tear?’ . . . I might have to elevate it tonight.”

In January, if Rypien gets out of sync and starts throwing one-hoppers, maybe this all won’t be so funny. Especially since he got hurt in the fourth quarter. Of a meaningless game. With a 10-point lead. On a trick play after a fake end-around. Then, perhaps this amusing play will become Son of Rocket Screen in Super Bowl XVIII. Or Theismann’s injury on the Riggins Pitch-Back?

For now, however, on the Redskin Ship Lollipop where everything works out right, the play goes in the books as a 50-yard Rypien touchdown heave to Gary Clark for the game’s final-icing score. That makes it easy to ignore the big shot Leonard Marshall laid on Rypien, the kind that sometimes ends up as “collarbone” not fingernail.

To the Redskins, such thinking goes beyond mere couch-potato squeamishness and is tantamount to fifth-column sedition. Rest Rypien in the second half? Give Stan Humphries experience? Rest Darrell Green, who’s hobbling with a bad ankle? Give the ball to young Ricky Ervins and old Gerald Riggs and let Earnest Byner, who’s returning to form at last, allow his knee to heal?

AAAARRRGGGHHH! Mutiny. Treason. Up against the wall. Here’s your blindfold.

”I think we did it the right way. . . . We charted our course,” said Gibbs. “We wanted to play hard and we did.”

There may be a Redskin who disagrees but he has not been unearthed.

Linebacker Matt Millen watched the same scenario last year as his 49ers clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with two weeks left, then sleepwalked through two nothing games.

”We lost to New Orleans, then should have lost our last one too, but Steve Young took it on himself to win the game by himself,” said Millen. “We thought we could turn it on and off and we couldn’t. We lost our momentum. I think that’s a big reason we barely beat the Redskins, then lost to the Giants.

”There’s only one way to play.”

Perhaps the only Redskin who’s almost as hard to replace as a 28-touchdown Rypien is Green, one of the best cornerbacks in history. Yet he’s playing hurt and thinks he should.

”My ankle hurt all game. I couldn’t plant on it,” Green said. “I’m an employee of the Washington Redskins. I’m a man under authority, not a man over authority. Your wife probably asks you, ‘Why do you write a story on Christmas Day.’ That’s just the way it is.

”Also, I play to win. A lot of times, big games, little games, I don’t feel too great. . . . The bottom line is, we get paid to play. I’ve never found myself saying, ‘Coach, I want to come out.’ That’s not the way I learned the game.

”I wish I could be down in my basement, watching on TV, not playing. But what this {game} reflects is sound handling of a team.”

So there. The view here is that the Redskins’ approach, though risky, is the best of two unpalatable alternatives. If you go down playing hard, at least you can live with yourself. If you quit for a couple of games, then stink when it matters, you’ve gotta feel like a dog.

”I’m 33. I’d like a game off,” said Bostic, joking. “But if we all start coming out, who’s left to play?”

Instead, the Redskins -- provided Rypien heals as expected -- get to look at all the ancillary benefits of their victory. They rushed for 151 yards on the Jints with Byner looking semi-sharp getting his 1,000 yards and Ervins looking like a 1,000 man of the future.

Not only did their mired ground game regain some confidence but they helped contribute to the Giants’ internal disintegration. Phil Simms passed for 288 yards, making new coach Ray Handley look even more like NFL Pumpkin Head of the Year for sticking with Jeff (Just Good Enough to Lose) Hostetler until the season was all but a washout.

”I’ll take responsibility for this loss and this season. Our discipline has gone to hell,” said Handley.

The Redskins, of course, wish Handley a long run in New York. (Guess why.)

Except for the occasional humble punt or fumbled kick, the Redskins are, at the moment, an almost nag-proof team. They even try when they could snore.

Next week, the average potato would, no doubt, turn in a spud performance in Philadelphia. Rest Rypien on the grounds of his mangled digit. Let Green prop up his ankle. Let Ervins run and Monk, now that he has his 1,000th yard, catch his one pass and take a rest.

But the Redskins probably won’t. They’ll probably play everybody who is functional and hit the best defense in football with the new hurry-up offense, which Rypien has learned to love.

Win or lose, it’s the better way to go. Not many teams ever get a chance to become a 14-1 steamroller. You’d feel like a fool if you stopped it yourself.