October 1, 1991: No Eluding Phantom of RFK

If you’re the Chicago Bears, the Cleveland Browns or anybody else who’s scheduled to play the Washington Redskins any time soon, you’ve got to start hiring security guards, witch doctors and maybe even counterespionage agents immediately.

First, Barry Sanders, currently the best running back in football, was expected to play against Washington but aggravated a rib injury in pregame warm-ups and missed the entire opening game.

Since then, Sanders has run for what seems like 1,634 yards, never missing a game, and the Lions haven’t lost. Detroit quarterback Rodney Peete also played hurt against the Redskins and looked it. Ring up a 45-0 shutout.

Next, the Redskins allowed Dallas halfback Emmitt Smith to run the length of the field for a touchdown -- a wily, if slightly unusual ploy. Smith, who may be the second-best running back in the NFC, got sick to his stomach and saw limited duty thereafter. Was the injury important? Well, Washington won by two.

When the Redskins met Phoenix, the Cardinals’ starting quarterback, Timm Rosenbach, was out for the season with a knee injury and the visitors were reduced to using a person identified as Tom Tupa as their quarterback. Another shutout in RFK, this one easier than the first.

The Bengals thought they were at full strength, but that didn’t last long. Their superb halfback James Brooks, also one of the NFL’s premier threats, was injured after just seven carries and never returned. He watched the second half in street clothes. The Redskins won by an entire touchdown.

The worst blow so far, however, was saved for the Eagles last night in RFK Stadium on “Monday Night Football” so all of America could see the bizarre doings that now surround the Redskins.

Everyone knew that the visitors would have to do battle without Randall Cunningham, usually referred to in Philadelphia as Our Entire Offense, Such As It Is. What no one suspected was that, in this Season of the Redskin Hex, second-string quarterback Jim McMahon would last less than one quarter.

McMahon, like Sanders, Smith and Brooks, was hurt on a play when it appeared that no Redskin did him any damage. McMahon scrambled out of bounds on a nondescript play and ended up with a sprained knee.

The Eagles offense was reduced to using 13-year veteran Pat Ryan, whose status at the time of Cunningham’s injury was Unemployed But Interested In Anything Involving a Football.


Nice offense there, Eagles. No beat and you can’t dance to it either.

Clearly, the Redskins are the most wonderful, unstoppable and awe-inspiring team in NFL history. At the moment, after this 23-0 triumph, their combined score against three opponents in RFK Stadium is 102-0. The Browns, due in Washington Oct. 13, had a bye this week but can be expected to request that the NFL offer them another one as a special dispensation.

Of course, there is one other interpretation of the data. The Redskins might be a pretty good team, somewhat better than last year’s 10-6 aggregation, which has been I-N-C-R-E-D-I-B-L-Y lucky.

In a town full of conspiracy theories, it is almost impossible to overlook the possible involvement of the intelligence community in all this. With the demise of world communism and victory in the Persian Gulf, does anyone really know what the CIA has been doing with all its spare time?

Who knows what really happened to Sanders in warm-ups? Did anybody check the Cowboys’ water bucket after Smith got sick to his tummy? Could high-powered dart guns be at work here? Sonny Liston got hit harder in Lewiston, Maine, than McMahon got tagged last night.

Without a quarterback, the Eagles really were unable to field a competitive or even mildly interesting offense. In fact, if Mark Rypien were not -- as is already known -- such a prince of a gentleman, this game would have been exactly like the last two routs in RFK.

Many quarterbacks have, no doubt, played worse games than Rypien did against the Eagles. But nobody ever played a more bizarre one. Sure he threw for 204 yards, but the man made this week’s blooper shows several times. It’s probably fair, but the guy makes $1.25 million a year, so he’ll just have to take it.

Should we start with the interception thrown slightly behind an open receiver in the end zone to kill a drive at the 4-yard line? Rypien shouldn’t be blamed for his first fumble. He was blindsided. A later fumble was far more interesting. He tripped himself dropping back to pass, then knocked the ball out of his own hand with his knee, then couldn’t fall on the ball as it lay beside him. Rypien’s other two fumbles were, by contrast, fairly basic. He just dropped the snap.

On Rypien’s second interception, he was trying to semi-intentionally ground the ball on a totally busted screen pass. He threw it to an Eagle. This has probably been done before, but memory fails. This time, Rypien was saved by the replay. The game officials, who turned in a typical NFL performance -- they were so befuddled you couldn’t even get mad at them -- saved him this time. Replays showed conclusively that the evidence was inconclusive. So the interception should have stood. But it was reversed. Got that?

On the next play, Rypien threw too hard and behind Ricky Sanders for a deflected interception.

The final tally, please. That’s four fumbles, two of them lost; three interceptions, one of them reversed, and, for spice, a wide-open Gary Clark overthrown in the end zone.

The feeling here is that Rypien is a smart, tough, somewhat above-average NFL quarterback who can help a powerful team like the Redskins to a Super Bowl. But when he gets on a reverse roll and loses his poise, he can also turn in some of the most gawdawful games ever seen.

By the end of this season, the Redskins defense -- which reduced the we-quit Eagles offense to using Brad Goebel at quarterback to wind it up -- will probably prove it’s as good as its statistics. As for the Washington special teams, they’ve already proved they are as wild as they are gifted. Finally, the offense is so versatile and bludgeoning it scored 23 points on a night when its quarterback tried to give away that many.

Still, these Redskins are touched with a bit of mystery. How can any team be this lucky week after week? And how far can a team go in the playoffs with a quarterback capable of a game this embarrassing?

Here they come, America, the Washington Redskins. A team for the ages? Who can tell?