January 13, 1992: Loud And Clear, It’s Washington’s Turf

Certain teams are wedded to certain places, their quirks and characters a match for each other. The Washington Redskins, a trifle old and not terribly glamorous, are married perfectly to the mud and thunder of RFK Stadium.

This has been the year of the stunning blowout in RFK. Teams come. Teams test their cleats in the clinging, clammy grass. Teams listen to one of the loudest crowds in the NFL, thanks to the intimate overhanging stands and rickety “temporary” bleachers. And teams fold their tents and collapse.

The Redskins have had unbeaten years at home, but never one in which they reduced so many foes to rubble: 45-0, 34-0, 23-0, 42-17, 56-17, 34-17, 24-7 and now 41-10.

”It was so loud the receivers had no chance to hear,” said Lions center Kevin Glover. “I’m right under {quarterback} Erik {Kramer} and a couple of times I couldn’t hear him.” When you can’t hear someone bending over you, screaming, that’s loud.

”The noise of this stadium prevents an offense which relies heavily on audibles from functioning at full potential,” said another Lion, veteran Bubba Paris. “I remember it from ‘83 {as a San Francisco 49er}. The fans are truly a sixth man here.”

Or 12th, if you insist on thinking of the game as football. Bubba’s brain was probably still ringing.

If this slightly old park is replaced in a couple of years -- if the announcement of plans for a new skyboxed pleasure palace in fact comes as soon as this week -- it will be mourned by the Redskins as though a Hall of Famer had retired.

”I’m not going to like that. I’ll be truthful,” Coach Joe Gibbs said of leaving RFK. “I’d like to keep on coaching here.”

As Gibbs said, “Our fans were at fever pitch . . . They raised it a level for us.”

RFK wasn’t the Metrodome in the World Series. But for an outdoor park, it wasn’t half bad as a headache haven.

The Lions probably lost this game on Kramer’s first five pass attempts. The synergy of crowd and Redskins defense was in full meltdown. Kramer’s first pass was batted back at him. On his second dropback, Charles Mann sacked him and caused a fumble. Washington ball at the Detroit 11. Score after four plays: 7-0.

Kramer’s third attempt, under pressure, bounced. His fourth was incomplete, aimed between two Redskins with no Lion in sight. His fifth went directly to Kurt Gouveia for a gift interception. Washington ball at the Detroit 10. Score after a dozen plays: 10-0.

There was more. But not really. As Detroit Coach Wayne Fontes said, “Wow. God, was that a replay or what?”

Everything about these Redskins mirrors the place they play. The Hogs love the loose turf and joke about secret grounds crew who flood the field in the middle of the night. Both Redskins primary running backs, Earnest Byner and Ricky Ervins, love to cut back, cut and plow for the extra yard. Beautiful long runs? Forget ‘em. Seven-yard rips? The stuff of long drives.

The Redskins defense is sneaky and mean. “No one thing a defense does confuses you. But if you keep forcing people to recognize what they’re seeing, somewhere down the line, they’ll mess up. Everything is not what it appears,” said head defensive coach Richie Petitbon, who admitted that the Lions had not pressed the Redskins enough for him to use his whole game plan. “We still got a few things for ‘em. Have to save something for next year.”

In RFK, quarterbacks have been known to slip as they set up to pass. Even great runners, such as Barry Sanders, discover that, after their best cuts, they seem to be standing in the same place. Sanders managed 44 yards on 11 carries, including zero net on his last six.

The end result is demoralization, a Redskins specialty all season. Meanwhile, the Redskins specialize in motivation.

”This has been a great ride for me as a coach,” said Gibbs. “I certainly can’t take all the credit for the this team’s success, and yet I get most of the credit. This team has taken charge of itself all year. . . . It has coached itself, pretty much . . . In ‘87, we seemed to catch great emotion {in the playoffs}. This team has had chemistry, focus and depth . . . It’s not X’s and O’s. It’s people.”

People who respond to pressure and demands. “Our fans got involved and that was the turning point,” said Mark Rypien who is now a true top-of-the-line NFL quarterback. Not only was Rypien 12 for 17 for 228 yards and two killing bombs as pretty as anybody can throw, but he was an emotional, fist-pumping, crowd-milking leader.

”I wanted to get back and avenge,” said Rypien, referring to his injured, three- interception performance against San Francisco in the playoffs last year. “I wanted to make amends. . . . “

Now, the Redskins must go to a neutral-, artificial-field Super Bowl in a dome to play a no-huddle team that loves such antiseptic settings. No, the Metrodome is not the Redskins’ kind of place. Away from RFK and on artificial turf, the Redskins were 4-1 but only outscored their foes 147-109. “We’re not as good a team on AstroTurf,” Petitbon said last week.

No matter what happens in Minneapolis, this NFC game was, in some sense, a summary of the Redskins’ year. When those clattery bleachers start to shake, when the upper deck seems to vibrate from the foot stomping, when a wall of noise descends on the opposition futilely trying to call an audible at its own goal line, the Redskins and their fans share their own small heaven. Darrell Green runs back interceptions for touchdowns. Gary Clark and Art Monk put a subtle double move on some poor backpedaling defensive back and, in a blink, get open deep for the knockout scores. And, everywhere, folks in burgundy and gold seem to fly around, more than 11 at a time, it seems, hitting everything that moves, just as their 55,585 friends would wish.

Now, all that has ended. The bedsheet signs can be folded. “Goin’ To The Show.” “We Want Bufalow.” “The Silence of the Lions.” “The Roar Is Ignored.”

Special teams in special places are rare in sports. There’s still a Super Bowl to be played and a champion to be crowned. But for those who like old-fashioned football -- rough and rude and loud -- it doesn’t, and it won’t, get any better than this.