January 18, 1988: Butz, Veterans One From the Heart

Dave Butz was talking about his heart, and from it. The before and the after of games such as yesterday’s belong to the old men of sport.


There had been a meeting on the eve of the NFC title game, one of those coaches-get-lost sessions where the Redskins pups demanded that some of the geezers rise and rhapsodize.

Butz spoke, and then proceeded to whip the devil out of Minnesota blockers close to a decade younger yesterday. Doug Williams spoke, and then overcame a fairly awful three quarters to produce the winning touchdown pass.

Uppermost in many Redskin minds for a couple of weeks has been the consummate nonplaying veteran, Nate Fine. He has been the Redskins’ photographer for as long as the Redskins have been Washington’s -- and he is very ill. That the team has dedicated the season to him also was emphasized Saturday night.

If another football fossil, middle linebacker Neal Olkewicz, had not flung himself over a pile of bodies and helped keep rookie D.J. Dozier out of the end zone 10 minutes earlier, the second-greatest Redskin play of the ‘80s would not have taken place.

The goal-line stand on a pass pattern the Vikings call “Smoke 83 Option” now ranks just behind the John Riggins touchdown run in Super Bowl XVII in recent Redskins lore.

It was a freeze-frame moment. And because Butz’s heart is larger than nearly every other in town, he was asked how it behaved when Wade Wilson dropped back and cocked his arm with the clock under a minute and the Vikings six yards from overtime.

”Did it sink?” Butz asked, repeating the question and smiling. “It didn’t sink; it stopped. I saw the ball being thrown. I saw a receiver {Darrin Nelson} open a whole lot.

”I saw his {Nelson’s} feet over the goal line” -- and then his eyes caught what Nelson couldn’t, the ball popping free and falling to the ground.

”How close,” he asked, “can you get?”

Until Darrell Green either bumped the ball loose or Nelson simply was another Vikings running back who forgot how to keep hold of a pass yesterday, the Redskins bandwagon had been bogged down somewhere around New Mexico after racing toward San Diego at a fierce clip early with the opening 98-yard touchdown drive.

At that point, Washingtonians were hopeful of a rout; but having followed these Redskins faithfully -- and fitfully -- this strange season, they knew not to get too excited too soon.

As might have been expected, the offense tripped all over this wonderful thing known as opportunity. With a chance for at least three almost-certain touchdown passes, Williams either threw too long or too late.

Jay Schroeder also was itchy. Whether the notion of replacing Williams ever honestly interrupted Coach Joe Gibbs’ side line concentration, the customers seemed about a series away from demanding a change.

Then Olkewicz dragged Dozier back to earth, on third and goal from the 1, and the Vikings lost four important points by having to settle for a field goal.

After the next kickoff, Williams showed that he could, too, hit the side of a wide-open Gary Clark. As before, Clark was yards beyond the closest Vikings defender; unlike before, Williams made absolutely certain the ball would not sail out of sight.

That was for 43 yards. Two plays later, Williams whistled a pass that might have stuck to Clark’s chest in the end zone had he not cradled it there.

That brilliant Williams bullet and that glorious grab by Olkewicz made certain that the Vikings needed to surge into the end zone on their final march just to earn overtime.

”We had so many more defenses this time,” said Olkewicz, comparing yesterday to the final regular season game in which career-backup Wilson had embarrassed the Washington defenders.

The Redskins defense might have been four times as complex this time, Olkewicz imagined. There were fresh faces, Clarence Vaughn, Ravin Caldwell and Kurt Gouveia, in addition to fresh formations.

”I’m sure they had to be confused,” Olkewicz said. “Sometimes, we were.”

The Vikings scored 38 points in an overtime loss to the Redskins in the 1986 regular season. The Vikings scored 24 points in the overtime loss three weeks ago. The Vikings got just 10 points yesterday.

Some progression.

In the clubhouse about an hour after the Vikings had gone up in “Smoke 83 Option,” Butz’s son, David, offered him what had given him the right to speak his mind about 18 hours earlier: two Super Bowl rings.

The 14-year veteran recalled telling his teammates how “sick” he felt after the Redskins lost to the Giants in the NFC final last season.

”I told them how far we’d come this season,” he said, “how we were one little game away {from the Super Bowl}. I said how sick we’d be {if they lost}, that we’d just be sick the whole offseason.”

Butz then revealed that he’d been sick enough at being underappreciated during a training-camp holdout to seriously consider retirement. Linemate Charles Mann had made some unflattering comments.

Still, Butz was in excellent shape. So his wife Candy decided to do some powerful persuading. Butz recalls her saying: “You can stay here {in Belleville, Ill.} if you want; I’m going to Washington.”

”You told me that in the kitchen, remember?” he said to her outside the clubhouse. She did. Then they walked off with friends, David trailing his father and holding a game ball.