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Gibbs: Guys on that team really liked each other. That’s easy to say because we were winning, but I had had some good teams that won before, and that one stands out as one of the closest groups I’ve ever been associated with.
Mitchell: Guys were always together. When you saw one, you saw 15. It was like a family. If a guy had people over to his house, 30 or 40 guys would show up. When guys went out to the clubs, you’d have 10 or 15 guys.
Monte Coleman, linebacker: Art Monk, Donnie Warren, some of the leaders — we went to the coaches to say we wanted time to talk amongst ourselves, no coaches.
Jim Lachey, offensive tackle: We’re there Saturday night, and coaches going through their spiel, and then they said, “Okay, we’d like all the coaches to leave.” Some of the coaches looked around like, “Yeah right, we’re not leaving.”
“No, it’s a players-only meeting.” Sure enough, they got up and gingerly left. I’m sure a few had a cup on the door outside.
Joe Jacoby, offensive tackle: We just started this and talked about what the year meant to us individually. That went week to week and people could say what they want. Guys spoke what they felt.
Ervins: I used to love those meetings. They were so heartfelt. It made you dig down deep so when you’re going to play, you did it for team. Anyone could get up and speak. Not just vets. Type of thing you looked forward to every weekend.
Washington carried an 11-0 record into a Week 13 matchup against the Cowboys at RFK Stadium. But their rivals ended the Redskins’ bid for a perfect season with a 24-21 win.
Chip Lohmiller, kicker: It was an eye-opener that we’re not going to win every game and we had to step it up. We got our bubble burst and had to come back to reality and work harder.
Collins: I remember the week after, coach Larry Peccatiello put on some old game film from some of those earlier games and just showed us how hard and how fast we were playing. And looking at some of those early games on defense, we were like a pack of wild dogs going after meat. We might have lost some of that in the 10th or 11th week.
Jerry Jones, Cowboys owner: It was a benchmark for us to even think we could compete at that kind of level. We won there in Washington and that ballgame, I thought, was really what turned our franchise in the direction that allowed us to be successful in the ensuing years. Our success had everything to do with being able to beat the Redskins by just a couple of points.
Gibbs had never focused on a perfect season and his most urgent task was to make sure the Redskins rebounded from the tough loss.
Tyer: They were a bunch of characters with character. They were a special group, and we were fortunate to be with them.
Matt Millen, linebacker: When we’d watch film, I used to sit in the back of the room with Russ and Big Jake — Joe Jacoby — and I’d sit back there with the linemen. We had one of our first live drills, and we’re sitting in the back of the room, and [Gibbs] turned to [assistant coach] Emmitt Thomas: “Run the tape.” And then a second later: “Stop.” … As soon as he stopped the tape, Russ Grimm said, “Oh, no,” and he slid down in his chair like he was in sixth grade. … And [Gibbs], he just squared his jaw and gritted his teeth, and said, “Look at this!” He called guys out: “That’s not good enough!” And he did not care if you were on your first day on the job as a rookie or you were finishing your career in your 15th year.
Mann: The Hogs did a remarkable job of keeping Mark Rypien untouched that year. We only gave up, what, nine sacks? The whole season? Incredible.
Rypien, in fact, posted a career year. In addition to a veteran line, he had three great pass catchers in Art Monk, Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders — affectionately known as “The Posse” — and he found each often.
Kornheiser: This was lightning. This was his moment. … I think he was a guy who understood: “Wow, this is it. This is now. I’ve been touched by magic, and I’m going to have a good time doing it.”
Gibbs: The most memorable part of that season was dealing with Mark Rypien. He was probably one of the brightest players I ever coached. He wasn’t the most gifted athlete on his feet and his ball wobbled a bit, but he was a very good deep thrower. Most of all, he was super smart.
Without exception, players shower Gibbs with praise. The head coach already had two Super Bowl rings but worked tirelessly that season for a third.
Casserly: Joe’s greatest strength was consistency and determination. He had a methodical way of doing things and the ability to adapt to the players he had. Honesty, preparation — he always knew what he was doing. Joe treated them like men. Joe motivated by intelligence. What he would do is explain to them exactly what it’d take to win a game. By the end of the week, the players were sold on it, and they knew the plan would work. The players believed in everything he said.
Rypien: We were probably the smartest team I've ever been around, as far as incorporating different game plans each and every week. I remember Coach Gibbs saying he didn’t think we could [keep up] and do as well as we did based on the game plans every week. He thought he’d have to cut it down because he thought it was too much.
Art Monk, wide receiver: We always had good teams, but that was one of those years where you knew, you just knew. It wasn’t an arrogance or a false sense of bravado. Once we secured a playoff berth, there was a feeling that we’ve really got something and now we just don’t want to screw it up.
The Redskins lost the season finale at Philadelphia after Gibbs pulled his starters early. Washington finished the season 14-2 and secured home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
PREVIOUS: CHAPTER 2 — 16 GAMES, 14 WINS