The Redskins were coming off a 10-6 season in 1990. Though they had won a playoff game the year before and returned many of their key players, there were still big questions surrounding Washington in the offseason.
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John Kent Cooke, son of late owner Jack Kent Cooke: None of us thought we were going to win the Super Bowl, but we thought we would be in contention. We knew we had work to do, though.
Charley Casserly, general manager, 1989-99: We’d made it to the playoffs the year before, and [Mark Rypien] played well. Was Ryp ready to go to the next level? That was one of the things we were going to find out. We didn’t feel we had one of the top three or four quarterbacks in the league.
As I remember it, Ryp had improved the year before but we inquired about trading for John Elway in the offseason. It never came to fruition, obviously, for a number of reasons. One, they thought about it and they said no. What they discussed, we wouldn’t do — they wanted Jim Lachey included, and we wouldn’t trade him. I don’t know if it ever got to the point where it was a real, just-say-yes-and-it’s-done discussion, but we talked about it.
Mike Shanahan, won two Super Bowls coaching Elway in Denver: I heard it was real. I didn’t know how much because I was an assistant coach. But there were a lot of strong rumors about it. That would’ve changed [the history of] both franchises.
Mark Rypien, quarterback: They probably would’ve gone after anyone but me. We had made the playoffs and won a playoff game the year before, which for me was a great moral victory. But at that time, with the Redskins, you were evaluated pretty harshly, and pretty much getting into the playoffs and winning a playoff game was not good enough in that era. People were spoiled because of the success the Redskins had had in the 1980s.
Ricky Ervins, running back: Coming in as a young guy you have an image of the NFL as larger than life. …When I came here, they had nothing but trucks. I expected Porsches — nah, man, it was all trucks. Everyone was blue-collar workers. I felt something right then at that time — it was going to be a special year.
Charles Mann, defensive end: If you made it through training camp, you were a man. It was difficult, and Coach Gibbs believed in hitting. … There’s things they don’t get now in this modern age because they don’t get to hit like we did. As much as I might envy the money that’s being made, I don’t know if I would’ve been as good a player. I felt confident coming out of practice. I was always confident what I’d do in a game based on how we practiced.
Jeff Rutledge, backup quarterback: I can remember coming off the field on Fridays, we felt like we just played a game.
Bubba Tyer, team trainer: There was always one night a week we’d go to Carlisle High School and have this night practice. It was neat. There was always more hitting, more intense, more injuries. He worked them hard.
Despite the tough practices, the Redskins struggled in the preseason. They lost at Pittsburgh and won at New England before dropping their final two to Cleveland and the New York Jets.
Casserly: The last preseason game, we played a lousy game. There was really a sense of anxiousness going into that first game of the regular season that we weren’t right, we weren’t ready to go.
Andre Collins, linebacker: We stunk up the field in preseason. … The only person I felt was freaking out was Coach Gibbs. No one else seemed flustered by it.
Joe Gibbs, head coach: A lot of people don’t know this, but Jack Kent Cooke was none too happy with me after that preseason. … I get a call from the office: “Mr. Cooke wants to meet with you.” I’m thinkin’, “In preseason? This has never happened before.”
He starts right up. “Hey, look, I think we’ve messed up here,” he said. “We’ve got too many old players. Our football team is going downhill.” He goes into a tirade with me about the problems with the football team.
Now, I didn’t usually get this agitated with Mr. Cooke because I respected him a great deal. But that’s one of the few times I did get heated. I started into my own tirade, defending my guys. “We have a good football team,” I said. We went around and around, raised voices, the whole thing. … Finally, he said, “Listen, me and you are going to cool off, go upstairs and have a coffee and talk this out.” And we did.
Then we started winning games. And we won more games. And he never said anything to me again. I always thought we had great conversations. He was never afraid to give you his opinion, which I liked.