As Good as It Gets
By David Sell
Joe Gibbs was sitting in the cab of the 18-wheel trailer that carries his NASCAR team's cars and tools, remembering how it all happened. He talked about his first meeting more than 15 years before with Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke and the "ridiculous" handshake deal they made. He spoke of his short-lived 1981 plan to trade away "that sucker" John Riggins. He stressed a point he likes to make in public speeches: "If you pick the right people, then you're going to be successful."
The Redskins of the 1980s certainly ended up with the right people, and they succeeded magnificently, playing in three Super Bowls and winning two. Washingtonians were beside themselves with joy after the Redskins beat Miami in Super Bowl XVII on January 30, 1983. That was, after all, the franchise's first NFL championship since the 1942 season. Nobody could blame fans for going mad for awhile.
"You can get a smile on anybody's face in this organization, and really in this area, if you only ask about the '80s," said Bobby Mitchell. "Fans were excited. We were the talk of the league. Even teams that didn't like us couldn't help but say good things about us."
At the decade's outset, however, it was not so clear that the right people would be in place to create such golden years. Head coach Jack Pardee was in a power struggle with general manager Bobby Beathard. John Riggins walked out of training camp in 1980 over a contract dispute and didn't return that year, a season in which the team had a dreary 6-10 record. Gibbs was a little-known offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers who despaired of ever getting a head-coaching job at the college level, much less in the NFL.