If the bad begins with 1979, the good starts with 1982. It was the NFC Championship Game. It was the year a players’ strike wiped out seven games, so Washington was the top seed with a record of 8-1. But that loss was to Dallas, who stood at 7-2. The arrogant Cowboys were sure they’d set this pretender of a team in their place and get on to the Super Bowl. But the Redskins pounded John Riggins behind the Hogs. Dexter Manley leveled Danny White with a hit that knocked him out of the game. Daryl Grant finished the job by tipping a pass from backup quarterback Gary Hogeboom, intercepting it and the big defensive lineman waltzed into the end zone with a monster spike captured on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the words “Wham! Bam! It’s the Redskins!” Indeed it was, 31-17. We won our first Super Bowl and started a decade of greatness. For Dallas, it was third straight championship game loss and they wouldn’t make it this far for ten years. Life is good .
Beating your archrival in a conference championship game that ushers in a new period of history for both teams can’t be topped. But cameo roles go to two more games. The first is in 1992. Dallas was rolling and in first place. Washington was fighting for its playoff loss. We trailed late in the game 17-13. We forced three turnovers in the fourth quarter, won 20-17. It prevented the Cowboys from clinching the division, though they would recover and win the Super Bowl. But it gave Washington a win that got us over the top and into the playoffs. Unbeknownst to us at the time, it was a year that ended Joe Gibbs’ first term and the coach called the entire experience of the stadium rocking one of the great memories of his career.
Gibbs’ second term came to an end in 2007 with another playoff berth. And again, we beat Dallas to clinch it. Cowboy fans can protest that Tony Romo came out of the game in the second half, because they had the #1 seed clinched. But the ‘Skins were dominating them by that point already, and Dallas had started to play poorly in December as it was. They would lose their first playoff game at home. Today, Washington played for the fallen Sean Taylor, for their coach, whom we all suspected would probably hang it up and for all of Redskin Nation. An early Portis touchdown set the tone for a 27-6 win.
I’ve kept the examples of the last two days mostly modern, because I can remember them firsthand. I don’t mean to give short shrift to another conference championship game, back in 1972 when we beat the ‘Boys 26-3 in RFK to get to the Super Bowl against the undefeated Dolphins. And on the bad side, I don’t mean to ignore the pain of 1974 when Clint Longley came off the bench to throw two long TD passes on Thanksgiving Day and beat us 24-23, a game George Allen called the worst loss of his career. And there’s countless other examples that could be picked. It’s part of a great rivalry. Let’s add our own chapter to it, by beating the first-place Cowboys on our first visit to the new stadium and keeping longshot playoff hopes alive for ourselves.
CBS has the doubleheader this week and the late games are highlighted by San Diego-Denver at Invesco Field. The Broncos are still without Kyle Orton and even with him, I think they are outmatched. The Chargers look to be on another late push right now. I’d love to see the Broncos humble the pompous A.J. Smith and the San Diego organization, but I don’t see it happening here. Call it Chargers, 37-17.
The Patriots-Jets game in this time slot looked a little spicier before New York faded. An upset win in Foxboro would put some life back in the AFC East race, but Mark Sanchez has been too interception-prone and Brady is too ruthlessly efficient to be beaten here. New England in a 40-14 cakewalk. I also look for Cincinnati to have some trouble with Oakland, as the Bengals are on a post-Steeler letdown, but to ultimately survive.
One team that couldn’t survive Oakland is Philadelphia and the big reason they are still chasing Dallas in the division and in the wild-card jamup we discussed yesterday. Their Sunday Night game with the Bears is a huge one as Chicago is 4-5. But the Bears seem to be coming apart at the seams and a new coach is probably on the way. Look for the Eagles to get the usual allotment of Cutler turnovers, play mistake-free themselves and win around 27-17, and the Bears fans to leave en masse by the five-minute mark.
The Monday Night Game isn’t a juicy one, with the Titans going to their old hometown to play Houston. Jeff Fischer’s team is surging and will upend the Texans, who are in the wild-card race, but the kind of team that always breaks the heart of its fans eventually. It happens here. This game is the cap of Jilted City Week. Baltimore is hosting the Colts and Houston is hosting the Titans.