Reporting David Elfin
Since the Redskins began competing in the NFL in 1932, this will be the team’s 81st season. However, since Dan Snyder is making a fuss over the team’s 80th anniversary, including a contest to add 10 names to the 70 Greatest Redskins who were unveiled a decade ago, I thought that I should cast my votes publicly.
After all, I’ve been watching the Redskins all the way back to 1968. I began covering them in 1989. I have written five books about the team and I am the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. So I think I’m pretty well-qualified to weigh in on the greatest Redskins.
Snyder’s minions did a nice job of choosing 80 candidates from which fans are supposed to narrow down to 10. While I could argue with a couple of the 70 names who were selected in 2002, the 80 current names have seemingly every base covered from Erny Pinckert, an original Boston Redskin in 1932, to longtime trainer Bubba Tyer, whose final season with the franchise was in 2009.
I could make cases for plenty of names on the list, especially linebacker Brad Dusek, running backs Mike Thomas and George Rogers, receivers Charlie Brown and Henry Ellard, return specialist Eddie Brown, kicker Chip Lohmiller, offensive linemen Jon Jansen and Tre Johnson and general manager Charley Casserly, but all of them fall a little short of the elite 80.
After much consideration, here are my 10 suggested additions to the all-time greatest Redskins.
Bobby Beathard is a gimme. The GM built the Redskins teams, who dominated the 1980s along with the San Francisco 49ers. Beathard’s teams won two Super Bowls, three NFC championships, made the playoffs five times and recorded seven winning seasons and just two losing ones during his 11 years in command. With Casserly’s help, Beathard drafted/signed such gems as Darrell Green, Art Monk, Russ Grimm, Joe Jacoby, Dexter Manley, Charles Mann, Mike Nelms and Neal Olkewicz. Beathard also convinced owner Jack Kent Cooke to give a young assistant his first head coaching job. Some guy named Gibbs.
Richie Petitbon, the coordinator of Gibbs’ defenses from 1981-92 before a failed stint as his boss’ successor in 1993, is almost as easy a choice as Beathard. Petitbon’s gang weren’t as hyped as Gibbs’ offense, but they made plenty of big plays despite a usual lack of big names beyond Green, Mann and Manley.
Gibbs’ aforementioned offense wouldn’t have worked its magic if assistant coach Joe Bugel hadn’t molded a bunch of young linemen (plus veteran right tackle George Starke) into the fabled Hogs of Jacoby, Grimm et al. Bugel returned to the Redskins with Gibbs in 2004 and produced another outstanding line that was anchored by tackles Jansen and Chris Samuels. The latter, a six-time Pro Bowl pick during his nine full seasons in Washington, is also a no-brainer for the list of the greatest Redskins.
Beathard, Petitbon, Bugel and Samuels make four down with six to go. Next on my list are the two best backs for whom Samuels blocked: the physical Stephen Davis, who was the heartbeat of Washington’s 1999 NFC East champions, and the mercurial Clinton Portis, who came through in the clutch to lead the Redskins on their late-season runs to the playoffs in 2005 and 2007.
Two players who starred on that 2005 defense, linebacker LaVar Arrington and safety Sean Taylor come next. They combined for five Pro Bowls during their 10 seasons in Washington, but there will always be the what-ifs for both. How special could Taylor have been if he hadn’t been shot to death at 24 in 2007? And how long could Arrington have been a force if he hadn’t been banged-up and feuded with the coaches during his last two years in Washington before being released at 27?
My last two picks aren’t nearly as familiar to Redskins fans. “Wee” Willie Wilkin was a dominant lineman from 1938-43, a period when Washington went 45-16-4, winning one NFL title and losing two other championship games. Joe Lavender arrived from Philadelphia in 1976, coach George Allen’s last playoff season, and was a backup when Gibbs guided the Redskins to their first Lombardi Trophy in 1982 so the cornerback isn’t as appreciated as he should be. But Lavender intercepted 29 passes during his six seasons as a top-notch Washington starter and he belongs among the franchise’s best.
I still hope to be writing when the Redskins choose their 100 greatest 20 years from now. By then, Santana Moss, Chris Cooley, Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan and Robert Griffin III should all be candidates. I look forward to arguing about who belongs.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin