Reporting David Elfin
Unless you’re pushing 80 or beyond and can remember the 1942 and maybe even the 1937 NFL Championship Games, there’s not much debate about the top Redskins’ victories won in Washington.
No offense to the escapes of San Francisco and Minnesota in the 1983 and 1987 NFC Championship Games, respectively, or the dismissal of Detroit in the same round in 1991, but they just don’t compare with dispatching archrival Dallas at home to reach the Super Bowl.
Personally, the 1972 rout of the Cowboys will always be my highlight because I was a still a kid and because that 26-3 triumph sent the Redskins to their first Super Bowl. But a case can certainly be made for the 1982 conquest of the Cowboys because it not only led to Washington’s first title in 40 years but also signaled the start of the most glorious era in franchise history.
And it happened 30 years ago today at RFK Stadium just as the fans who had been screaming “We Want Dallas” during the divisional round victory over the Vikings had hoped even though the Redskins had lost six in a row to the Cowboys, who had won 11 games playoff games to Washington’s zero from 1973-81.
With a players’ strike having eliminated the extra week between the conference titles games and the Super Bowl, the NFC winner was going to fly from Washington to Pasadena to begin to prepare to meet the AFC champion. However, the Redskins were angry when they heard that the Cowboys arrived at RFK wit their bags packed for California.
“It was the ultimate insult,” said defensive tackle Darryl Grant. “They had all the high-profile players. They were going to come into our backyard and dance all over us, business as usual. The coaches had to pull us off each other a little bit in practice because we were so intense. I can’t remember ever seeing guys so ready to go. There was a lot of talk about ‘no respect.’ We could hardly wait to get on the field.”
Washington’s coaches were just as pumped. Offensive line boss Joe Bugel yelled at Ernie Stautner and gave the finger to the Cowboys’ defensive line coach Ernie Stautner, a Hall of Fame defensive tackle, when he spotted him on the opposite sideline.
And Redskins fans dreaming of their team’s first Super Bowl in a decade were as loud as they ever have been.
“There are still times when I close my eyes and picture myself strapping the pads on in that old RFK locker room and hearing that chant, ‘We Want Dallas,’ “ recalled guard Russ Grimm. “I still get the chills. We were in the locker room hearing that for more than five minutes before we came through that tunnel.”
The Cowboys overcame that intensity to strike first, but Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann found receiver Charlie Brown on a 19-yard post for a touchdown. Running back John Riggins scored four plays after Tony Peters forced a fumble on a Dallas punt return.
Washington still led 14-3 when defensive end Dexter Manley sacked Danny White just before halftime, knocking the Cowboys’ quarterback from the game with a concussion.
Backup Gary Hogeboom, who had attempted just eight passes in three years, drew Dallas closer with a touchdown to receiver Drew Pearson in the third quarter, but Mike Nelms returned the subsequent kickoff 76 yards to set up another Riggins score. Hogeboom answered with a touchdown to receiver Butch Johnson.
Mark Moseley’s field goal made it 24-17 Washington midway through the fourth quarter. On the next play, Manley tipped Hogeboom’s screen pass for running back Tony Dorsett into the air. Grant grabbed the ball and high-stepped to the end zone as the crowd went crazy.
After that, Bugel’s young Hogs and the venerable Riggins just kept pounding away at Dallas’ Doomsday defense. Cocky center Jeff Bostic told Randy White what was coming, but it didn’t matter. There was nothing that the All Pro defensive tackle or the Cowboys could do to stop Washington’s 31-17 victory.
A week later, the Redskins capped their rise from five years out of the playoffs to Super Bowl champions when Riggins ran over Miami safety Don McNeal to clinch a 27-17 triumph over the Dolphins, but 30 years later, that championship game defeat of the Cowboys in front of the burgundy and gold faithful at RFK remains arguably as sweet as any of the three Lombardi trophies that Washington won during that decade under coach Joe Gibbs.
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