Reporting David Elfin
It was a play that the Redskins had run countless times. Left tackle Jim Lachey’s job on the counter-trey was to pull to the right. However, on this particular run on Washington’s opening drive of the 1993 preseason, left guard Ray Brown failed to block Cleveland linebacker David Brandon, who came crashing into Lachey’s right knee.
“My knee hurt and my brace was bent, but I wanted to keep playing,” recalled Lachey, who had missed four games in 1992 with a sprain of that same joint, likely costing him a fourth straight All-Pro season and prompting the Redskins to have him wear a brace in 1993. “I stayed in the game and we probably ran eight or nine more plays until we scored.”
When the offense reached the sideline on that steamy August night at RFK Stadium, the Redskins’ medical staff came over to check on Lachey. The starters weren’t going back in the game so his work was over in any event, but the initial diagnosis wasn’t that serious although he felt something akin to a heartbeat in his throbbing knee. It was taped up and iced down and the 30-year-old Lachey headed home for the night.
The next morning, Lachey was horrified to discover that his right knee “had blown up three times normal size.” The ACL was torn. His season was over, and so, as it turned out, was Washington’s.
The Redskins, who had set records for most points scored and fewest sacks allowed en route to winning their third Super Bowl in a decade in January 1992, had struggled the following season but still advanced to the NFC’s divisional round.
Cinch Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs stunned the NFL by retiring in March 1993, but the Redskins quickly promoted long-time defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon to the top spot. Star receiver Gary Clark had departed via the newly-instituted free agency system and standout linebacker Wilber Marshall had been traded after a contract dispute, but the core of the 1991 champions remained intact.
The inexperienced Mo Elewonibi replaced Lachey on a line that included veterans Brown, Jeff Bostic, Raleigh McKenzie and Ed Simmons. Former Pro Bowl linemen Mark Schlereth and Joe Jacoby were reserves.
Washington opened with a 35-16 home conquest of archrival/defending Super Bowl champion Dallas on “Monday Night Football.” But that would prove to be a false positive. The Redskins lost at home the next week to lowly Phoenix when quarterback Mark Rypien was kayoed with his own knee injury. That would be the start of a total collapse that concluded with a 4-12 record, Washington’s worst since 1963, the year that Lachey was born.
The Redskins, who had allowed just 32 sacks in 1991 and 1992 combined even with Lachey missing those four games in the latter campaign, surrendered 40 in 1993. They scored just 230 points, fewer than half of their total from two seasons earlier.
“I had so much respect for Richie,” said Lachey, who took advantage of his time away from the field in 1993 to launch a broadcast career that’s now heading into a 17th season in Ohio State’s radio booth. “He had done so much for the Redskins. He was a guy’s guy. And now we were in trouble and I couldn’t do anything to help.”
Lachey did stick around to work with Elewonibi and his knee was pretty much back to normal in 1994 so much so that it was a right shoulder injury that ended his career in 1995. However, Lachey’s protégé and so many Redskins veterans, including Petitbon and most of the assistant coaches, Hall of Fame receiver Art Monk, Hogs Jacoby and Bostic, four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Charles Mann, Super Bowl XXII hero Ricky Sanders, Super Bowl XXVI safeties Danny Copeland and Brad Edwards, would be let go after the train wreck of a season.
It was the end of the most glorious era any Washington sports franchise has ever had. And it happened 20 years ago this past Friday although no one realized its significance at the time.
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 three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.