For all of their success during the 1970s under Hall of Fame coach George Allen, the Redskins played in just one of the first 21 Super Bowls. That was Super Bowl VII, a game they lost 14-7 to the Miami Dolphins, the NFL’s only perfect team of the last 79 seasons.
However, the only play that most fans remember from that game was Washington’s lone touchdown, a 49-yard interception by Mike Bass with just 2:07 remaining. Of course, it wasn’t your average interception. Bass’ big play came after Bill Brundige blocked a field goal try by Miami’s Garo Yepremian, whose pass attempt fluttered into the arms of Washington’s cornerback and became a football follies staple.
On Saturday at Bishop O’Connell High in Arlington, Bass and Yepremian will re-unite to “re-enact” the play to help the Military Benefit Association as will a flag football game between the Wounded Warrior Amputees and a team of former NFL players including 106.7’s LaVar Arrington, whose father is an amputee veteran of the Vietnam War, and running back Larry Brown, the MVP of that 1972 season, the Redskins’ best in a four-decade stretch.
“We started the Redskins back to winning,” said Bass, who played in Washington from 1969-75. “We weren’t the best athletes, but we had great, smart football players.”
Bass and Yepremian had become friends when the former was on the taxi (practice) squad in Detroit and the latter was the Lions’ kicker, but neither was famous until that inadvertent moment brought them together forever.
“Garo and I have laughed about that play over the years,” Bass said. “Someone mentions it to me every week. It’s one of those plays that has gone down in history. George really emphasized special teams so a lot of our starters were on special teams. My job was called ‘Spy Man.’ If the kick was blocked, my job was to make the tackle, recover the fumble or take the ball the other way. I saw Garo with the ball so I started after him. He tried to throw it, but it slipped and popped up in the air. I was in the right place at the right time because that was my job.”
Like any kicker, Yepremian’s job never called for him to pass, but he was at even more of a disadvantage since he had never seen a football game until he debuted with the Lions in 1966.
“Everywhere I go, anybody who knows about football and some who don’t say, ‘He’s the one who messed up that pass!’ “ Yepremian said with a chuckle. “After a while, you understand that. People will never forget me.”
Yepremian even jokingly suggested that he was trying to do Bass and Co. a favor.
“I felt very bad that the Redskins couldn’t score and I wanted to keep the crowd in the stadium so I threw that pass backwards,” Yepremian said with a laugh. “They scored and the game became more interesting.”
But not with enough time left to force overtime.
“We were too conservative in the Super Bowl, but that was George’s M.O.,” said Redskins receiver Roy Jefferson. “With [Hall of Fame receiver] Charlie Taylor, [Pro Bowl] Jerry Smith, myself, Larry Brown and [fullback] Charlie Harraway, we had firepower that just wasn’t utilized.”
Thankfully, for Yepremian who wasn’t celebrating in the postgame locker room.
“I was trying to find a hole to crawl into,” said Yepremian, who went on to be named the kicker on the all-1970s team. “We had won the Super Bowl, but when you have pride in what you do and you don’t your job right, it’s devastating. Coach [Don] Shula wrote me a letter two weeks after the Super Bowl that said, ‘Garo, I know people are making fun of you, but you’ve done so many good things for this team. Without you, we wouldn’t have gone 17-0. Enjoy the Super Bowl check … and I’m looking forward to seeing you at training camp.’ “
Bass and Yepremian see each other a couple of times a year at card shows and autograph sessions, but this appearance will be different.
“I had never been asked to do anything for the wounded warriors before this, but these guys obviously sacrificed a lot more than we did,” said the 68-year-old Bass, who lives in Gainesville, Fla.
“I do a lot of charity events,” said 69-year-old Philadelphian Yepremian, who emigrated from Cyprus with $10 in his pocket at 22 and served in the Army Reserves and the National Guard while he was kicking for the Lions and Dolphins. “I love our armed forces and what they do for our country. They deserve so much from us.”
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.