The Matchup: Washington Redskins (8-1 regular season, 3-0 playoffs) vs Miami Dolphins (7-2, 3-0). Miami's fast but light Killer Bees defense—so named because six starters had last names starting with the letter B—was up against the Redskins' Hogs, their massive (by 1983 standards) offensive line and the Diesel, Washington's powerful running back John Riggins. To complete the nickname fest, the Redskins had a diminutive group of receivers called The Smurfs, some of whom participated in a group touchdown celebration called The Fun Bunch.
Early Worries: The Dolphins got off to a quick start when receiver Jimmy Cefalo took advantage of a coverage mixup and turned a little sideline pattern into a 76-yard touchdown on Miami's second offensive series. Washington scrapped back and tied it at 10 late in the first half, but Miami's Fulton Walker promptly untied it with a 98-yard kickoff return and his team took a 17-10 advantage into the locker room.
The Turning Point: Late in the third quarter, on first down from the Miami 18, Joe Theismann threw into the right flat. Defensive end Kim Bokamper tipped the ball high into the air and was about to catch it at the four and stroll into the end zone to give Miami an 11-point lead that would have taken Riggins out of the game plan. But Theismann reacted quickly and recovered to bat the ball out of Bokamper's waiting arms
The Game Breaker: After an illegal block penalty, the Redskins had possession at their own 48 and three plays later faced a fourth and one at the Miami 43. Gibbs didn't hesitate in his call to go for the first down. The call was Seventy Chip, run from goal line formation. As he had been doing all game, Gibbs added motion to the play to try to create just a moment of confusion in the Miami defense.
On this play, the motion caused more than confusion. From the tight, jumbo formation, tight end Don Warren went in motion from the left side of the line to the right. Dolphins' cornerback Don McNeal shadowed Warren. When Warren got to the right end of the line, he reversed his direction. McNeal slipped slightly and was a step or two behind Warren as the ball was snapped.
The Hogs exploded off the line, blocking back Otis Wonsley sealed off the end, and Riggins easily had the first down after taking Joe Theismann's handoff and going off left tackle. McNeal was left unblocked and his attempted arm tackle was useful only to provide a snapshot that adorned the dens of thousands of Redskins fans. After brushing aside McNeal, Riggins easily rolled into the end zone for the TD. The extra point made the score 20-17.
The Clincher: Riggins gained the last of his Super Bowl record 166 yards rushing on a time-consuming drive that culminated in a Theismann touchdown pass to Charley Brown. Theismann rolled right and fired to Brown, who just managed to keep both feet in, allowing the celebration to begin.
Afterwards: Game MVP Riggins, in his usual humble form, stated, "Ron (Reagan) is the president but today I'm the king." Second-year coach Gibbs, meanwhile, was refusing to get tagged with the "genius" label, saying that he was just lucky to beat, in order, future Hall of Fame coaches Bud Grant, Tom Landry, and Don Shula.
Rich Tandler is the author of the upcoming book Gut Check: The Complete History of Joe Gibbs' Washington Redskins. Read accounts of each games that Gibbs coached for the Redskins, data on every player who played for him and every coach who coached under him, offseason and between-games headlines and much, much more. For details on how to obtain this book, a must-have for any true Redskins fan, go to www.gutcheckbook.com
Back in Time: Super Bowl XVII
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