Redskins Blog: Learning from Sox-Yanks and the HOF

What can the Redskins learn from the historic comeback the Red Sox made? Plus the start of a series examining the chances of some nominated former Redskins to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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Rich Tandler is the author of Gut Check, The Complete History of Coach Joe Gibbs' Washington Redskins. Get details and order at http://GutCheckBook.com

The Blog will not be taking the bye week off. I have no bumps and bruises that need to heal up and I can't afford to go out of town. Check back for some fun features, a look at some of greatest games in Redskins history that you don't hear much about, and some other good stuff as well.

October 21, 2004

Lessons to be Learned From Sox-Yanks

I'm not going to wander fully off topic here, but I must do some rambling on the biggest sports story in many years, the historic comeback of the Boston Red Sox to beat the Evil Empire, the New York Yankees. Their win in the AL Championship Series after trailing 3-0 is a feat that can never be topped. It would have been stunning if it had happened against, say, the Minnesota Twins. That it happened against the Yankees with the Curse of the Bambino, Bucky Dent, Aaron Boone, et al was, well, beyond shocking.

What lessons can the Redskins learn from this series? A couple of things come to mind. First, the players and coaches can learn from the Sox. Ironically, it was Yankee great Yogi Berra who said, "It ain't over ‘till it's over." And with New York up 3-0, having won Game 9 by more than a touchdown and a field goal, and holding a one-run lead with three outs to go, the series was over in the logical sense. But the Sox scratched out a run off of Mariano Rivera and there was a slight pulse. Boston won it in the 12th and it wasn't over. It wasn't over until last night, when the 27th out of Game Seven had been recorded and the Red Sox were celebrating on the turf of the House that Ruth Built.

At 0-3, the chances that such a celebratory dance happening seemed about the same as the Redskins chances of making the playoffs are right now. OK, maybe the Skins' postseason chances are slim and the Sox' chances were none, but you get the point. You have to keep playing the games. You have to keep fighting. You never know when things might turn in your favor. If you keep fighting and keep scratching good things have a chance to happen.

The other lesson out there comes from the Yankees and it is something that Dan Snyder needs to take heed of. New York is not the "best team money can buy". The Yankees are a collection of talented individuals. When it came to nut cuttin' time, they were lost and clueless. They had no history of playing with each other to draw on, no faith that the next guy in the order would be able to move things along. Every time up in Games Four through Seven, A-Rod, Sheffield and Matsui seemed to be swinging for three-run homers every at bat—even when there was nobody on base. They had absolutely nothing in common with Yankee tradition save the pinstripes.

The connection to the Redskins here is obvious. Great players don't necessarily add up to a great team. The whole of the Yankees is far less than the sum of its parts. The same can be said of the Redskins since the 2000 season. Hopefully Snyder was watching the ALCS and taking notes.

Hall of Fame: First Cuts The first round of nominees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's class of 2005 was released today. The list consists of 89 former players, coaches, and contributors. Of particular interest here, of course, are the former Redskins on the list. Here they are:

    • RB Gerald Riggs 1982-1988 Atlanta Falcons, 1989-1991 Washington Redskins
    • QB Doug Williams 1978-1982 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1986-1989 Washington Redskins
    • WR Henry Ellard 1983-1993 Los Angeles Rams, 1994-1998 Washington Redskins, 1998 New England Patriots
    • WR Art Monk 1980-1993 Washington Redskins, 1994 New York Jets, 1995 Philadelphia Eagles
    • G Russ Grimm 1981-1991 Washington Redskins
    • T Joe Jacoby 1981-1993 Washington Redskins
    • CB Lemar Parrish 1970-1977 Cincinnati Bengals, 1978-1981 Washington Redskins, 1982 Buffalo Bills
For quite some time there has been a book in the back of my head about the Pro Football HOF with some serious research into what gets players and coaches elected for enshrinement while others are on the outside looking in. That book is a number of years away from being written, however, so I don't think that I'll be making much of a dent in future sales if I go into some of my theories about why and why not in the course of evaluating the former Skins' prospects for wearing a yellow jacket in Canton next August.

Over the next few days, I'll discuss the nominees in order of their chances of selection from least to most likely.

Gerald Riggs--One credential that will help get a player into the HOF is having been considered among the very best players at his position for a number of seasons. Of course, the more seasons a player is considered an elite one, the better the chances. For three years, from 1984 through 1986, Riggs was one of the best running backs in the league. His peak year was in the middle of those three seasons when he gained 1,719 yards for the Falcons and caught 33 passes for another 297 yards. He was an ideal end of power and speed.

Riggs misses out badly, however, on a second credential that is nearly a must have. Before and after his peak as one of the best, he didn't sustain excellence. He had seasons of about 300 and 400 yards before spiking up to his three peak years of averaging nearly 100 yards a game. In the strike-shortened '87 season he was pretty good, picking up 875 yards in 12 games, but he never averaged more than 70 yards a game after than and had trouble staying on the field.

It seems that Joe Gibbs thought that Riggs had HOF potential when he persuaded Bobby Beathard to give up a first and a second for him in 1989. Riggs did lead the team in rushing that year albeit with a total of 825 yards. And he did score 11 TD's as the short yardage goal line back for the Redskins' champion 1991 team. Pretty decent accomplishments if, say, the Skins had surrendered a fourth-round pick for him.

For the sake of both the Redskins and his HOF chances he needed to have a several good-to-great seasons following his peak. Because he didn't, the trade was a bust and his chances of making the Pro Football Hall of Fame are zero.

October 20, 2004

What a Difference a Year Makes

Rash statements made and later retracted. Consultants brought in to look over the shoulders of the men coaching the team. Players fired and hired, seemingly willy-nilly. Confusion gives way to panic, which gives way to chaos. Disorder is the order of the day.

I'm not talking about the scene around the New York Yankees' offices today (although certainly George Steinbrenner has a lot in common today with Mount St. Helen's).

No, this was Steve Spurrier's Redskins' bye week in 2003. Today's Washington Times recounted the key moments:

    • Spurrier pinned the defeat (24-7 to the Bills) on his players, threatening to "get the owners and personnel guys and coaches and figure out who's playing hard."
    •Spurrier flatly rescinded his comments.
    •Management flew in Joe Bugel, now the club's assistant head coach for offense, and personnel consultant Foge Fazio to review game tape and make suggestions.
    •Spurrier cut backup quarterback Rob Johnson and signed Tim Hasselbeck, who hadn't thrown a regular-season pass.
    •Spurrier attempted to bring back quarterback Danny Wuerffel.
    •Spurrier decided the best fix for his offense, which was widely viewed as having been solved by NFL defenses, was to "get back to our original plan."
To set the scene, a promising 3-1 start had regressed to a 3-4 mark. Things were getting uglier by the week. They had gone from being a two-point conversion away from sending the Eagles to overtime to a second-half collapse against the Bucs to a non-competitive loss to Gregg Williams' Buffalo Bills. The hits that Patrick Ramsey was taking after seemingly every pass produced proud battle scars during the 3-1 start. After the three straight losses, though, the pounding was taking its toll.

Many fans found encouragement in the "figure out who's playing hard" comment by Spurrier. He soon found out that he couldn't just look to the bench and choose from several all-state performers to come in and take the job of an underachiever as he could at Florida. The salary cap hinders the building of quality depth and Dan Snyder's proclivity to spend lavishly on free agents makes the Redskins tend to be even more top heavy. There were no changes in the starting lineup.

That doesn't mean that some deck chairs weren't shuffled. Johnson, who had mopped up in the Bills game after Ramsey just couldn't go any more, was fired. Hasselbeck turned out to be a pretty good pickup; after Ramsey had to be shut down for the year, he played with a cool and effectiveness that belied his lack of NFL experience.

The bringing in of Fazio and Bugel was clearly a desperation move by Snyder in an attempt to salvage what he was beginning to see was a wasted investment of $25 million in Spurrier. The Ball Coach had been allowed to pick his assistant ball coaches and NFL coaching experience was scarce on the staff. Perhaps Buges and Foge gave a few good pointers, but if they did it was too little and too late.

It was hard to tell if Spurrier ever got back to the "original plan"; there was never much of a plan in evidence during any of his 32 games at the helm on the Redskins.

Things are much calmer at Redskins Park today. October 18, 2004

You know, I'm really dense sometimes. And shallow, too.

I tend to get offense-centric when evaluating and talking about the Redskins. Too often, it's all about Portis, who's starting at quarterback, how is the current incarnation of the Hogs playing. How does the Skins O match up with the other team's D?

The defense tends to be incidental. Previewing the Chicago game, I looked at the Washington offense and at how bad the Chicago offense was. The Washington defense, and, for that matter, the Bears D, got scant mention. Those were the units that dominated yesterday's game.

I have an excuse for this. It was provided to me by Chicago native Mike Wilbon in today's Post.
It's not what Washington has grown accustomed to, the Redskins being a defense-first team. From Otto Graham to Sonny to Joe Gibbs riding Riggo, Theismann and Art Monk, it's almost always been about offense. The Hogs, counter trey, Fun Bunch, Riggo Drill, 40-gut, 50-gut, H-backs, max protect, Doug Williams in the Super Bowl, Timmy Smith in the Super Bowl. Defense was something folks in Washington have tolerated, maybe even appreciated, but offense has been the franchise's trademark.
So, you see, it's not my fault. I'm the victim of my football upbringing. While I did mention Sean Taylor's play yesterday, it was still an offensive review of the game. As Wilbon points out, however, if you're talking about the 2004 Redskins' and you're not talking about their defense, you don't have much to talk about. I hereby pledge that The Blog will start paying more attention to the Washington defense. The team will go a far as that unit takes it.

Predictions Analysis

Every week in this space, I analyze my predictions for the game and see if they held any water, rated by a number of buckets I award myself. A one-bucket prediction didn't hold enough water to drown a housefly; a five-bucketer is Hurricane Charlie.

Prediction: Neither Mark Brunell nor Clinton Portis will have breakout-type days, but they both should be more effective than they've been in recent weeks. Chicago's defense is just OK (not as bad as its #27 ranking, especially since Brian Urlacher will be returning the the lineup) and Brunell should be able to exploit their secondary. That will open up things for Portis to gain, say, a buck and a quarter on the ground. Maybe this will be the week that Portis gets some screen and swing passes and can add another 50 or so yards that way, too.
Rating: 2.5 buckets

This was kind of a mixed bag. I was right that the Chicago secondary could be exploited; the Washington receivers did so, particularly Taylor Jacobs and Laveranues Coles, who both got open deep. Brunell, however, did not exploit the secondary, missing Coles and Jacobs on those plays and throwing for just 95 yards on the day. I was right about Portis being more effective, but he was a lot more effective, gaining almost fifty cents more than I thought. If he continues on a roll, this will be considered his breakout game.
Prediction: Thomas Jones has faded after a good start, probably due to the quarterback situation. Why not put nine, ten in the box? For sure, they aren't going to let Jones beat them. Fifty yards or less from Jones.
Rating: 2 buckets

Jones was the Bears offense yesterday, such as it was. He gained 95 yards on the ground and another 22 pass receiving. As a team Chicago gained 160 yards yesterday and my handy calculator tells me that means that Jones was just over 73% of his team's offense. I'll give myself a pair of buckets because, while I was off on the yardage total, Jones didn't dominate the game and because the Washington defense indeed did not let Thomas Jones beat them.
Prediction: No doubt, Quinn will be under orders to play not to lose. Will he be successful in doing so? Probably, as long as it stays close. If I'm the Bears I look at the fact that the Redskins have shown a propensity to give the ball up and will have to rely on Ola Kimrin making field goals for Washington to pull out a close one. Look for Chicago to play it very, very close to the vest even if they get down by ten points or so.
Rating: 4 buckets

If a Redskin defender was anywhere in the same ZIP Code as a Bear receiver, Quinn threw the ball away. Of course, we're not certain whether or not he was throwing it away or simply misfiring, but the fact is that he didn't throw anything close to an interception until his final pass of the game. Clearly, he was playing not to lose.
Prediction: Ultimately, the Redskins will be able to generate enough offense to pull this one out. If the point production relies strictly on the offense, it will be close. If Quinn and the Bears turn the ball over, it will be a fairly comfortable win.

I'm going to go with a close one: Redskins 17, Bears 13
Rating: 5 buckets

The game unfolded just as I thought it was, four points off on the Skins' score, three off on the Bears—if that's not going to get five buckets for a game prediction I don't know what ever will.

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