WASHINGTON -- The Washington Redskins won the Sympathy Bowl yesterday.
The Redskins kicked off their 1990 season by routing the Phoenix Cardinals, 31-0, before 52,649 fans at RFK Stadium.
There was nothing unusual about that. They've won 16 of the past 18 and 25 of the past 29 over the Cardinals, including 12 straight at RFK.
The difference was that Joe Bugel, their offensive-line coach the past nine seasons, was on the other side of the field in his first game as Cardinals head coach.
The Redskins weren't gloating after it was over.
Joe Jacoby, one of the Hogs who helped make Bugel's reputation as a coach, said: "After nine years, it's kind of hard not to feel for the man. It was a rough day for him. There's going to be some brighter days ahead."
Coach Joe Gibbs, who hired Bugel when Gibbs came to Washington in 1981, said: "I think you have such great respect for the guy. Everybody on our team likes him, loves him, cares a lot for him. It's tough. I wish he were in another conference, another division. When you line up twice a year, that's going to be a tough thing."
As soon as the game ended, the camera crews and the Redskins converged on Bugel. Center Jeff Bostic was the first to reach Bugel. Jacoby was right behind. Bugel had to make his way through the camera crews to get to Gibbs.
What did Gibbs tell him?
"There's not much you can say. I don't remember what I said. It's tough," Gibbs said.
Quarterback Mark Rypien, who threw three touchdown passes, was another Redskin who felt sympathy for the Cardinals.
His former college teammate at Washington State, Timm Rosenbach, made the second start of his career at quarterback. It showed. Rosenbach threw four passes that were intercepted -- two by Martin Mayhew -- and had two others that Monte Coleman almost picked off. Add a fumble, and the Cardinals had five turnovers. The Redskins didn't have any.
Rypien, who talked to Rosenbach before and after the game, said: "The main thing I wanted to get across to him was, to keep your dobber up as much as possible. These days are going to happen. It happened to me. It happened to a lot of people. So I hope Timm can come back and play well and get things rolling."
The Redskins, who've won six straight over two seasons, go to San Francisco Sunday to play the 49ers, and they'll find out whether yesterday's game indicated anything.
It was only the fourth time in 10 seasons that Gibbs' team has won its opener, but he had never played Phoenix in an opener.
If nothing else, the Cardinals under Bugel are a feisty crew. They didn't concede anything.
"We made more good plays than bad plays," Rosenbach said.
Safety Tim McDonald said: "They're not 31 points better than us. I still believe we're just as talented as they are."
McDonald might be right that the Cardinals aren't as bad as they looked. Take away the turnovers, and it was fairly close. The Cardinals had a 20-19 edge in first downs, and the Redskins only had a 347-294 margin in yardage.
The Cardinals even defensed the Redskins' three-wide-receiver offense fairly well, confusing the Redskins by using safety Lonnie Young as a linebacker.
"They took away a lot of things," Gibbs said.
On their second possession, after Darrell Green intercepted a deflected pass, the Redskins used a three-tight-end formation a lot with Ricky Sanders as the lone receiver.
On a second-and-seven at the Phoenix 37, the Cardinals blundered by lining up linebacker Ken Harvey on Sanders.
"It surprised me," Sanders said. "I was sitting there, and my eyes got big. I was like, 'What is this?' If you can't beat a 6-3, 235-pound linebacker, I guess you don't need to be in this league."
Rypien nodded at Sanders when he saw the alignment, and Sanders beat Harvey coming across the field. Jimmie Johnson gave him a good block, and Sanders went 37 yards for the touchdown.
It turned out that was all the Redskins needed, because they got their first opening-game shutout since 1973, when they beat the San Diego Chargers, 38-0, when Johnny Unitas made his short, ill-fated showing with the Chargers.
Last year, the Redskins got just one shutout, in the final game against the Seattle Seahawks. They've gone nine straight regular-season quarters without giving up a point since the Atlanta Falcons kicked a third-period field goal in the 15th game last year.
On the Cardinals' next possession, Rosenbach scrambled to his left and was hit from behind by Charles Mann just as he threw. The ball popped up into Mayhew's arms at the Phoenix 38.
It took the Redskins seven plays to score the touchdown. Earnest Byner got the touchdown on a 4-yard run. His knee hit the ground just before Eric Hill touched him, but he got up in time to score and make it 14-0 at halftime.
Rosenbach had one last chance to get the Cardinals back in the game. On their first drive of the second half, he moved them to the Washington 27. He then made a poor throw right into Mayhew's arms in the end zone to kill the drive.
"If we put that in, it might have been a different game. That's one play you wish you could have back," Bugel said.
The Redskins then went 80 yards in seven plays to wrap it up, with Gary Clark catching a 43-yard touchdown pass from Rypien.
On the next possession, Alvin Walton picked off a pass that bounced off the back of Cardinals running back Jimmy Johnson and went 57 yards for a touchdown.
"I was just hoping nobody ran me down from behind," said Walton, who is not noted for his speed.
All that was left for the Redskins was to give Bugel best wishes.
For the other Cardinals, it was an all-too-familiar finish.
"Same old results," Young said.