Favored over Dolphins, Skins confirm home field is key

Jack Mann

November 29, 1990|By Jack Mann

HERNDON, VA. — VERNDON, Va. "Didn't Dorothy say there's no place like home?" Darrell Green asked. "What do you mean, which Dorothy?"

He was quoting the Kansas kid as she was finding the road wasn't easy, even when it's paved with yellow bricks.

The question was why the Washington Redskins should be three-point favorites when they meet the Miami Dolphins in RFK Stadium on Sunday. (Coaches pay no attention to such venal concerns, but one assistant admitted being "flabbergasted.")

On what do these 6-5 Redskins feed that they should bestride a 9-2 opponent?

What is Joe Gibbs' non-rushing offense supposed to do against a defense that is within decimal points of being the stingiest in the NFL's post-bellum history?

Nothing favors the Redskins, it would seem, but the fact that they are playing at home -- they are 4-1 at RFK, 2-4 on the road this season -- and how big a deal is playing at home to men who are professionals?

Big, in the opinion of five Redskins with 40 professional seasons among them. And that, for all combative purposes, seems to make it so.

"It makes a real difference," said guard Mark May, who has made it to three Super Bowls in his 10 campaigns. "Yeah, you hear the crowd. But you don't have the discomfort of traveling. Mostly it's a matter of convenience, or of not being inconvenienced."

"It matters to me, a lot," said defensive tackle Darryl Grant, another 10-year man who is May's roomie on the road. "The fans are here, and there's a lot of hype to that. But at home you get extra rest. It is easier, better."

"I hate away games," said cornerback Green, a staunch family man, in his eighth season. "No, I don't hear the crowd much, but you get a feeling about it. When you were a kid, didn't you fight better when you were on your own street?

"Anyway," Green concluded, "when we're at home my wife is in the stands."

Defensive tackle Eric Williams, a 28-year-old bachelor with no home-and-hearth concerns, abhors road games. In his six years in Detroit he developed a pre-game routine of preparation.

"A ritual, you could call it," Williams said. "Starting Friday night: the time I did things, the things I ate, all the way up to game time. Which pad I put inside my pants first.

"No, I'm not superstitious, but I like to keep the uncontrollable things out of my preparation. On the road things throw you off: things in different places in the locker room, a softer bed than you're used to.

"The effect is to make you think of things other than football."

"At home you can rest and think about your game plan," said Mark Adickes, a fifth-year guard and a bachelor. "On the road you're sitting on the plane, on the bus. You can't feel as loose going into the game."

The crowd noise, Adickes said, "means a lot." Like the others, he couldn't say he "actually" hears it. "Except when you make a good play and they go crazy," he said.

"And there's a pride," Adickes added, "about not getting beat before the home crowd."

As supportive as the multitude of loyal fans may be at home, several players noted, a small cadre of them can be a distraction on the road. There is always a cadre big enough to fill the hotel lobby, reminding the players that they were in the last hotel lobby, too, remember?

"They mean well," Williams said, "and I don't dislike them. But sometimes you want to take the freight elevator."

Dolphins coach Don Shula, in his 21st year in charge of Miami and the only man to coach his way to six Super Bowls, fully believes in the pitfalls of the road.

When the Dolphins land at Dulles Airport at 12:30 p.m. Saturday they will bus to RFK Stadium to familiarize themselves with the locker room and other environs. Because they won't be allowed on the stadium's natural grass (the other reason the Redskins like to play at home), the Dolphins will do a "walk-through" exercise on the practice field outside. It is a procedure they follow for every game away from home.

Another procedure they have followed this year is holding their opposition to 11.09 points per game. It is the lowest average by an NFL team since the 1963 Chicago Bears (with defensive assistant George Allen) held the league to 10.28 points across a 14-game season and then throttled the Y.A. Tittle Giants on the tundra of Wrigley Field, 14-10.

The best the Dallas Cowboys' Doomsday defense ever did was 13 points per game in 1978. Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain had a 13.5 average in 1974.

As to the Miami offense, Eric Williams put it this way: "You don't really 'get' [quarterback] Dan Marino. If you hit him, the odds are he will not have the ball by then.

"But that's OK. I'm tired of chasing Randys and Rodneys [Cunningham and Peete] around."

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