PHILADELPHIA -- The Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles, two franchises who first met in 1934 and have played each other every year since except 1943, will meet in the playoffs today for the first time. It may have been worth the wait.
The National Football Conference first-round game could be a morality play in cleats. Call this one "The Philosophy Bowl."
The contrasting styles of coaches Buddy Ryan of the Eagles and Joe Gibbs of the Redskins will make this game one of the most fascinating in the National Football League's postseason tournament.
The stakes are high.
If the Eagles lose, Ryan will have gone five years as their coach without winning a playoff game. That would lead to much speculation about whether owner Norman Braman will give him a new contract.
If the Redskins lose, they'll have gone three years without a playoff victory since winning Super Bowl XXII. There would be much talk that the Redskins can't win with quarterback Mark Rypien and are a tired, aging team in need of an overhaul.
It's difficult to find two coaches who have such contrasting views of how to approach a game.
"What is my style?" asked Gibbs. "Do I even have one? [Casper] Milquetoast [the principal character in a comic strip titled 'The Timid Soul'] would be a good way of putting my style."
Gibbs' style is to praise the opposition, an approach that goes back to the days of Amos Alonzo Stagg, whose poor-mouthing sparked such headlines as "Stagg Fears Purdue."
Gibbs revels in the role of the underdog, builds up the other team and pores through newspapers looking for comments from the other team that will fire up his club.
Ryan, by contrast, fears nobody. He has a blustery, take-no-prisoners style and doesn't mind giving the opposing team plenty of bulletin-board material. He has put together a trash-talking team that plays the game in that style.
After two Eagles were ejected in the final three minutes of the team's victory over the Phoenix Cardinals last week, Cardinals nose tackle Jim Wahler said: "That's how Buddy Ryan coaches. You have to ignore it until they take a cheap shot. They're a good football team. They don't need to play that way, hitting late, hitting in the back, leg-whipping, guys taunting, talking. That's not how you play."
That, however, is how the Eagles play, and they're proud of it.
The Redskins know how they play, but won't echo Wahler's comments. One of the first things a Redskins player learns when he joins the team is that Gibbs frowns on his players making inflammatory statements.
Andre Collins, a rookie linebacker from Penn State, learned quickly.
"I don't really want to make a comment on that," he said in response to a question about the Eagles' style.
Jeff Rutledge, one of the nine Redskins the Eagles knocked out in the previous meeting, commented, but was guarded. "That's their team. Whether you agree or disagree with it, that's the way they are. They chose to be the way they are. You've got to give them some credit. They're a good defensive team," Rutledge said.
Richie Petitbon, the assistant coach who runs the Washington defense, said: "Everybody has their own style. We'll see how it turns out this time. Last time, it worked."
Will that game give the Redskins incentive?
"I think we'll be ready to play," he said.
Will it help them be ready?
"It won't hurt. We'll find out Saturday," Petitbon said.
The Redskins had no complaints about the injuries or the physical style. What they objected to was that injured players were taunted.
When kick returner Joe Howard was knocked unconscious in the fourth quarter, trainer Bubba Tyer said William Frizzell and some teammates were yelling obscenities and asking whether the Redskins had enough body bags and enough buses for all the stretchers they'd need going back home.
But Gibbs dislikes the Eagles' style in general. The week after that loss, he called the Redskins off the field and chewed them out.
According to some players, he told them they lost to the "bottom of the barrel" when they lost to the Eagles.
Gibbs knows that the bottom line in the NFL is winning. If Ryan wins, his type of play would be heralded. Gibbs probably would like nothing better than to keep that from happening.
He never will admit he has special incentive to beat Ryan. He limits himself to such statements as: "They beat us bad the last time. I think that's all you can say."
For Redskins veterans, there's something else to prove. They like to think that they step it up a notch in the playoffs.
Wide receiver Gary Clark said that when he joined the team, "You kind of took it as second nature that you'd be in the playoffs."
Now that they've been out for two years, they may appreciate it more.
"It's a good feeling going up to Philadelphia playing those guys for a chance to play either San Francisco or the Giants," Clark said.