Because the Chicago Bears prevailed on their home tundra in Soldier Field yesterday, the Washington Redskins will now carry their playoff hopes to Candlestick Park.
Impressive 20-6 winners over the loathed Philadelphia Eagles on the wild-card level, the Skins will meet the two-time defending NFL champion San Francisco 49ers in the second stage at 4 p.m. (EST) Saturday. That's all right with Joe Gibbs, the Redskins' coach will say at his twilight news conference today. The alternative, had New Orleans beaten the Bears, would have sent the Redskins to the Meadowlands to meet the Giants.
"And we can't beat either one, it looks like," Gibbs said at twilight Saturday. He was smiling when he said it, basking in the warmth of his Redskins' victory at Philadelphia over big-mouth Buddy Ryan and his bad-mouth Eagles.
Gibbs was and wasn't kidding. Washington has beaten the Giants only twice in their last 11 meetings, and one of those was the scab game during the 1987 players' strike. They are 2-5 against San Francisco in Gibbs' 10-year administration.
But if the Redskins truly are capable of "turning it up a notch" in playoff games, as veteran defensive end Charles Mann said after the sweet success Saturday, Gibbs' postseason record may be meaningful. His teams have been 12-3 in playoff games.
And in none of those money games until Saturday had the opposing coach done Gibbs a favor by making his star quarterback go stand in a corner for a series of downs.
The Redskins' defense was doing a job on Randall Cunningham, the wondrously versatile, volatile passer-runner who had an excellent chance to be pro football's Most Valuable Player if the Eagles advanced a step or two in the playoffs.
Still, after Chip Lohmiller kicked his second field goal, Washington had only a 13-6 lead and there were 17 1/2 minutes to play. So, without even the courtesy of notifying Cunningham, Ryan sent has-been Jim McMahon to lead his troops from their 18-yard line. He didn't move them an inch.
Admittedly stunned by Ryan's command decision, the Redskins failed to intercept any of McMahon's three from-memory passes -- his 10th, 11th and 12th of the season.
The air was out of the Eagles ("dismayed" was the word used by Eagles guard Mike Schad, an alumnus of Queens University in Canada) and the game was over for all purposes. The Eagles had to punt and the Redskins scored in five plays.
"We were just as surprised as you guys," Redskins rookie linebacker Andre Collins said. None of the Redskins veterans had much more to say. Their revenge was complete and sweet, but it was benign because Gibbs said it should be so.
"Anything that was said [in the earlier games] was to be answered on the field," Gibbs said. Some Redskins, as the game ended with more than half the 65,287 departed, couldn't resist making some universally eloquent gestures to the Philly crowd, with its derisive banners and scatological chants.
But mum was Gibbs' word, and the gag was almost unbearable for Collins, who was bubbling with the knowledge that he had graduated. The Skins' top 1990 draft choice from Penn State, he had been seen-and-not-heard as a rookie should be, for 23 weeks, even though he started every game at left outside linebacker.
Now, in his first playoff game, Collins had made eight solo tackles, forced and recovered a fumble and shared the sack that persuaded Ryan to try another quarterback. Andre was no longer a rookie.
"No, I'm not," he said. "The regular season is over." That satisfied the technical definition, but there are more relevant factors. He could freely admit now that he had been nervous throughout the game, "as nervous as I was in my first preseason game," and that his surprise at seeing Cunningham replaced was immediately followed by "a sigh of relief."
He could use an expression like "now that I can feel I'm a part of professional football." He could say the game was "the %o hardest-hitting one I've ever been in," now that he'd been in enough games to have a valid opinion.
"You know," Collins confided, "that game [the 28-14 humiliation by the Eagles on Monday night, Nov. 12] was a long night for me, personally." He could admit now that he had been daunted by the Eagles, with their cheap shots, trash talk and "body-bag" threats. Collins could admit he had been intimidated. It isn't embarrassing any more.