Redskins open preseason with 17-6 loss to Steelers Cornerback Johnson out with broken wrist

August 05, 1991|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Correspondent

PITTSBURGH -- It was a night to remember for Cary Conklin, Ricky Ervins and Chuck Lanza.

Lanza will remember the Pittsburgh Steelers' 16-7 exhibition game victory over the Washington Redskins last night even though he didn't play in it.

Conklin and Ervins will remember it because they teamed to get the Redskins' touchdown in their exhibition debuts.

Lanza is a Pittsburgh offensive lineman who was sidelined with a calf injury and was watching the game in the stands behind the Steelers bench with his girlfriend, Jillian Schepis.

But Lanza received a lot of attention at the end of the third period when this message was flashed on the scoreboard: "Jillian: Will You Marry Me? Chuck Lanza #51."

Her answer: "Hell, yes."

The fans cheered as the Steelers players turned to the stands to salute the newly engaged couple.

The engagement virtually overshadowed the game, which was a typical first exhibition filled with sloppy play before 47,974 fans at Three Rivers Stadium.

Redskins coach Joe Gibbs wasn't pleased with his team's effort.

"They looked like a lot better football team than we did. We've got a long ways to go. We've got a lot of work to do," said Gibbs. "Overall, I thought they looked like a lot better football team. We just looked like we're not ready to match up against them, anyway. We have a lot to learn."

Gibbs put in more of a game plan than he does for the first exhibition game, but, he said, "It didn't matter much."

Even worse than the loss was the fact the Redskins lost cornerback A.J. Johnson for six to eight weeks with a dislocated wrist. He'll undergo surgery today to have a pin put in the wrist.

His injury leaves the team thin at cornerback because Sydney Johnson is already out with a shoulder injury. Alvoid Mays, who's now the top backup, suffered a mild concussion.

Coach Chuck Noll obviously liked his Steelers' effort. "It was a good first outing," he said.

The Steelers would have won more easily if two touchdown passes from Bubby Brister in the first half hadn't been called back on an offensive pass-interference penalty on Warren Williams and a holding call on Brian Blankenship, his second of the game.

Neil O'Donnell, the former University of Maryland quarterback, won the game by directing an 80-yard touchdown drive in the fourth period that was climaxed by a 34-yard pass to Ron Fair, who beat rookie Jimmy Spencer. That pass and three field goals by Gary Anderson accounted for all the Steelers scoring.

O'Donnell helped his chances of beating out Rick Strom, who suffered a freak injury when he popped his rib cartilage while throwing in warm-ups, for the backup job.

"I thought both quarterbacks played well," Noll said of Brister and O'Donnell.

O'Donnell said he wasn't nervous. "Not really -- once I got in there. Bubby came over and calmed me down," he said.

Conklin, who played for the first time since the Hula Bowl at the end of his senior year after spending last year on injured reserve, said he felt butterflies after Gibbs told him he'd go in after starter Mark Rypien.

Gibbs wanted Stan Humphries to start the second half, so

Conklin finished the first half and directed a 78-yard touchdown drive in seven plays after taking over on the Washington 22 with 1 minute, 26 seconds left in the first half.

Ervins caught passes of 29, 12 and 19 yards during the drive, the final one for a touchdown.

Ervins, who also ran twice for 13 yards, said the touchdown was strange because there wasn't much noise from the Pittsburgh fans and he wasn't sure if he was in at first.

"Actually, it felt weird. I looked up and everything was like slow. I was expecting everything to be loud. It still felt like it was a scrimmage. It just felt like everything was like in slow motion. Twilight Zone. But I'm happy and elated," Ervins said.

Conklin said he liked running the two-minute drill.

"It like it. It's fun when you get that kind of a situation where you call a lot of pass plays and try to get big plays," Conklin said.

Meanwhile, kicker Chip Lohmiller, who had made nine of 10 field goals in two scrimmages, lost his touch and was wide right on 41- and 24-yard attempts. He said he just had a bad night.

The Redskins used all four quarterbacks -- Rypien, Conklin, Humphries and Jeff Rutledge -- but Conklin was the only one who could get them in the end zone, as he completed six of nine passes for 89 yards.

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