Redskins show familiar promise and problems


September 01, 1991|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Correspondent

Washington -- It's easy to get Joe Gibbs agitated.

Just mention to the Washington Redskins coach that his team is being picked -- not only by such sporting publications as Sports Illustrated and Sport but also by Playboy -- to go to the Super Bowl this season.

If you mention it after a frustrating, 24-21 overtime loss to the Cleveland Browns in an exhibition game, he's likely to go ballistic.

Steve Buckhantz of WTTG-TV in Washington found that out two weeks ago in a post-game interview after that Browns game when he started with the somewhat exaggerated comment that, "Everyone [is] saying it's the most talented team we've seen in a long time."

Gibbs said: "That, I might say, is ridiculous. Who did say that?"

Buckhantz replied, "A lot of people have said it."

Gibbs shot back, "Who's a lot of people?"

Buckhantz then made the mistake of saying, "Playboy picked you to go to the Super Bowl."

Now Gibbs was really angry.

"Playboy! Take it for what it is then -- Playboy, OK?" Gibbs said. "Playboy picking football, you know. So anybody that would say this is the most talented team in a long time, Steve, all I'm saying is, that's kind of ridiculous. And I've said it from the beginning. Now people are going to say it -- hey, fine, go ahead and say it. That's kind of absurd. . . . I'm not taking that as a shot at our team. And certainly nobody around here has said that. I don't think that at all. I think we've got a long ways to go, and we haven't won a division here in four years. So, I mean, we've got serious problems, OK? So, I'm just telling everybody that right now. So [if] anybody else thinks that, then they've got my answer on it."

Buckhantz decided it was time to change the subject.

Once Gibbs calmed down, he said he got a bit carried away. After a 13-9 loss to the New York Jets last week, in which the Redskins played even worse than in the Browns game, Gibbs apologized for his team's play and then apologized to Buckhantz in the post-game interview for his tirade the previous week.

Even the team's 1-3 preseason record isn't necessarily a bad omen, even though it was only the second preseason in which Gibbs had posted a losing record. The team went 0-4 in the 1982 exhibition season and won the Super Bowl.

On the other hand, not all observers are convinced great things are in store for the Redskins. Two of USA Today's three prognosticators picked the Redskins fourth in the NFC East.

So what kind of team will the Redskins be?

The best guess is that they'll be much like Redskins teams in past years. They figure to win 10 or 11 games. They've done that in five of the past seven seasons. In the other two seasons, they were 12-4 in 1986 and crashed to 7-9 in 1988.

Consistency is the Redskins' trademark. They're not an awesome team, but they're well-coached and rarely beat themselves.

Of the 47 players on the active roster, only five -- rookies Bobby Wilson and Ricky Ervins, and Plan B players Matt Millen, Terry Hoage and Danny Copeland -- never have played for the Redskins. Even in picking up players off the waiver wire, they found a former Redskin -- tight end Terry Orr.

The questions about the Redskins are the same ones they had last season.

The major one is how far Mark Rypien can take them. He flopped in the playoff game in San Francisco last January when the team got inside the 49ers' 20-yard line three times in the second half and failed to score. He then held out for 10 days in training camp, but played well in the exhibition season until he struggled along with the rest of the team in the finale against the Jets.

"Now's the time to get things going," Rypien said. "I know we're concerned about what's happened in the preseason. We didn't finish as well as [we'd have] liked, but right now that's in the past and we can kind of say that was the past, and if we get off to a good start this week, I think we'll all feel better about it."

This is likely a critical season for Rypien. If he doesn't do it, Gibbs may turn to young Cary Conklin, who caught his eye in preseason.

But Rypien said he doesn't want to think about that.

"I just try to focus on doing what I have to do and things will fall in place," he said. "You get caught up in all of that, and you're not doing the concentrating you like to do. I know as long as I win football games here, that's the most important part. How I play is important, too, because that has a lot to do with the outcome. Consistency is a big key."

He also said he's not putting pressure on himself.

"I think there's always been been pressure," he said. "That's just part of the competitiveness of the sport, the pressure it brings with it. You've just got to learn to put that in the back of your mind and go out and play the way you can."

The other key player on the offense is versatile running back Earnest Byner.

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