Redskins' Millen and Giants are not exactly strangers Former 49er knows them only 2 well after last year

October 24, 1991|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Correspondent

HERNDON, Va. -- Matt Millen is going to be introduced to the Washington Redskins-New York Giants rivalry Sunday night, but he needs no introduction to the Giants.

Millen, a veteran middle linebacker who played the past two seasons with the San Francisco 49ers before signing with the Redskins as a Plan B free agent last March, played twice against the Giants last year in the last seven games.

In the NFL's most ballyhooed regular-season game of the past five years, the 49ers edged the Giants, 7-3, in December before losing, 15-13, in the NFC title game.

"We won one and we lost one. Other than that, it was the same game," Millen said yesterday. "It was anybody's game in the first game and we came out on top, and it was anybody's game in the second game and we came out on top."

He laughed and added, "That play never happened, so we won the second game, too. I was pretty pleased with it."

The play he was talking about was Roger Craig's fumble with 2 minutes, 36 seconds left when the 49ers were trying to run out the clock with a 13-12 lead. The fumble set the stage for Matt Bahr's field goal that cost the 49ers a third straight Super Bowl berth.

When the Redskins play the Giants, Millen expects the same kind of game.

"It's all the same, really," he said. "You can just plug in different names. They just all have their own little special quality. I think the thing that makes it that way is the familiarity with everybody and, of course, both teams are good. You have to have quality."

Millen said that sometimes the games don't live up to the billing.

"I've found that these games ended up being less on the field than in the paper," he said. "You read in the paper and you get scared, 'Oh, my, gawd, I'm not going out there.' Then you get out there and say, 'This isn't as bad as I thought it was going to be.' But all the hype makes the game more exciting."

Phil Simms quarterbacked the first Giants-49ers game and Jeff Hostetler the second after Simms was injured, so Millen had a good look at both Giants quarterbacks.

"The obvious one [difference] is that Hostetler's more mobile. I've always liked Phil Simms, but I like Hoss, too. I've known Hoss forever," said Millen, who played with Hostetler's older brothers at Penn State.

"Hoss will take off and run," Millen said. "Phil knew what he was looking for. When he saw it, he threw it. Hoss may know what he wants, but he may give up on it a little bit earlier. He seems to want to take off and run with it."

With the Redskins and Giants the No. 1 and No. 2 rushing teams in the league, this figures to be a typical Redskins-Giants ball-control game.

Millen enjoys that because it means he'll play more than he does against run-and-shoot teams such as the Houston Oilers, who are next on the Washington schedule.

A native of Pennsylvania who still lives there, Millen likes the idea of playing in the NFC East.

"It makes for good copy so we run with it," he said with a smile. "There's a certain quality in my mind about it [NFC East]. It reminds me of how I grew up. I'm talking about [Ray] Nitschke and Joe Schmidt and Alex Karras, that whole group, and in the snow and freezing cold, [Dick] Butkus yelling stuff out. That's the East to me."

But oddly enough, he spent his entire career in California until this season.

"I remember in 1979 that I was probably the only guy in the draft who wanted to have a cold-weather team draft me," he said.

He didn't mind going to Oakland in northern California until the team moved to Los Angeles in 1983.

"I like the Raiders. It just happens they're stuck in that city. [Southern] California is fine for people who live there. Any time the weather drops below 60 degrees, I'm fine," he said.

Millen signed with the 49ers after the Raiders cut him in 1989, then signed with the Redskins after the 49ers left him unprotected.

"I'm probably one of the few guys who stops and smells the roses while it's happening because I realize success is hard to come by in this league," said Millen, who says his three Super Bowl rings are the highlight of his career. "I've been fortunate in that regard because there's nothing really left out there. I've been to the Pro Bowl, I've been All-Pro, I've been to the Super Bowl, what else is there?"

For starters, there's a shot at another Super Bowl season.

But even at 7-0, Millen said it's still too early to judge this Washington team.

"I think the thing you sense is team momentum. I think what happens is a lot of times when teams come together, you start to feel it, but you always have to wait until it ends to say this is when it happened," he said.

Millen said that when he got his first Super Bowl ring with the 1980 Raiders, the key game was beating the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers in Pittsburgh.

"That game kind of put us over [the top]," he said.

Eleven years later, Millen is on a team going to play a defending Super Bowl champion at their park.

The Redskins hope this is the one that puts them over the top.

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