Redskins closely mirror 1972's perfect Dolphins

PRO FOOTBALL

November 10, 1991|By VITO STELLINO

The Washington Redskins want to play 19 games this year.

That's because the only way they can do that is to make the Super Bowl.

But the team they may wind up being compared with could be their 20th foe: the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

As the Redskins -- 9-0 going into today's game against the Atlanta Falcons -- attempt to match the Dolphins' feat of a perfect season (17-0), the comparisons will become more inevitable with each Washington victory.

And the two teams appear to be quite similar.

Both featured excellent head coaches (Joe Gibbs and Don Shula) and first-rate defensive coordinators (Richie Petitbon and Bill Arnsparger). Both featured the run to set up the pass, although each had a Hall of Fame-type receiver (Paul Warfield and Art Monk).

On defense, both teams stressed systems over personnel. The Dolphins had a no-name defense that has yet to produce a Hall of Famer. The Redskins have one possible future Hall of Famer (Darrell Green), but they also have five Plan B players starting.

One thing both teams had going for them was timing. The Dolphins hit it just right between the decline of the team of the 1960s (Green Bay Packers) and the rise of the team of the 1970s (Pittsburgh Steelers).

The Redskins don't have to worry about Joe Montana, who made the San Francisco 49ers the team of the 1980s, because he's out with an injury, and the team of the 1990s -- if there is one -- hasn't appeared on the horizon yet.

Both teams had quarterbacks whose main job wasn't to win games, but not to lose them. Journeyman Earl Morrall quarterbacked the majority of the games for the Dolphins after Bob Griese broke his leg, and Mark Rypien is guiding the Redskins.

The Dolphins played only two teams with winning records during the regular season and yet won three games by a total of seven points. The Redskins escaped defeat last week when the Houston Oilers' Ian Howfield missed a 33-yard field-goal attempt and played the Philadelphia Eagles without Randall Cunningham, the New York Giants without Phil Simms, the Phoenix Cardinals without Timm Rosenbach and the Detroit Lions without Barry Sanders. Chris Miller, the Atlanta Falcons' first-string quarterback, isn't expected to play today against Washington.

Perfect timing appears to be the main ingredient in a perfect season. The Dolphins had it, and Redskins might wind up having it, too.

If they get their 10th win today, all the Redskins will have left in the regular season will be three division teams they've already beaten (Dallas Cowboys, Giants and Eagles) and three foes on the road with losing records (Steelers, Los Angeles Rams and Cardinals).

The Redskins, knowing the Dolphins are rooting against Washington's matching their feat, still maintain they're not likely to do it.

"The law of averages being what they are, I don't think they [Dolphins] have anything to worry about," said Petitbon.

But if comparisons with the Dolphins mean anything, they've got a shot.

*

While there's so much focus on the Redskins' bid for a historic season, it shouldn't be forgotten that another team has a shot at the record books (drum roll, please) -- the Indianapolis Colts.

When the Cincinnati Bengals got their first victory last week, the Colts were left as the NFL's only winless team.

Not since 1944 has a non-expansion team lost every game -- Brooklyn and Card-Pitt (the Cardinals and Steelers merged for a year during World War II) posted 0-10 records that year. The last team not to post a victory was the 1982 Baltimore Colts, but they got a tie in an 0-8-1 strike season.

Losing them all is more difficult than you might think, because the opposition tends to take winless teams lightly. Miami scored 10 points against the Colts on its first two possessions last week, and then didn't bother to score again in a 10-6 victory.

But the Colts may have a shot at it, because they seemingly can't score. They've gone 20 straight quarters and 53 possessions without scoring a touchdown. They've scored four touchdowns all year.

As if the team didn't have enough problems, the team suspended Eric Dickerson for four weeks Wednesday. Interim coach Rick Venturi said Dickerson refused to practice. There was no confrontation on the field -- the players were surprised Thursday when they were told Dickerson was suspended -- and Dickerson's version was that he came out of a drill because his leg was bothering him.

Because players often come in and out of drills, nobody even noticed anything unusual. Look for Dickerson to sue to get back the $600,000 he'll lose from the suspension.

6* With the Colts, it's always something.

*

Herbert J. Belgrad, the chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said he is thrilled with the fans' response to the exhibition game between the Dolphins and the New Orleans Saints at Memorial Stadium next August.

Even though he hasn't started his selling campaign, fans have sent in postcards requesting 15,000 tickets.

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