On Thanksgiving Day 29 years ago, Vince Lombardi brought his unbeaten Green Bay Packers into Detroit to play a division rival his team had beaten by two points in their first meeting that season.
In one of the most memorable Thanksgiving Day games, the Lions, who had lost to the Packers, 9-7, in the dramatic first meeting (Lombardi wrote his book "Run To Daylight" about that victory), repeatedly sacked Bart Starr and beat the 10-0 Packers, 26-14.
Lombardi took the loss to the 8-2 Lions in stride. "The object is not to win all the games. The object is to win the championship," he said at the time.
The Packers did, winning the 1962 title with a 14-1 record.
That could be an omen for the Washington Redskins, who were beaten for the first time Sunday by the Dallas Cowboys, a division rival they had beaten by two points in their first meeting in September.
Sunday's 24-21 loss has started a debate in Washington about )) whether the defeat might be good for the Redskins in their quest for the title. Instead of worrying about getting an unbeaten season, the team can focus on winning the Super Bowl.
Statistically, it seems easier to win a title with one loss than with a perfect record.
Twelve teams have done it with one loss since the league instituted a title game in 1933, including three clubs that had ties on their record. The last two to do it were the 1985 Chicago Bears and the 1984 San Francisco 49ers, both of whom went 18-1.
Washington, incidentally, has done it twice, posting a 12-1 record in the strike year of 1982 and an 11-1 mark in 1942. In the 1942 title game, the Redskins stopped the 11-0 Bears from getting a perfect season in a 14-6 game.
The 17-0 Miami Dolphins of 1972 were the only NFL team to post a perfect record. The Dolphins won their three playoff games that year by 20-14, 21-17 and 14-7 scores. The next year, when they posted a 12-2 regular season record and weren't going for a perfect season, they breezed through the playoffs by 34-16, 27-10 and 24-7 margins.
The Redskins don't even agree among themselves whether their lost bid for the perfect season might help them in the long run.
Center Jeff Bostic argues it's better to lose now than later.
What, he asked, "if you were a team that say, won the game against Dallas and went through a season 16-0? I'd much rather have it [a loss] now. . . . That motivates you somewhat as opposed to it happening the first time you play in the playoffs."
On the other side of the argument is wide receiver Gary Clark, who said: "A loss is never good. When people say that, it upsets me. That has to be the stupidest thing. It [going unbeaten] isn't a burden. That's crazy. I'd give anything to go unbeaten. I'm still upset. I wanted to be 19-0."
Taking a more moderate view is linebacker Wilber Marshall, who was on the 1985 Chicago team that started off 12-0 before suffering its only loss to Miami, 38-24.
"I never thought it was pressure in the first place. I just play and enjoy myself. But I think it [a loss] gives you more incentive to work harder," Marshall said.
Marshall said the Redskins' loss to Dallas reminded him of the Bears' loss to Miami.
"There were a lot of fluke plays, [Dan] Marino throwing the ball and hitting the top of helmets and guys catching touchdown passes. The same thing happened in this [Dallas] game like the Alley Oop pass," he said.
Cornerback Darrell Green said that if the Redskins were taking ++ themselves too seriously, the loss brought them back to earth.
"If we were puffed up at all, we're not puffed up now. I'm not saying we were, but maybe we were. It's definitely a sobering wake-up call," he said.
It's not surprising that coach Joe Gibbs doesn't see any positives in losing. "I'm not sure a loss ever really [helps]. I can see no harm in that [going unbeaten]," he said.
Quarterback Mark Rypien agrees. "No loss is a good loss," he said.
But if the Redskins clinch the division title Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs next Sunday against the Phoenix Cardinals, they may be able to enjoy the final two games against the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles. They could relax and play two games with nothing at stake because they would be no longer shooting for a perfect season.
Marshall said, "When you're got it all wrapped up, it's a lot more fun. Then you go out with a feeling, 'Hey, we'll try this and try that and we'll do some different things.' "
NOTES: Since TE Ron Middleton has been declared out of the Rams game with a sprained knee, the Redskins are expected to sign rookie TE James Jenkins off the practice squad. . . . But they may keep Middleton on the roster if they think he'll be back within 4 weeks and cut DB Travis Curtis to make room for him. . . . WR Art Monk (thigh) and DL Charles Mann (knee) still are ailing, but hope to play.
Champions with one loss
Year Team .. .. .. .. .. Record
1985 Chicago .. .. .. .. ..18-1
1984 San Francisco .. .. ..18-1
1982 Washington .. .. .. ..12-1
1976 Oakland .. .. .. .. ..16-1
1963 Chicago .. .. .. .. 12-1-2
1962 Green Bay .. .. .. .. 14-1
1949 Philadelphia .. .. .. 12-1
1945 Cleveland Rams .. ... 10-1
1943 Chicago .. .. .. ... 9-1-1
1942 Washington .. .. .. ..11-1
1941 Chicago .. .. .. .. ..11-1
1936 Green Bay .. .. .. 11-1-1