WASHINGTON -- After they had shared the hugs on the sidelines and doused coach Joe Gibbs with a bucket of Gatorade, the tears flowed for the Washington Redskins yesterday.
Tears of joy.
"I think there were a lot of tears shed," Gibbs said after the Redskins clinched their first trip to the Super Bowl in four years by routing the Detroit Lions, 41-10, in the NFC title game before 55,585 fans at RFK Stadium.
The outmanned Lions got this far on an emotional, thumbs-up high from their fallen teammate, Mike Utley, who was paralyzed on a freak play in November.
Their misfortune was that they ran into a better team that had just as much emotion. The Redskins had come too far and fought too hard to let a Super Bowl trip slip away.
They'll play the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVI in Minneapolis in two weeks. This is supposed to be a dream game between the teams with the two best records in pro football, but the Redskins' goal isn't just getting to the Super Bowl, it's winning it.
"I'm hysterical, [but] this isn't the ultimate high. This is just a level to get to the ultimate goal," said linebacker Kurt Gouveia.
"There are enough guys on this football team who know what Super Bowls are like," said veteran offensive lineman Russ Grimm, one of the six members of the team who's making his fourth trip in the past 10 years along with Gibbs.
The franchise tied the record of five Super Bowl appearances set the Dallas Cowboys and tied by the Miami Dolphins. The Redskins will be attempting to win their third one and join the two four-time winners, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the San Francisco 49ers, as the only teams to win more than two.
The Redskins were so emotional because, as a veteran team, they know these chances don't come often.
"This is what we start working for in March, lifting weights, and it all builds up to this," Grimm said.
L The Redskins also had a special reason for winning this one.
"There were a lot of great stories on both sides," Gibbs said. "We talked about Mike Utley and the great story there for Detroit. We certainly understand that. On our side there were some great stories, a lot of guys who've never been there before. And Glenn Brenner being as sick as he is, the guys wanted to dedicate the game ball [to him]."
Brenner is a popular Washington sportscaster who is suffering from an inoperable brain tumor. Gibbs left the stadium with the game ball to present it to him in the hospital.
Tight end Ron Middleton reacted to his first Super Bowl trip by saying: "Great, great, finally. People play this game a long time and never get this far. Awesome, awesome. This is what you dream about."
Veteran linebacker Monte Coleman, who will be making his fourth trip, said: "This one is the sweetest by far for me. It doesn't compare to anything else in the world. It's [Super Bowl] the biggest sporting event probably in the world, second to the Olympics."
Even Gibbs was in a mood to celebrate.
"I'm going to take awhile on this one," he said. "The next two weeks I'm going to work, but I'm enjoying this. You may not get by this way again. I'm going to enjoy every minute."
Gibbs also joked about the Gatorade bucket that wide receiver Gary Clark and center Jeff Bostic emptied onto him at the end of the game.
"They need to practice up. They missed a little bit. They didn't get me right on top on the head," Gibbs said with a smile.
The game itself was a virtual replay of the Redskins' 45-0 victory over the Lions in the opener. Lions coach Wayne Fontes said, "Did that look like a rerun of last time, or what?"
Last time, Barry Sanders didn't play. This time he did, but the Redskins handcuffed him, holding him to 44 yards in 11 carries. They did it by blitzing throughout the game.
Richie Petitbon, the Redskins assistant coach who runs the defense, said: "I don't think the blitz is very good against the run-and-shoot unless you're trying to keep Barry Sanders in the backfield to block. It's kind of a way to take him out of the game. We couldn't tackle him. He's a great back. He's a time bomb, an absolute time bomb."
The Redskins also kept quarterback Erik Kramer off balance, sacking him four times and batting down three of his passes, although he completed 21 passes for 249 yards.
It was another clinic by the Redskins on how to stop the run-and-shoot. They have given up a total of 47 points in five games against run-and-shoot teams.
What's the secret?
"Schedule run-and-shoot teams at home," Petitbon said.
The noise of the fans didn't allow the Lions to call their audibles.
Unlike the Dallas Cowboys, who didn't put a rush on Kramer in last week's playoff game, the Redskins kept coming after him and mixed their coverages in the secondary.
When Petitbon was asked to explain the logic of his unpredictable defenses, he said: "Nothing I do has a logical reason. That's what makes it tough."
In the end, though, there was a simple reason for the Redskins' success.
"Probably, we have a better football team than they have," Petitbon said.