Redskins' sluggish start has familiar ring among Super Bowl champions

October 08, 1992|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

Defensive lineman Charles Mann was getting dressed after the Washington Redskins' demoralizing 27-24 loss to the Phoenix Cardinals last Sunday when he pulled his Super Bowl ring out of his locker and put it on his finger.

"They don't have one of these, though, do they? I'll tell you what. That's my saving grace. I can look at that and say all right," Mann said and laughed.

When he was asked if the ring managed to obscure a lot of frustration this season, he said, "Right now, it does. I'm going to wear it proudly."

The Redskins earned that ring with their memorable 17-2 season in 1991.

The problem is, that ring probably is one of the reasons they're having so many problems this season.

Their 2-2 start this year isn't exactly unusual for a defending champion.

Eight of the 26 defending Super Bowl champions got off to a .500 start.

The last three defending Super Bowl champions from the NFC East-- the New York Giants in 1987, the Redskins in 1988 and the Giants last year -- all failed to make the playoffs.

Since the Pittsburgh Steelers did it twice in the 1970s, the San Francisco 49ers have been the only team to repeat (in 1989). The 49ers had a special incentive to prove they could win without coach Bill Walsh because the players felt he got too much of the credit for their success.

The two times they were defending champions under Walsh in 1982 and 1985, they started out 1-3 and 2-2. They didn't make the playoffs the first time and lost their first playoff game the second time.

Nobody understands how tough it is to repeat better than George Young, the Giants general manager. He has seen his team fail twice to make the playoffs as defending champions in 1987 and 1991 and can understand what the Redskins are going through.

"Everybody says how difficult it is and then when it happens [the team struggles], they seem surprised," Young said.

"You don't get anything in the bank for winning the Super Bowl because if you don't go back, you're a failure," he said.

"You increase expectations and then you play the Roman Coliseum game, the victor or the vanquished. You can't just have a good season anymore," he said.

Young said he couldn't help noticing that coach Joe Gibbs said he took two weeks off after the Super Bowl and came back to find "everybody was unhappy."

"What's new? Nobody's ever seen me look happy after a Super Bowl [victory]. I know what hits you in the face. All the guys are holding out for more than they're worth and the fans and the papers are saying, 'Give them the money.' Nobody seems to learn," Young said.

Young said that it doesn't help that the opposing teams gear up for the champions.

"The other teams play harder against you," he said. "You're a target."

All this helps explain why only seven of the first 25 champions made it back to the Super Bowl. Besides Pittsburgh, which did it twice, and San Francisco, the other teams to repeat were the Green Bay Packers, who won the first two in 1966 and '67, and the Miami Dolphins, who won in 1972 and '73. Two defending champions, the Dallas Cowboys in 1978 and the Redskins in 1983, made it back to the Super Bowl and lost.

It's not a good omen for the Redskins that of the first seven defending champions to start out 2-2, none of them made it back to the Super Bowl and five of them missed the playoffs.

On the other hand, Pittsburgh started out 1-4 in 1976 when it was a two-time defending champion and rebounded to win 10 straight.

The Steelers might have made it back if Rocky Bleier and Franco Harris hadn't both been injured in that 10th victory in Baltimore, a 40-14 playoff blowout of the Colts. They went to the AFC title game without their two starting running backs and lost to the Oakland Raiders, 24-7.

If the Redskins are going to rally, they've got to start doing it in their next two home games against the Denver Broncos and the Philadelphia Eagles. Four of their five games after that are on the road at Minnesota, Seattle, Kansas City and New Orleans.

This is the fourth time they've started 2-2 in Gibbs' first 12 years. They didn't make the playoffs in two of those years, 1988 and 1989.

The players, though, are still confident they can bounce back.

As linebacker Wilber Marshall said, "It's not that bad. We just have to kick it in gear. We can't lose another one. If we go all the way from here, we'll have the same record we had last year."

Regardless of how this season turns out, Young feels the impatient Redskins fans should look at the big picture.

"The Redskins are doing all right. They've had competitive teams since Joe's been there. I don't know why in the world they're unhappy. The ball doesn't always bounce your way. You can't control everything. They're one of the outstanding organizations," Young said.

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