Redskins somebodies in the right place

September 05, 1993|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

"You can't beat somebody with nobody," is an old saying in politics.

With that in mind, it's probably appropriate that the Washington Redskins are the hometown team for the nation's capital.

The Redskins don't appear to be a great team this season. They're not being touted as a team to beat because they've lost rTC coach Joe Gibbs, linebacker Wilber Marshall and wide receiver Gary Clark to free agency and Jim Lachey to injury.

But the Redskins are somebody.

They're a solid, well-coached team that has a history of being tough in years when there's nobody to beat them. After all, they won Super Bowls in the strike years of 1982 and 1987 when they stayed together and other teams were in disarray.

The suspicion is that this could be a season when there is nobody -- or maybe only one team, the San Francisco 49ers -- that can beat them.

The Dallas Cowboys, of course, are the defending champions and they're favored to repeat. If they come into RFK Stadium tomorrow night and beat the Redskins without Emmitt Smith, the Redskins will likely have to start thinking about this being a wild-card year.

On the other hand, if the Cowboys can't win without Smith, it could boost the Redskins' confidence and get them on a roll. The schedule is favorable, including games against the Indianapolis Colts, New York Jets, Los Angeles Rams, Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It's also easy to forget that they were the last team to beat the Cowboys and the last team to win the Super Bowl before the Cowboys.

It's even noteworthy that despite Gibbs' departure, they had a near perfect training camp with the exception of Lachey's injury.

They also like the fact they haven't received much attention.

"We've always been underrated," said cornerback Darrell Green. When we won, we weren't expected to win. We've never been for some reason unbeknownst to me, a 'su- perstarish' type team. We're kind of blue-collar, hard-hat guys. We just don't get the recognition. We're still a team that has to have everything clicking and everybody healthy to get it done."

One reason they're not a superstarish-type team is that they don't have a lot of superstars. When they won the Super Bowl in 1991, they didn't have a single player among the top 25 highest-paid players in the league. This season, one player (quarterback Mark Rypien) averages more than $2 million in salary. The Indianapolis Colts, by contrast, have four.

They've tended to be a team packed with veterans that pays all its starters well. That may change when the league's new salary cap kicks in. This season could be a last hurrah for the way the Redskins have done things the past decade.

All that's for the future. This year, there are three key questions:

* Can Richie Petitbon match Gibbs' success?

* Can Rypien rebound?

* Can Moe Elewonibi stay healthy and serve as a good replacement for Lachey?

If the answers to these questions are yes, it could be a very good season.

Petitbon, the longtime defensive coordinator, is off to a good start at the tricky job of replacing a legend. He has taken charge.

"He's a no-nonsense guy. He's cool and he's relaxed. He believes in the bottom line," Green said.

Although the Redskins talk about things being a bit more relaxed under Petitbon without giving specific examples, they dodge questions comparing Gibbs to Petitbon.

They respected Gibbs and he won so they don't want to make it sound as if things are better now.

"It's a sticky issue," said Green. "Who wants Joe Gibbs [an NBC analyst who will work the San Diego-Seattle game today] to read something and feel like, 'Oh, wow, they're dogging me.' That would be unfair to me, to Gibbs and to Petitbon so I don't talk in relation to Gibbs. I talk about what we're doing today."

Green does concede that "everything in the season will be magnified against the mirror of Joe Gibbs."

So far, Petitbon has made several changes with the help of offensive coordinator Rod Dowhower, notably going with a two-back system and a short passing game.

Green makes the point that teams can do things differently and still win. "I'm sure Gibbs and the guy who was with the 49ers [Bill Walsh] and the big man [Bill Parcells] with the Giants didn't do it all the same way and they all won Super Bowls."

The Elewonibi and Rypien questions are related. If Rypien is to have a good season, Elewonibi has to keep the pass rushers off his back and give him time to throw.

It could be the adversity Rypien suffered last year will help. Dowhower said: "It was a tough lesson, but I think he learned a lot. At this point, he may be better off for it."

Rypien isn't the type to give up. "I've been a grinder all of my life," he said.

Meanwhile, Petitbon seems confident about this football team. At the team's Welcome Home Luncheon, he virtually predicted the team would win the Super Bowl.

"I feel something special about this team. The team feels it has something to prove and I think that's a very scary situation for a lot of other teams in the league," he said.

He then told the story of how Robert Fulton defied the skeptics when he first built his steamboat. Gibbs didn't tell such stories. He was too consumed with football.

Anyway, Petitbon ended his tale by saying, "We've got some critics around here and I'd like to give them some advice. Our steamboat starts Sept. 6 and you know something? It just might not stop [before the Super Bowl]."

When he was asked a few days later if that was just rhetoric, he responded: "You figure it out."

The Redskins start providing the answers tomorrow night.

NOTES: Four players -- TE Frank Wycheck, WR Mark Stock, OL Greg Huntington and DL Jim Wahler -- were placed on the Redskins' inactive list for tomorrow's game. Three more players must be placed on the list tomorrow.

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