Cardinals shake RFK hex in most satisfying fashion

September 13, 1993|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Luis Sharpe, a 12-year veteran of the Phoenix Cardinals' annual visits to RFK Stadium, remembers past trips darkly.

"We've had some very disappointing, cruel losses here," said Sharpe, a three-time Pro Bowl left tackle. "And we've been blown out in a lot of games by a very good team."

Cruel losses and angry blowouts have come to represent the lopsided rivalry between the Cardinals and the Washington Redskins at RFK. For years, it seems, the Redskins have been plucking the Big Red with surprising ease.

Until yesterday, anyway.

That's when the ever-fluttering Cardinals exorcised memories of seasons past, when they ended 14 years of utter frustration here, when they finally beat the Redskins at RFK.

The score was 17-10 and you could forgive the giddy Cardinals of some well-earned hyperbole.

"This," Sharpe said, "was probably the single biggest win since I've been with the Cardinals."

It was a victory that chased the wolves from embattled coach Joe Bugel's door, if only for a week. It was a victory that enabled wide receiver Gary Clark to return triumphant to his old stomping grounds. Not least of all, it was a victory that dismissed the persistent notion of a Cardinals' curse.

"I've walked that field 1,000 times," Bugel said. "I told the team it's still 100 yards long, the grass is green, and there are no gremlins."

Bugel should know. He spent nine years prowling the RFK sideline as a Joe Gibbs assistant.

Clark knows what it's like to play at RFK, too. He spent eight years here as a big-play receiver before moving to Phoenix via free agency this season. Yesterday, he came back to torment cornerbacks Darrell Green and A. J. Johnson with a six-catch, 93-yard performance, despite pulling a groin muscle in the first half.

Saying that he had no ill will toward his old teammates, Clark tried to keep a firm grip on perspective.

"Any time we win a game in our division, it's a great win for us," he said. "I've got no grudge against the Washington Redskins whatsoever. It's just a big game we wanted to win. I'll be just as pumped next week against the [Dallas] Cowboys."

Still, Clark knows that a game like this, against so respected an enemy, can serve as a mental boost down the road.

"It's the type of victory that can skyrocket you to better games," he said. "When we go against Dallas next week, Dallas doesn't look as [invincible]."

Clark, who had dropped four passes in a 23-17 loss at Philadelphia last week, bounced back with several clutch receptions. His 19-yarder on a curl pattern in the second quarter set up a Cardinals field goal. A few minutes later, he gained 36 yards on a pass across the middle.

It was on that play that he felt a pop in his groin. He stumbled and fell at the Washington 18 or, he said, he would have scored. The Cardinals got the touchdown anyway -- a 18-yard cutback run by rookie Ron Moore -- and a 17-0 halftime lead. Clark, who got pain-killing shots at halftime, didn't think 17 points would be enough.

"I told our guys, 'This probably will not do it,' " he said. "I told 'em we had to get some more."

It would hold up because Phoenix was resilient on defense, getting big plays from defensive tackle Eric Swann and outside linebacker Ken Harvey along the way.

Swann had knocked Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien out of the game four plays into the second quarter with a vicious neck-tie tackle when Rypien ran for a first down. Swann insisted he had no intent to hurt Rypien.

"I don't try to hurt anybody," he said. "I don't play like that. It was just a tackle. I don't cheap-shot anybody."

Harvey, meanwhile, romped past overmatched left tackle Moe Elewonibi for three sacks and seven tackles. Elewonibi triggered his own downfall, it turned out.

"He started talking to me, a little bit of noise," Harvey said. "I'm not going to let anybody run over me. He was trying to get himself pumped up. I try to take little things like that and pump myself up."

Harvey definitely got the better of the pump posturing. He blew past Elewonibi for a big sack on Cary Conklin with 3:07 left in the game. After the Redskins had cut the deficit to 17-10 with more than 12 minutes left, the Phoenix defense twice stopped them on potential tying possessions.

At the end, the Cardinals were able to run out the clock, getting a critical third-down conversion from rookie Garrison Hearst.

Memories of RFK?

"I remember walking away after losing, head down," Harvey said. "And long flights home. This flight will be a lot shorter."

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