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Flashback Friday—Lombardi’s Skins vs. the Saints

Flashback Friday—Lombardi’s Skins vs. the Saints

"Gentlemen," the coach said, "it is not true that I can walk across the Potomac. Not even when it is frozen."

The assembled media mass at the Sheraton Carlton in downtown Washington laughed on cue. It's not often that a man can have the Washington press corps, used to dealing with the world famous and the very powerful, eating out of the palm of his hand. But that's exactly where Vincent T. Lombardi had this group when he was introduced as the new head coach, general manager, and part owner of the Washington Redskins in February of 1969.

And why not? Even new presidents coming to town had just reached the pinnacle of their profession. Lombardi was already a legend, having guided Green Bay to five NFL titles in a seven-year span. Lombardi biographer David Maraniss said that the coach was "an American icon, a coach who transcended his sport."

With the adulation came expectations. The Redskins hadn't had a winning season since 1955, a situation that the coach was expected to remedy in short order. To do that, the coach had to find a running back. Gerry Allen, the team's leading rusher in 1968, had gained just 399 yards and, as a team, the Redskins were outrushed by over 1,000 yards. That's hardly running to daylight.

Lombardi found his man in unheralded rookie Larry Brown, an eighth-round draft pick. It didn't take long for the coach to identify Brown's talent. At the first practice in training camp, he told Sonny Jurgensen, "See that (rookie) over there in the overalls?" pointing at Brown. "When the rest of these guys are gone, he'll still be here."

The team started off well, going 4-1-1 and talk of Washington becoming Title Town East began to percolate. Such talk proved to be premature and Lombardi was realistic about the state of the team. "We can be outclassed. We can be overpowered."

That they were as the schedule grew tougher and they lost to NFL elites Dallas, Los Angeles, and Baltimore. They went into the last two games of the season at 6-4-2, so a split was needed to achieve a winning record, something that Lombardi had never failed to do. As the season finale would be in Dallas, it looked like the game at RFK Stadium against the Saints was a must win.

Two Charley Harraway touchdowns, one rushing and the other on a pass reception, spurred the Redskins to a 17-0 halftime lead and they held off the Saints in the second half to come away with the win

A 25-yard punt return set up Harraway's first score. From the Saints' 12, the Redskins lined up in a tight formation. In a role reversal, Brown threw a block that cleared the way for the fullback Harraway and it was 7-0.

A 47-yard return with an interception by Rickie Harris led to a 19-yard Curt Knight field goal. After a New Orleans punt, Jurgensen took to the air, completing three of four passes that accounted for all of the 47 yards in the touchdown drive. The last 30 came on a short toss to Harraway, who blew by the linebacker attempting to cover him and went into the end zone untouched.

During the first half, in addition to Harris' interception, Mike Bass picked off a Saints pass and Chris Hanburger recovered a fumble, but all the Redskins got off of those three turnovers was the three point's following Harris' play. It nearly cost the Redskins in the second half.

Rookie quarterback Edd Hargett, subbing for an ailing Billy Kilmer, brought the Saints' offense to life. As a taste of things to come in the second half, Hargett moved his team from its own 20 to the Washington five, but the gun ending the half sounded before he could get off a play from there. Hargett led TD drives of 53 and 97 yards in the second half to cut the lead to 17-14. In the game's last two minutes, he drove the Saints to the Washington 43, but linebacker Harold McLinton tackled Hargett for no gain on fourth down and the Skins were able to kill the clock.

After the season, Lombardi said of the team's 7-5-2 final record, "I thought we could have had a better won-lost record. I hope we can find some better people."

Maraniss tells of Lombardi and Jurgensen attending Super Bowl V in New Orleans. They sat too far apart to consult during the game, but they communicated with hand gestures, indicating what play they would have run. Coach and quarterback "nodded in agreement, both certain that soon enough they would be down on the field, playing for a championship, and winning."

Sadly, it would never happen. Before the 1970 season, Lombardi was gone, a victim of cancer.

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Barry Trotz's departure reminiscent of Joe Gibbs' resignation in 1993

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Associated Press

Barry Trotz's departure reminiscent of Joe Gibbs' resignation in 1993

The sudden resignation of Barry Trotz as the coach of the Stanley Cup champion Capitals is the most stunning Washington coaching departure since Joe Gibbs retired from the Redskins about 13 months after the team won its third Super Bowl in a 10-year span. 

In the years leading up to Gibbs’ departure, there were some rumblings that he might leave. As early as 1986, John Madden said that Gibbs was a candidate to burn out of the profession early. During the 1989 season, Gibbs said that he was contemplating retirement, but he retracted his words the next day. In 1990, columnist and TV pregame panelist Will McDonough reported that Gibbs would retire after the season. Retirement rumors popped up again in early 1992, just two days before Super Bowl XXVI. Again, Gibbs denied them. The Redskins easily beat the Bills to claim their third championship in 10 years and there was no apparent reason why such a successful coach would think about leaving. 

Redskins fans had become so used to hearing the Gibbs retirement reports that many just started to tune them out. So on the morning of March 5, 1993, when reports of Gibbs’ resignation as coach started to circulate, many were in a state of denial.

That turned out to be wishful thinking. The fans were given a hard jolt of reality when the team announced a noon press conference. 

There the coach was on TV, as promised, confirming the news. He said it was a family decision. 

“Every year, we get away and talk about it,” Gibbs said. “We always reach the same conclusion. This year, it was different. The boys didn’t encourage me one way or another, but they understood when I told them what I was thinking. I think Pat’s happier than anyone. This isn’t an easy lifestyle for a coach’s wife. The coach is the guy who stands up and hears everyone tell him how great he is. The wife is the one waiting at home alone while the coach is spending every night at the office. 

“I wanted more time with my family. I wanted more time with my sons. I look at this as a window of opportunity with them and I couldn’t let it pass.” 

Although he has been diagnosed with a condition that has caused some pain and some difficulty in sleeping, Gibbs said that health was not a factor in his decision. 

Richie Petitbon, the team’s longtime defensive coordinator, was named the team’s new head coach. It had to be one of the shortest job interviews ever. 

“I get a call from Mr. Cooke who tells me Joe has retired and that he wants me to coach the Redskins,” Petitbon said. “After I picked myself up off the floor, I said yes.” 

After hearing the news, most Redskins fans had to pick themselves up as well.  

Petitbon lasted only one season as the head coach and the other eight head coaches who followed, including Gibbs himself in a four-year second stint, have been unable to get the Redskins back to the Super Bowl. Coincidentally, the Caps’ head coaching job is widely expected to go to Todd Reirden, who was Trotz’s top assistant just as Pettitbon was Gibbs’. 

Washington fans hope that the Caps have better fortune with Trotz’s successors. 

More Redskins

- 53-man roster: Roster projection--Offense
- 53-man roster: Best players 25 or younger

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

 

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Need to Know: Post-minicamp Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense

Need to Know: Post-minicamp Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, June 19, 37 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense 

It may still be early to project the roster, but things are coming into focus after the round of practices in helmets and shorts. Here is my look at who I think will make it on defense; the offense was posted yesterday.

Defensive line (7)
Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, Matt Ioannidis, Anthony Lanier, Stacy McGee, Tim Settle, Ziggy Hood

I don’t think that McGee’s groin injury will be an issue, but it seemed that Jay Gruden was very tight-lipped about the whole thing, so we will have to wait until training camp starts. This is one more than they normally carry here and Hood’s presence on the roster could be in danger if injuries force the team to carry more players at another position. 

Outside linebacker (4)
Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith, Ryan Anderson, Pernell McPhee

Anderson is certain to make the roster, but he was mostly invisible during the offseason practices that were open to the media. The spotlight will be on last year’s second-round pick in training camp. After a zero-sack rookie season, Anderson will be under pressure to produce this season. 

Inside linebacker (5)
Zach Brown, Mason Foster, Zach Vigil, Josh Harvey-Clemons, Shaun Dion Hamilton

The player I have on the wrong side of the bubble here is Martrell Spaight. If he does work his way on, the spot most in jeopardy is Vigil’s. Harvey-Clemons got a lot of reps with the first team in OTAs and the team thinks he can help in nickel situations and perhaps more. And Gruden called Hamilton a potential future starter. So the two younger players seem safe, leaving Vigil vulnerable.

Cornerback (6)
Josh Norman, Quinton Dunbar, Fabian Moreau, Orlando Scandrick, Josh Holsey, Greg Stroman

As is the case with the running backs that I looked at yesterday, this group seems to be pretty well set. It’s not that it’s an exceptionally strong group, but there isn’t a lot of real competition. Behind these six are three undrafted free agents, and while Danny Johnson, Kenny Ladler, and Ranthony Texada all have had flashes in the offseason practices, they are extreme long shots to make the roster at this point. 

Safety (4)
D.J. Swearinger, Montae Nicholson, Deshazor Everett, Troy Apke

If there are concerns about Nicholson’s health—to be clear, as of now there are none—Fish Smithson could make it as a fifth safety. 

Specialists (3)
K Dustin Hopkins, P Tress Way, LS Nick Sundberg

It looks like the Redskins will have the same trio of specialists for the fourth straight year. I will look it up at some point but for now, I’ll say that it’s been a while since they had such stability here. 


Defensive players: 26
Rookies (5): 
Payne, Settle, Hamilton, Stroman, Apke
New to the Redskins in 2018 (7): Rookies plus McPhee, Scandrick
Not on 2017 Week 1 roster (13): Rookies plus new players plus Vigil (released in the final cut, re-signed later in the season). 

On the 53-man roster:

24 offense, 26 defense, 3 specialists
Rookies: 8
New to the Redskins in 2017: 12
Not on 2017 Week 1 roster: 16

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline  

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 37
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 51
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 74

The Redskins last played a game 170 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 82 days. 

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