Remembering the Washington Redskins' last Super Bowl team

Jan 26, 2012

The Washington Redskins' last appearance in a Super Bowl came 20 years ago Thursday, when they defeated the Buffalo Bills 37-24 in Minneapolis.

Richard Justice was The Washington Post's beat reporter that season, and he answered your questions about the Hogs, Art Monk, Mark Rypien, Joe Gibbs and the rest on Thursday.

Richard...we really miss you. How insane was the Bandwagon and how much fun did you have personally during that season?

It was a wonderful ride. The preseason ended up with an ugly loss, and the next day, Jack Kent Cooke telling Joe Gibbs he'd completely screwed up the team. Gibbs threw his jacket down and got back in Cooke's face (or something close). When the season started, Gibbs would say ``The players are just taking us on a ride.'' That was a not-so-veiled shot at the Squire, letting him know that he hadn't screwed up the team.

How do you feel a salary cap would have affected the Redskins? Who would have taken a hometown discount to stay with Gibbs? Who would have to be franchised? Which "system" players would have been overpaid by other teams trying to replicate the Redskins system?

The strength of the 1991 team was keeping a group together. For instance, Gerald Riggs made $600K to play in goal-line situations. No team could afford to have one guy do one thing now. There would have to have been an infusion of youth, and that would have cost them some of the Hogs and valuable parttime contributors like Jumpy Geathers.

I seem to recall that Mark Rypien was not supported well by the fan base - they didn't give him much credit for the 'Skins success. Do I remember that right? What was the media's perception of him during the year? ( I know he won the Super Bowl MVP). Reminds me a little of Flacco with the Ravens.

Fans were screaming at Rypien before one game, and when Gibbs walked by him, Rypien said, ``The natives are restless, coach.'' Gibbs walks over to a group of fans and asks, ``Who's is yelling at our quarterback?'' They pointed to one guy. Gibbs looked at the guy and said, ``We need you today.'' The guy completely changed demeanor and said, ``I'm with you, coach.'' Gibbs had more people skills than any 10 other people I've ever known in my life. He'd held these Monday team meetings and give out awards, and it was magical how it brought the team together. 

I'm 26 now, and I was 6 during that season and living with my family on Capitol Hill, mere blocks from RFK Stadium. It was the first year I paid attention to any sport, and every fan sensation was brand new to me. I was heartbroken by the loss to Dallas (hey, it was the first sports loss of my life!), delighted by the muddy playoff slog over Atlanta, elated by the thrashing of Detroit (my 2-year old brother and I whooped and hollered on our porch after the game as cars honked their joy), and euphoric over the Super Bowl win. This was the most incredible discovery of my young life, this football thing! I've never had it that good since.

   My baby daughter was born at 6 am on the day of the Atlanta game. It was muddy and wet and rainy, and Gibbs told the players, ``This is perfect. This is Redskins weather.'' He would do that during the worst days of practice at Redskin Park. Jerry Glanville took his guys to the Marine Memorial for inspiration. Didn't work.

In the post-Super Bowl interview, Joe Gibbs in a very gracious way went through a list of some great players he had the priviledge of coaching over the years. One of the players he mentioned was Doug Williams. However, when he mentioned his name he pronounced it, "Doug William" without the S. This was very funny to me and my buddy as we were watching the interview inside the Metrodome. The reason it was funny is because when Doug Williams would speak about Joe Gibbs he would always say, "Coach Gibb", leaving out the S. Did you happen to catch that? Was there any conversation amongst reporters like yourself who might have got a laugh out of it? It was almost like Coach was taking a little playful jab at him. Thanks, Jim Arlington Heights, IL

I'm not sure if he meant it to be an inside joke, but in the building, we did call him ``Doug William.'' I can't even remember why. It was something started amongst the players I imagine.

Good Morning Richard! No specific question for you this morning, just an appreciation of your work in print and on the radio and television. There are only a small handful of reporters/writers that I stop most anything to read/listen to, and you are one of them! We miss you here in DC. I log on to your newspaper to read your columns still. Thanks for all your great work!

Thank you very much. The Post was a great place to work. The talent--Kornheiser, Wilbon, Feinstein, Maske, Shapiro--was scary good. Our boss, George Solomon, did more for me and my family than I can ever repay him for. I loved him and hated him and he made me better than I ever thought I could be.

As a Bills fan, my favorite part of this particular super bowl was Fox's alternate halftime programing featuring several In Living Color skits. Sandwiched between the Scott Norwood game and two terrible losses to Dallas, this is probably the forgotten Super Bowl in Buffalo but it prevents me from ever rooting for the Skins.

The Redskins were so ready to go that coaches shortened the Thursday practice because the collisions were so violent. As Emmit Thomas said, ``I wouldn't want to play us this week.'' They thought the Bills had more playmakers, more stars, and they thought they had to be almost perfect, which they were.

I remember: that nobody had any other conversation at the office except the Redskins; that Izzy Cohen, the then-owner of Giant, closed every single one of his stores on Super Bowl Sunday so that his employees could wait (and also because he knew that nobody would be shopping then); and that Tony Kornheiser was still writing for The Post back then and was doing his "Bandwagon" columns, which were just hysterical. Oh, those were the days.

Tony began referring to the Bandwagon as a ``certain, multi-passenger vehicle.'' The players loved it and rallied around it. The Squire loved Tony, and his references to ``Leslie and Coco and Mo.''

[From the Post staff] Who was the most overrated player on this Redskins team? Who was the most underrated? 

I've only got my 12-15 year frame of reference. Desmond Howard and Heath Shuler were huge busts. As far as underrated, you could name a hundred guys. Donnie Warren. Brad Edwards. Martin Mayhew.

I read in Tracee's chat that Tony Kornheiser refused to participate in the Post's Redskins retrospective today unless he got paid. Considering you are chatting today, you must have done an excellent job at strong-arming the Post into paying your high appearance fee.

I'd like a t-shirt.

 Post commenter ftlmikeflorida wrote: 

"Had John Cooke been able to keep the team, I think, well I know, things would be a whole lot different today."

Do you agree? 

The salary cap system changed everything. I do think he would have do a better job getting a good GM. Dan Snyder's weakness has been that he got rid of a good GM and has never had one since. Gibbs preached that good organizations must be great in three areas: owner, GM, coach. Snyder doesn't understand the GM part.

It's too bad this team isn't regularly mentioned with the '72 Dolphins and the '85 Bears as the Best Team Ever. Are there any prominent NFL and/or press figures not associated with the DC area that would apply that label to the '91 Skins?

No, it wasn't that kind of team. I was right there and couldn't tell how good it was. If you look at the numbers now, it was a great team. But it really was a team. It wasn't one or two Hall of Famers. Their best offensive player was Gary Clark, their best defensive player Wilbur Marshall. But the strength of the team was rotating guys into positions where they were put in position to succeed. Geathers had an incredible year. Those two tackles Charley acquired, Tim Johnson and Eric Williams, stepped right in and did great work. Rypien was spectacular throwing the deep ball. It just all worked.

Was there ever a moment that season, that you even doubted they'd win the Super Bowl?

I never knew how good they were, and that's what Gibbs preached to the players. We can be good, but we have to do things right, take care of details. I didn't think they'd beat the Bills, and Casserly was skeptical too because of all that talent. But they had a great week of practice and made plays all over the place. That third quarter interception by Gouveia (Was it him?) was a blitz Richie Petitbon drew up on the bus ride to the stadium

[From The Post staff] Richard, what were the expectations among the press for the Redskins going into the season?  

Nothing special. They'd gotten to the second round of the playoffs in the wake of the Body Bag game the year before, and they were old and didn't have a great QB. I can't emphasize it enough: it was a team. However, Playboy picked em to win the Super Bowl, and when Steve Buchanz asked Joe about it after the last preseason game, he got his head taken off. So I guess some in the media expected great things.

Blah.. Who cares about the Redskins... Tell us what you think of the Nats!!!!

Love 'em. Doing things right.

Richie, thank you for doing this today. How sad is it that it has been 20 years since the Redskins were relevant? How can we be the 2012 or 2013 49ers and finally pull ourselves out of Cleveland Browns football obscurity?

The Redskins will always be relevant in the city. I've never been in a city that cared more about a team than Washington and the Redskins. It was a love/hate thing. At my church, a guy from the DOD routinely offered a prayer for the special teams. In the early days of Gibbs, there'd be people waiting at Redskin Park after a road win.

[From The Post staff]: Injuries always play a big part in an NFL team's success. Were there any siginficant injuries on the 1991 Redskins?

I think that was part of a special season. Rypien threw the city into a panic by twisting his ankle four days before the Super Bowl. Other than that, they were healthy. However, the next year they were completely decimated by injuries. Gibbs called the players up at halftime during a game in KC, and they were in the training room. Martin Mayhew played the second half of that game with a broken arm.

Richard: Could you talk a bit about what you observed concerning the relationship between the two men who ran the Redskins. I remember reading once that they had both been California hot rodders and that had bound them together, even though they were very different in a lot of ways. Also want to say I always enjoyed your columns on baseball when you were with the Baltimore Sun--back when it was a real, independent newspaper. Thanks.

Beathard and Gibbs had a tense relationship, and it got so bad that The Squire agreed one of them had to go. However, their tension was good for the football team. Beathard was a brilliant personnel man. Gibbs once said, ``Just when I'm starting to like his players, he gives me some more new players.'' It was a natural tension between a personnel man and a coach. A healthy thing. Gibbs and Casserly had a much smoother relationship, and that one worked, too.

[From The Post staff]: What was the best thing about RFK Stadium from a football persepctive? What was the worst thing?


PS -- What size t-shirt do you wear?

It was magical. Loud. Crowd right on top of the opponent. Opposing players talked about how they could hear the crowd before going on the field. It was a 12th man. Gibbs occasionally would call me on Saturday and say, ``Be sure to put in your article that we're going to need the fans in this one.'' There was no worst thing for me. It was perfect. But it didn't have the size or luxury suites to sustain a big flow of revenue. The Squire subsidized the team.

I remember our winning streak being threatened by the Oilers who shanked a chip shot at the end of the game, preserving a Redskins victory. That was a truly wonderful season that helped me forget how much high school sucked and what losing was like.

Yes, and the Oilers cut the kicker the next day.

[From The Post staff] What do you remember as the best events you covered for The Post, regardless of sport, when you were here?

Super Bowl XXVI and the 1990 and 1991 Redskins were far and away the best thing. 1986 World Series. 1989 World Series (earthquake). 1989 Orioles.

Had to have been about 10 years ago, but we were at a pre-season game when the announcer, before the game, let the crowd know that Mark Rypien and his wife had just lost a child. The crowd audibly gasped and more than a few tears were shed.

I went to Idaho to visit with Mark about Andrew and write an A1 story for the Post. We talked for maybe 2 hours, and he wept for all but about 10 minutes.

The success of the Cooke-Casserly-Gibbs team bred a great feeling of shared purpose among the fans. (You and I may disagree over tax policy or the Gulf War, but by heaven we both agree on the Redskins.) The story about Cooke and Gibbs yelling is really interesting, because we tend to think that winning teams have a shared commitment to winning. It raises the question of whether winning breeds that attitude or that attitude breeds winning.

Cooke once ordered Gibbs to bench Rypien. Gibbs refused. Cooke told him, ``OK, Joe, it's your ass.'' Gibbs responded, ``It always is, Mr. Cooke.'' Two years later, he also ordered Richie Petitbon to bench Rypien. Rather than stand up for his guy, Richie did what he was told. 

I often wonder if that system would work today. The Skins' average run was not that impressive, especially in terms of the gaudy numbers that are expected today, but it was consistent. Just as the opposing defense crept up into run support, Gibbs would call a deep, crippling pass play. Do you think the same scheme would work today or has the run game dimished in the YAC era?

The difference now is you couldn't keep a group of offensive linemen together for 5-6 years. Gibbs once sent a guy to the locker room at lunch and said, ``Every player who has been here five years needs to go see Coach Gibbs.'' He told the players, ``It's your team. I need your help. What do we need to do? Should we take the pads off?'' Whenever the Skins went bad, it was always they had too many old guys and hit too much in practice. When Eric Williams arrived, the practice was so fierce, he called it ``our Wednesday game.'' The players urged Gibbs to continue the hitting, and after the meeting, one player said to another, ``We're sure dumb.'' If you asked for a meeting of 5-6 year guys, it would be a much smaller group because of the cap.

Where does Joe Gibbs rank among the all-time coaches in your opinion? Three Super Bowls with three different QBs. Is your opinion diminished at all by the less than stellar return under Snyder?

He's by far the best I've ever been around, and I also know Earl Weaver well and was around Tom Landry a lot. He was incredible with people, with motivating a group. And he know all the Xs and Os stuff. He was once a very good racquetball player. When one of his players poked fun at that, Gibbs challenged  him. And then for weeks, he was in the racquetball court at 4 am most mornings preparing. He was as competitive as anyone I've ever known.

You guys got the score wrong on the chat. It was 37-24, not 34-27!

Thanks! We'll fix it.

Which of the four professional DC teams (Redskins, Nats, Wizards, and Caps) do you see as the most likely to end our championship drought first?

The Nationals are pretty good. They're the closest.

Care to compare or contrast Joe Gibbs with another great leader you covered, Earl Weaver?

Totally different. Gibbs touched players and made them want to please him. He also had a toughness. He'd call a guy in and ask, ``Is everything OK at home? Are you happy with your contract? I know you can do better.'' That player would leave terrified because he knew he'd just been threatened. Weaver's players despised him. But they knew he was a steady ahead of the other manager, and in a weird way, their dislike of Weaver unified the group.

Would you please compare the qualities of Gibbs v Shannahan?

To paraphrase Sparky Anderson, I wouldn't insult Mike Shanahan by comparing him to Joe Gibbs. If Shanahan gets a QB, the Skins will be fine.

The one thing I really remember about the Redskins-Bills Super Bowl was that it was the one week my mom allowed me to skip Sunday school. Thanks Mom!


Bill Walsh or Joe Gibbs?

Gibbs never said it, but I always felt he disliked Walsh intensely because of the genius level. I attended a Stanford-Cal game with Gibbs to watch Coy play, and when fans began screaming, ``Hey, Walsh, you suck!'' I swear I saw a little smile on Coach Joe's face. He wold deny it, but I think it was there. I take Coach Gibbs over anyone.

The rainy Atlanta game when suddenly all these gold squares starting floating down from the seats on to the field. Madden suddenly cracking up when he realized it was seat cushion give away day! Ah, good times.

I can still remember the LA Times game story... Amid the muck and cold and mud...

I agree that the city is pretty unique in its support for the team, but any idea why here? Did you ever talk to Shirley Povich about the phenomenon? Was it always like this, especially during the 50s and 60s when the team wasn't very good?

There was nothing else to cheer for. The Nationals were terrible and then left town. The Bullets moved to the suburbs. The Redskins had, first, a Hall of Fame QB to cheer for, and then when EBW hired George Allen, that was that. This was a football city first, second and third.

Until you started me on this very happy journey down the past, I hadn't really thought about Coach Gibbs much recently. I know realize what a total class act he was, both in terms of his on the field performance and his work in the community. They don't make 'em like that much any more, do they?

I could tell you stories that you would have trouble believing. Late at night, he'd come in the press room when it was just me and say things like, ``I just don't think I'm doing enough to help people.'' I'd mention the youth woman and he'd say, ``I could do more.'' Once, he approached Don Graham and a bunch of others and essentially wanted to start a large charity to help the needy. He had a concept in his mind and wasn't sure how it would work, but he was passionate about it. 

I STILL remember your story about the child's illness and death, especially how Mark went outside for a few minutes (to walk the dog, I think) and when he came back, the child had died in Mrs. Rypien's arms on their bed . . .

Yes, Andrew was lying in bed beside Angie.

Do you think they should keep the name? Do you find it offensive? (Apologies if you've written about this before.) Is this issue only discussed outside the team, or was it ever discussed by the players or other team personnel?

I am part Native American. I do not find it insulting.

The last 15 years haven't been kind to the Redskins or their fans. The Caps have moved in and captured a lot of hearts (Rock the Red), and the Nats seemed poised for a run. Will the Skins ever capture DC fans hearts like they did in the 80s and early 90s?

Sure, if they win, they'll be popular. Fans are hungry for a winner. I still think Washington sports fans care more about the Redskins than all the other teams combined. When I lived there between 1986 and 2000, it always seemed the Maryland hoops was second. But there was no baseball then.

RIchard: I remember reading that the last Orioles World Series win was due in large part to the fact that Joe Altobelli had replaced Weaver that year. The players were determined to show that they could win without Earl. Thoughts?

I think there's some truth to that. It was also a very good team. Early in the season when meals were being served on a flight, someone yelled, ``Where's the shrimp?'' Someone yelled back: ``He's playing golf in Florida.'' Earl got all the attention, and I guess there was some jealousy. I think Eddie, and Cal had a healthy respect for Earl, as did others. But he was easy to make fun of. Just between us girls, he could really cuss.

Do you think the main reason Gibbs retired the first time was because he knew with the salary cap he wouldn't be able to have that large group of 5-6 year players - his "core Redskins"?

He retired because he thought he was dying and because he needed a break. He had some strange health symptoms during the 1991 season. For instance, eletrical impulses in his arm. He was found to be diabetic, and that's a tough disease to manage when you're sleeping 10 hours a week and living on M&Ms.

Thanks for the Gibbs-Weaver comparison. Both men seemed to work hard to make sure everyone was on the same side -- but Gibbs wanted you on his side, and Weaver was fine if you didn't think he was on your side. It seems there's more than one way to be an effective leader. (Feel free to insert any comments about George Solomon here.)

George was a great leader.

Loved reading the Sports Illustrated story about how Jim Kelly Inc. was all over the pre-game activities, getting paid for every appearance, and Rypien was there with his wife and family signing autographs and saying Hi ... that's show to win. Memories ...

When Disney brought in forms for the players to sign, they included a basic bonus for winning Super Bowl MVP and saying, ``I'm going to Disney World.'' Every player signed except Wilbur Marshall, who wanted to negotiate. I think he eventually signed too, but am not sure.

You're telling some great stories. Please put them in a book.

As Sparky Anderson said, I've never read a book. I've written two books and didn't read them either.

That's it for today. Thanks for allowing me to take a stroll down memory lane.

In This Chat
Richard Justice
Richard Justice worked at The Washington Post from 1986 until 2000. He covered the Redskins for about a decade, including their championship season of 1991. He's currently a correspondent for and an occasional contributor to the MLB Network.
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