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'83 Redskins the Best Team In Franchise History?

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What do you call a team that scored a then-NFL record 541 points, posts a remarkable plus-43 turnover ratio, loses a total of two regular-season games by one point each, and annihilates opponent after opponent en route to reaching its second straight Super Bowl?

A juggernaut, perhaps?

Enter the 1983 Washington Redskins, who ran roughshod over the rest of their NFL brethren, literally and figuratively, and operated with a dominance rarely seen in pro football history.

Mercy was not in the Redskins vernacular that year, when in addition to rewriting the league's record books, they pushed all-time team marks by the wayside.

Redskins fans went "hog wild" over not only the famed "Hogs" offensive line, but also such stars as quarterback Joe Theismann, running back John Riggins, wingback Joe Washington, wide receivers Charlie Brown and Art Monk, defensive end Dexter Manley, defensive tackle Dave Butz and cornerback Darrell Green.

The awesome demonstration propelled the 14-2 Redskins to an NFC East title. They followed by destroying the Los Angeles Rams in the playoff opener, 51-7, and surpassed the 49ers in the NFC championship game 24-21 to qualify for Super Bowl XVIII in Tampa.

That's where they met their match.

The Los Angeles Raiders, who operated with a nastiness similar to the Redskins, treated the burgundy and gold like paperweights in a 38-9 win. The loss, compounded by the largest losing margin at the time in Super Bowl history, tainted what was otherwise a monumental season in Redskins lore.

"We were the best team in the history of football," said Theismann, the league's MVP in 1983. "That will never be known because we didn't win a Super Bowl."

Redskins guard Russ Grimm, a pillar on the "Hogs," rated that team above the Redskins' 1991 squad that also finished 14-2 and advanced to win Super Bowl XXVI. At the same time, however, he shared Theismann's frustrating sentiment.

"The best team I played on was the 1983 team," Grimm said. "We lost two games that year by one point. We averaged nearly 35 points per game. But we didn't win the big one."

Theismann and Grimm were keys to Redskins teams that kicked off the glory run of the 1980s and early '90s under Hall of Fame head coach Joe Gibbs, under whom Washington reached the Super Bowl four times, won three NFL championships and appeared in the playoffs eight times.

Gibbs' first Super Bowl year was his second season, 1982, when the Redskins became NFL champions for the first time in four decades by beating the Dolphins 27-17 in Super Bowl XVII. The win hoisted the names of several Redskins into the conscience of sports fans on the national and international fronts, none more so than Riggins.

The bruising 6-2, 240-pound running back earned MVP honors after rushing for a Super Bowl-record 166 yards, a performance that capped his amazing 610-yard rushing total in a four-game playoff format created by the strike-shortened 1982 season.

He flourished in the one-back formation perfected by Gibbs and ground out yards behind the "Hogs" on such running plays as "50 Gut" and "70 Chip" that became synonymous with success in the Gibbs' era.

Riggins became a free agent after the season, so re-signing him in the 1983 offseason was an imperative. Owner Jack Kent Cooke did just that, while general manager Bobby Beathard, a master at spotting talent even in the most obscure places, led efforts to draft a 5-8, 170-pound cornerback out of tiny Texas A&I named Darrell Green with the last pick in the first round.

Drafting Green, who possessed world-class sprinting speed, would prove fruitful in 1983 and many years beyond.

The season included three Monday night games, one against the Dallas Cowboys in the season-opener at RFK Stadium. Dallas overcame a 23-3 halftime deficit to nip the Redskins 31-30. But Washington won three in a row before hosting the Raiders in a game Thiesmann called "one for the record books."

Los Angeles led 35-20 with 7:31 to play, but the Redskins responded with 17 straight points, the winning scores coming on a 6-yard pass from Theismann to wingback Joe Washington in the last minute.

The 4-1 Redskins won eight of their next nine games, the only loss coming in a breathtaking shootout with the Packers on a Monday Night in Green Bay, before entering extremely hostile territory: Dallas.

The 12-2 teams were tied for first in the NFC East. This time, the Redskins routed their fierce rivals, 31-10, and followed with a 31-22 victory over the New York Giants in the season finale to clinch the division.

After destroying the Rams in the opening round of the playoffs, Washington hosted the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.

The Redskins seemed to have a clear path to the Super Bowl upon taking a 21-0 lead late in the third quarter on Thiesmann's 70-yard pass to "Downtown" Charlie Brown.

But Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana threw three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to tie the game, before Redskins kicker Mark Moseley, who previously missed four field goals, was true from 25 yards out to send the Redskins to the Super Bowl.

In Tampa, the 16-2 Redskins would confront the 14-4 Raiders in a game billed as a beauty of a Super Bowl.

The teams, which slugged it out in arguably the most exciting game of the 1983 season, Washington's 37-35 comeback win, also matched up well on paper: two big, physical squads with excellent defenses against the rush and a strong reliance on running the ball, the Redskins with Riggins, who gained 1,347 yards that season, and the Raiders with 1,014-yard man Marcus Allen.

The Redskins struggled early on before 72,920 fans in Tampa Stadium. After Moseley missed a 44-yard field goal, the Raiders' Derrick Johnson blocked a punt and recovered the ball in the end zone.

The Raiders went up 14-0 in the second period on quarterback Jim Plunkett's 12-yard pass to Cliff Branch, before Moseley converted a 24-yard field goal.

Los Angeles applied a devastating blow right before halftime.

The Redskins had a first down on their own 12-yard line with 12 seconds left, when Theismann conferred on the sidelines with Gibbs about the next play. It was decided that the call would be the same "rocket screen" pass to Joe Washington that gained 67 yards in the regular-season game.

Theismann aimed a screen pass to Washington in the flat. But reserve linebacker Jack Squirek picked off the pass and ran five yards for a score. The Redskins, trailing 21-3, were demoralized.

"When we went in at halftime, we were pretty well-licked," Redskins linebacker Neal Olkewicz said. "They had pretty much dominated from the beginning. It was their day, not ours."

After Riggins ran for a 1-yard score, Allen applied the finishing touches later in the second half. The slashing back ran five and 74 yards for touchdowns, the latter run setting a Super Bowl record. Allen ran for 191 yards overall, breaking Riggins' Super Bowl record set the year before, and earned the game's MVP.

But Theismann believes nose tackle Reggie Kinlaw should have been named the game's MVP. Kinlaw led a defense that held the Redskins to 90 yards rushing, 64 by Riggins, and sacked Theismann six times.

"When the game got out of hand, there was no chance of them coming back because we shut down their running game," Raiders Hall of Fame linebacker Ted Hendricks said. "They got so far behind that they had to pass. And our corners smothered their receivers. They couldn't do anything about it."

Essentially, the Raiders did to the Redskins what the burgundy and gold did to torment opponents in the regular season and playoffs.

Nevertheless, the season remains one of the finest displays of football in Redskins history.

Michael Richman is the author of The Redskins Encyclopedia, a 432-page book that spans the 75-year history of the storied franchise. His Web site is www.redskinshistorian.com.

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