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Flashback: Redskins Stunned Colts In 1959

The Redskins have recorded their fair share of upsets in their long history.

Perhaps the greatest upset win took place on Nov. 8, 1959 at Griffith Stadium when they topped the Baltimore Colts 27-24.

Why was it so monumental? Picture David vs. Goliath, or a kid constantly picked on flooring the schoolyard bully. On paper, the Redskins looked like nothing more than a punching bag for their neighbors 40 miles to the north.

Consider: the Colts were defending NFL champions, having defeated the Giants in overtime 23-17 in the 1958 title game, regarded by many to be the greatest game in league history.

They featured seven future Hall of Famers in quarterback Johnny Unitas, halfback Lenny Moore, receiver Raymond Berry, offensive lineman Jim Parker, defensive linemen Gino Marchetti and Art Donovan, and head coach Weeb Ewbank.

Unitas, headed for NFL immortality, was the biggest name among them, and his golden passing arm had thrown for touchdowns in a record 31 straight games.

For the Redskins, times were ominous.

They were in the early stages of the most miserable period in team history, a stretch from 1959 through the 1961 seasons that consisted of five wins. They had lost three straight games, leaving them 2-4 at the time, and three straight to the Colts.

In addition, the Redskins were led by a first-year coach in Mike Nixon, a former assistant in Washington who was known for his pleasant, nice-guy personality.

The Redskins did possess some talent, mostly on offense with quarterback Eddie LeBaron, the NFL's leading passer in 1958, backs Johnny Olszewski, Don Bosseler, Jim Podoley, Ed Sutton and Dick James, and ends Joe Walton, Bill Anderson and Johnny Carson. At kicker, there was the talented "Sugarfoot" Sam Baker.

United Press International sportswriter Bob Serling offered this assessment of the Redskins before the season: "No one, from new head coach Mike Nixon on down, can predict whether the ?Skins are going to be terribly good or good and terrible. In many ways, they're loaded, particularly on offense. In other ways, they're merely loaded with question marks."

By the time they came to the Nation's Capital, the 4-2 Colts were 10-point favorites over the Redskins, and only those with audacity would have predicted a victory for the Burgundy and Gold.

Before a near sell-out crowd of 33,000 at Griffith Stadium, Baltimore took a 3-0 lead in the first period.

LeBaron, who completed 16-of-32 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns on the day, hit Walton with a 19-yard scoring pass for a 7-3 game.

A Baker field goal put the Redskins up by a touchdown in the third period, but Unitas threw his first of two touchdown passes to end Jim Mutscheller for a 10-10 game.

The team then exploded for 31 points in the fourth quarter. LeBaron's 17-yard scoring throw to Anderson and Sutton's 22-yard option scoring toss to Walton, sandwiched around another Unitas pass to Mutscheller, left the Redskins leading 24-17.

Baltimore tied the game on Moore's option pass to end Jerry Richardson, plus the conversion, and forced the Redskins to punt with time running out.

Unitas, the man credited with inventing the two-minute drill, threw a pass that defensive end Tom Braatz intercepted and returned to the Colts' 38. Baker entered with 12 seconds left and kicked a 46-yard field goal that sent the fans into delirium as they celebrated the seismic upset.

Vice president Richard Nixon, a diehard Redskins fan who attended the game, bolted to the locker room to congratulate the Redskins players, owner George Preston Marshall and another Nixon, Mike. "I have never seen a game to surpass this one," the Associated Press quoted the vice president as saying.

One newspaper headline read, "Redskins' Victory Tremendous; Performance One of Best Ever."

As memorable as the game was, the rest of the season may well be forgotten. The Redskins lost their last five games by a combined score of 155-65. They finished 3-9 for the third time in the 1950s with a club that may have been the worst of the three. The 1959 squad scored the fewest points in the NFL, 185, and allowed a league-high 350.

The Redskins followed with their two worst seasons in team history, 1-9-2 in 1960 and 1-12-1 in 1961.

The Colts, for their part, proceeded to capture their second straight NFL championship and later crafted a nine-game winning streak over the Redskins, one reason there was never much of a rivalry between the two squads.

From the time they began playing in Baltimore in 1953 until moving to Indianapolis after the 1983 season, the Colts beat the Redskins 15 of 20 times.

For Washington fans, one game will stand out: that day in 1959 when the Redskins performed the unthinkable against those guys with the blue horseshoe on their helmets.

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 www.redskinshistorian.com.

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