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For Openers, A Historically Tough Matchup

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The Redskins are hoping that Sunday's season-opener against the Giants will mark the end of an ugly trend: six straight losses to the Giants when the NFC East rivals have met on opening day.

Two of those losses, in 1988 and 1989, came during a period when the Redskins were one of the league's most dominant teams. With Joe Gibbs at the helm, they won three Super Bowls and went to the playoffs eight times during his first coaching stint in D.C. from 1981 to 1992.

But for a five-year stretch under Gibbs, from 1986 to 1990, the Redskins struggled against the Giants, who were outstanding, too, at the time.

New York won Super Bowls in the 1986 and 1990 seasons and beat the Redskins nine of 11 times during that five-year period; the Redskins' only two wins were in the strike-shortened 1987 season.

Even more mystifying, the Giants won one nail-biting game after another by scores of 24-23, 27-20, 27-24, 20-17 and 24-20. It was maddening.

"They had great teams, and we had very good teams," Gibbs said. "We seemed to play some of our absolute best games against them and still lose.  It seemed that no matter how hard or how good we played, it came down to some really close finishes, and we lost a bunch of them.  They were tough on everybody.  It was hard to beat them."

The Giants were coached by Bill Parcells, one of the best ever in the business, and featured an intimidating defense led by Lawrence Taylor, arguably the greatest linebacker in NFL history.

But the Redskins, fresh off a 32-point shellacking of Denver in Super Bowl XXII, picked up where they left off in their Monday night season-opener against the Giants in the Meadowlands on Sept. 5, 1988.

In control on both sides of the ball, they took a 13-0 lead in the first half on two field goals by Chip Lohmiller, their top draft choice in 1988, and on Doug Williams' 29-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Sanders, a member of the "The Posse," the Redskins' legendary receiving trio that included Art Monk and Gary Clark.

The Giants tied the game at 13 in the third period, and Redskin miscues decided the contest in the final quarter.

New York blocked a punt and ran the ball in for a touchdown with about 10 minutes to play. Later, Giants linebacker Pepper Johnson sacked Williams and forced a fumble that lineman Jim Burt returned 39 yards for a score to secure a 27-20 win.

The following year, the Redskins again opened on Monday night against the Giants, this time at RFK Stadium on Sept. 11, 1989.

New York led 14-3 at halftime, but the Redskins battled back. Quarterback Mark Rypien, who Gibbs tapped as the starter over Williams heading into the season, threw a 48-yard scoring pass to Sanders and a 6-yarder to Monk sandwiched around a Giants touchdown.

Then, with 7:30 to play, a 24-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Monte Coleman gave the Redskins a 24-21 edge. But Giants kicker Raul Allegre booted two late field goals, including a 52-yarder as time ran out to account for a 27-24 Giants win.

So many close, heartbreaking losses made it appear that the Redskins were jinxed against the Giants.

"The Giants had our number," said Dexter Manley, a great Redskins defensive end from 1981-89. "The 'Tuna' (Parcells) wasn't doing anything special, I can guarantee you that.  It's just that they were a better football team than we were personnel-wise.  We were staying with some guys for too long."

It's been a long time – 1976 in fact – since the Redskins beat the Giants in a season-opening game. That pattern has to end at some point. Perhaps Sunday will be the day.


Mike Richman is the author of The Redskins Encyclopedia and the Washington Redskins Football Vault. His web site is www.redskinshistorian.com and his email is mikerichman@redskinshistorian.com.

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