The Master: Revenge of the Body Bags

Tight End Don Warren

Of course, Joe Gibbs loved to win, but he also knew how to use a loss to his best advantage. In a 1990 playoff game, Buddy Ryan learned that he'd messed with the wrong guy.

1990 NFC Wild Card Game
Veterans Stadium
January 5, 1991

In their Monday night game eight weeks earlier, the Redskins got physically crushed by the Philadelphia Eagles in the "Body Bag" game. That was bad enough, but the Eagles chose to rub it in their faces, taunting and trash talking until the final gun on the field and in the locker room afterwards. Sometimes, things just fall into place. Washington qualified for the playoffs as a wild card entry, and the seedings called for the Redskins to return to the scene of the crime, Veterans Stadium, for a first-round playoff contest. They would have their shot at revenge.

When facing the press in the days prior to a game, Gibbs was usually overly gracious in his comments about the opposition, making a 2-10 outfit sound like the ‘60's Packers and their coach the second coming of St. Vincent. Not this week, though. When asked about Ryan, Gibbs stood stone-faced talking about the challenges ahead.

One reporter caught Gibbs in an unguarded moment. It was January 3, the day before the game. Snow had fallen on New Year's Eve and the journalist noted that the snow still covered Gibbs' car in the parking lot at Redskins Park. In the hallway, the more Gibbs talked about Buddy, the madder he got. "I live to play a game like this one. I live to play this guy." Gibbs said, turning red faced with rage. While this was hardly headline material or Eagle bulletin board fodder, it was very telling of the mood of the coach and the team. They were clearly a team on a mission as they entered the Vet for the game.

It took them a quarter to get untracked as Philadelphia got two field goals for a 6-0 lead, but the defense stiffened after that, sacking Eagles QB Randall Cunningham five times and forcing three turnovers. Mark Rypien threw two scoring passes and Ernest Byner and Gerald Riggs shared the rushing duties and combined for 94 yards on the ground.

A turnover reversed by replay was the game's turning point. The Redskins had taken a 7-6 lead and were driving for more when the ball popped loose from Byner's grasp when he was tackled at the Philadelphia six. Cornerback Ben Smith scooped the ball up and ran 94 yards for an apparent touchdown. Fortunately for the Redskins, instant replay showed that the ground caused the fumble and the call was reversed, with the Redskins retaining possession. The reversal became a 10-point turnaround as Chip Lohmiller connected on a short field goal and instead of a six-point deficit the Redskins had a four-point lead. The Eagles' offense never could get untracked and the Redskins won 20-6.

During a players-only meeting in the week before the game, the team had made a pact that they would not sink to the level of Philly and deliver "I told you so's" to the classless Eagles after the game. But the message was delivered to Buddy and his losing team after the game with a certain degree of subtlety.

Clark said. "You'd better not question someone's character unless you're sure of the character you're talking about. This team has character, and hopefully this is just one step."

And Coleman said, ""People threw dirt on this team all year but they didn't know we had shovels and would keep digging our way out."

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