Saturday, January 28, 2012

'Ryp'ping the Bills

Twenty years ago, I worked on a newspaper copy desk with a young woman who was a devout Washington Redskins fan.

And, when the Redskins won the Super Bowl in January 1992, she was ecstatic. In the aftermath of that game, all kinds of Redskins paraphernalia adorned her work station — and I'm sure I heard her humming "Hail to the Redskins" a couple of times. My desk was next to hers, and I'm convinced I couldn't be mistaken ...

I've never really cared for the Redskins, but even I had to grudgingly admit that it took a certain amount of courage for her to publicly acknowledge she was a Washington fan. We were working for a paper in north Texas, practically a stone's throw from Dallas, home of the Redskins' longtime rivals, the Cowboys.

Most of the people in the newsroom grew up here, and most were Cowboys fans. A Redskins fan living in or near Dallas must feel the same as a Yankees fan living in Boston — like a man without a country.

Oh, sure, these days devotees of just about any sports franchise can find groups of like–minded fans in any metropolitan area. Perhaps these groups have been around for a long time and today, thanks to the internet, it isn't too hard to locate them and the sports bars where they congregate, but if those groups existed in 1992, the task of finding them was a lot more difficult.

So my hat was off to her. We weren't buddies and spent no time together outside the office, but my guess is that she couldn't have had much of a support network based on her favorite football team. Must have been kind of an isolating experience for her.

Anyway, I left that newspaper a few months after the Redskins won the Super Bowl, and I have no idea what became of my former co–worker. But, if she is still living, I wonder how well she's been holding up. The Redskins haven't been back to the Super Bowl since.

For that matter, they haven't even played in a conference championship game since. They share the distinction of the longest period between NFC Championship game appearances with the team they beat in 1992, the Detroit Lions, and both teams will add to their record championship game droughts until one returns. At that time, other one will be the sole holder of that dubious record — unless they both return to the NFC Championship game in the same year.

If they do face each other in a rematch of the '92 title tilt, I hope it will be more competitive. Twenty years ago, the Lions committed two early turnovers and the Redskins jumped to a 10–0 lead and never looked back en route to a 41–10 hammering.

Considering what happened in the most recent NFL season, the Lions may well return to the NFC Championship game before the Redskins do. But it is doubtful that they will enjoy the kind of day the Redskins did in Super Bowl XXVI with the Buffalo Bills.

Things got started a little slowly, which was odd because the teams were the highest–scoring squads in the league. Neither team scored in the first quarter, but the Redskins hung 17 points on the Bills in the second quarter and took a 17–0 lead to the locker room.

The Redskins made it 24–0 before Buffalo ever got on the board, and they strolled to their eventual 37–24 triumph.

Clearly, the outcome was never in doubt.

It was vindication for quarterback Mark Rypien, who was named the game's MVP. When the season started, the Redskins weren't settled at the quarterback position. Rypien had been their starter for the last two seasons, but he had been erratic at times.

By the time the final gun sounded in Super Bowl XXVI, Rypien was regarded by many as the league's best quarterback.

But my memories of that day do not focus on the game, really.

I remember attending a Super Bowl party thrown by one of my co–workers. In true Southern fashion, he prepared brisket for his guests (with the usual sides) and was generous in his servings, each of which was bathed in his homemade barbecue sauce.

I grew up in the South and, consequently, I've eaten my fair share of brisket. This may have been the best I've ever eaten. If it wasn't the best, it was darn close to it. (It might have been the sauce.)

Yep, the food was good. Very good. But after the score became 24–0 in the third quarter, there really didn't seem to be much incentive to stick around. When the score reached 31–10 near the end of the third period, I excused myself at a commercial break and went home.

What really stands out in my memory from that day is when Bill and Hillary Clinton appeared on TV to talk about the allegations that had been made about Clinton's relationship with Gennifer Flowers.

The interview was heavily promoted since Clinton was at a critical juncture. He had come in third in the Iowa caucuses, and he was trying to overcome charges of infidelity before the New Hampshire primary that was coming up in three weeks.

That was the challenge to Clinton. If he couldn't demonstrate that his campaign was on an upward trajectory, he might as well drop out.

So the Clintons came on TV after the Super Bowl and made their case. It was convincing enough for Clinton to finish second in New Hampshire, proclaim himself the "Comeback Kid" and essentially launch his successful bid for the White House by sweeping the "Super Tuesday" primaries.

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