It’s one thing to climb the mountain and win the championship once. Many teams have done that.
The hard part is getting knocked down and then winning it all again.
In 1986, Joe Gibbs and the Redskins showed that they could get back to the top. No, they didn’t win the Super Bowl; they had a Giant obstacle in their way. But they set the table for their Super Bowl XXII championship the following season—and that’s why the 1986 squad is one of my favorite Redskins teams.
After winning it all in 1982, the Redskins started a slow roll downhill. They lost the Super Bowl the next year, lost in the first round of the playoffs in ’84, and missed the postseason in 1985.
The Redskins went into 1986 without two of the mainstays of their Super Bowl teams. John Riggins was released in March, and Joe Theismann, unable to recover from the horrific broken leg he suffered the previous season against the Giants, flunked his physical.
There was some incoming talent to compensate for the losses. The United States Football League folded, and the Redskins bolstered their receiving corps with USFL refugees Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders. Multitalented running back Kelvin Bryant also came on board, along with quarterback Doug Williams.
The acquisition of Williams would not become significant until 1987, when he finished the season as the Super Bowl MVP.
The starting quarterback was Jay Schroeder, and although he had led the team to a 5-1 finish after Theismann went down, the Redskins still weren’t quite sure what they had in him.
As it turns out, Schroeder was pretty good, at least in 1986. He passed for 4,109 yards, a team record that still stands, and earned a Pro Bowl invitation.
The job of filling Riggins’ shoes fell to George Rogers, who the Redskins had acquired from the Saints a year earlier. He turned in a solid season with 1,203 yards on the ground.
Most of the original Hogs were in place on the offensive line with Joe Jacoby, Russ Grimm, Jeff Bostic, and Mark May starting most of the games. The strength of the defense was the defensive line, with Dexter Manley and Charles Mann at end and Dave Butz clogging things up at tackle.
The Redskins started off 5-0, but kicker Mark Moseley was on shaky ground, hitting fewer than half of his field goals. Although his missed extra point in a 30-6 loss to Dallas didn’t have an effect on the outcome, Moseley was waived the next day.
Two weeks later they lost to the Giants, something that would become an all too familiar happening. The next week the Redskins rallied from 12 points down in the final seven minutes to send a thriller against the Vikings into overtime. A touchdown pass from Schroeder to Clark won it in OT.
That sparked another five-game winning streak that thudded to a halt at the hands of, you guessed it, the Giants.
Despite winding up with a 12-4 record, the Redskins were relegated to a Wild Card spot as New York won the division with a 14-2 mark.
A home playoff win against the Rams set up a trip to Soldier Field to face the defending champion Bears. Schroeder threw two touchdown passes to Art Monk, and the Redskins outscored Chicago 20-0 in the second half to shuffle out of the Windy City with a 27-13 win.
The dream season ended when the Redskins faced their worst nightmare in the NFC Championship Game. The Giants were much more dominant than the 17-0 final score would indicate.
Still, the 1986 Redskins proved that they were in the class of teams that could retool rather than rebuild. They would make it all the way back in 1987.