The L.A. Raiders did the WASHINGTON REDSKINS a favor last January. They kept them from getting complacent. It would have been easy to put on some fat. I mean, how many teams have played in two straight Super Bowls? But lodged in the mind, like a dark nightmare, is the memory of that 38-9 blowout by the Raiders. It kept things just edgy enough around Redskins Park to prevent a case of the slips.
Last summer, coming off their Super Bowl victory over Miami, the Redskins had troubles—a holdout by cornerback Jeris White; drug busts for strong safety Tony Peters and fullback Clarence Harmon; defensive end Matt Mendenhall's unexpected departure, for personal reasons; the grievance filed by kicker Mark Moseley because he felt the team had cheated him out of $30,000 in incentive money. Mucho distractions. But to coach Joe Gibbs's credit, he held the ship on course. Now things are peaceful. Oh, there are a few guys—John Riggins, Dexter Manley, Mike Nelms and Joe Theismann (surprise)—who say they won't have any more midweek conversations with newspapermen, but I've yet to meet a coach who worried about writers getting stiffed. The Redskins should be an improved team.
Peters returns at strong safety. Vernon Dean, coming back from a shoulder injury, should reclaim his right cornerback spot. Last year's left corner, rookie Darrell Green, was a dazzler in postseason, and free safety Mark Murphy was All-Pro. The secondary took some heat last year, but it was a bum rap. Much of the yardage allowed was gimme stuff at the end of games. And this year the unit will be close to the best in the NFL.
People pointed out that the Raiders' bump-and-run cornerbacks took away Theismann's wideout attack. The Skins say the wind had something to do with that: Let's see 'em do it on a calm day. It was noted that the Raiders crowded the Skins' offensive linemen, the Hogs, and stalled them in their tracks. In camp the Redskins toyed with the idea of inserting Ken Huff at right guard and moving Mark May to George Starke's right tackle spot, to get a little more thrust. The project went on hold when Huff suffered a dislocated kneecap, but it's not dead; he's expected back soon.
Pessimists say that it'll be tough for Theismann to duplicate the brilliant season he had in '83 (why?), and that at age 35, Riggins will be getting ready to wrap it up. Well, Riggins continues to defy the laws of nature. Last season he had the most carries (375) in his 12-year career.
The draft was primarily a futures thing—quarterback Jay Schroeder, defensive end Steve Hamilton—although Bob Slater, a defensive tackle, should see some action. The Cowboys are still the Skins' most hated rival, but now there's also L.A. to settle with, and there's only one place to do that.
The DALLAS COWBOYS have been psychoanalyzed more often than Freud—they want it, they don't want it; they're emotional, they're flat; they're happy, they're mad, etc. Everybody's got a theory about what's wrong with them, and now I'm going to tell you what mine is: Age.
Do you remember their game against the Rams in the playoffs last year, the one that closed out their season? They came out of the tunnel waving fists and giving high fives. "Hey, look at all the emotion...they really want it today," John Madden said on TV. And then the Rams took the opening kickoff and drove all the way for a touchdown. And in the end it wasn't mistakes that did in the Cowboys, it was old legs trying to block young ones. You can't let a team get old on you in a 16-game season. The Cowboys simply ran out of gas.
This was always the cold, corporate outfit. A part doesn't work anymore, plug in a new one. But last year the talent supply simply wasn't there. The dropoff from No. 1 to No. 2 was too great. The Cowboys must agree, because in the off-season they hired Dick Mansperger, who'd been the head of Seattle's scouting department.
Older players have retired. Howard Richards steps in for Pat Donovan at left tackle. Doug Donley takes over at flanker for Drew Pearson, but Donley's fragile, and it's doubtful that he can hold up for an entire season. In training camp, Don Smerek, who'd been penciled in as the right defensive end for the retired Harvey Martin, replaced tackle Randy White, a holdout. White's absence would cripple a defense that finished a depressing 17th in '83.
The hot camp story, though, was the quarterback battle between Danny White and his backup, Gary Hogeboom. A Dallas Morning News survey of the players gave Hogeboom a 20-4 edge, with 10 abstentions. Why are they so down on White, who's been highly productive? "Because he'll never take on Tom Landry like Roger Staubach would," one veteran says. "Roger was always fiddling with the patterns in the huddle, lengthening them or doing something. Danny will always obey orders." The whole thing might be academic because Hogeboom hyperextended his throwing elbow in the Cowboys' second preseason game. The missed practice time might be enough to tip the balance.
The ST. LOUIS CARDINALS are building a nice little team, but there's one problem: They're in the wrong division. They can't figure out how to beat Dallas or Washington. They're 0-7 against them in the last two seasons, 0-4 in '83, and the games weren't even close. Total points allowed in those '83 games: 152. Average score: 38-14. If they had split those games, the Cardinals would have been in the playoffs.
Don't count on rookies to change anything. St. Louis had a no-impact draft. The top choice, wide receiver Clyde Duncan, went shopping in the USFL for bigger bucks, and his position is one of the Cards' strengths anyway, with All-Pro Roy Green, Pat Tilley and converted cornerback Cedric Mack. The second-rounder, Doug Dawson, could push Terry Stieve out of a guard spot, but offensive line is another strong area. No. 3 was a backup quarterback, Rick McIvor.
Sacks seem to follow defensive line coach Floyd Peters wherever he goes, and last year his Cardinal crew won the NFL sack title (59), just as his units did in San Francisco and Detroit. Neil Lomax is a live quarterback, O.J. Anderson's a big-league runner, and E.J. Junior should challenge the Bears' Mike Singletary as the best 4-3 middle linebacker in the game.
It's a pretty solid team that Jim Hanifan has built. Put the Cards in the NFC Central and they'd probably come away with a title. But right now the Cowboys and Redskins are keeping them in the land of the .500.
The NEW YORK GIANTS remind me of an old AFL team that had this real nice guy for a coach. The younger guys started taking advantage of him; they started letting it slide. The old guard, many of whom had played for some absolute storm troopers in their NFL days, took charge. "Look," they said, "you're never gonna play for a nicer guy. Shape up! We wanna keep him around." The team made the playoffs.
End of parable. Those were the old days, before players got $1.9 million, four-year packages, but the Giants better listen up. Coach Bill Parcells—Coach Tuna, the players used to call him—is one nice guy. He's also hanging by a thread. Joe Paterno, Howard Schnellenberger—those were the names you heard mentioned in the off-season. "I know I'm on the edge of the cliff," Parcells has said.
He's a defensive coach, one of the best. Though desperate for offensive help, the Giants went for defense with their first pick each of the last two years—safety-man Terry Kinard in '83, linebacker Carl Banks this season. Banks looks like an impact player. Even with old pros Brad Van Pelt and Brian Kelley gone, the Giants' linebacking, led by Lawrence Taylor, will be close to the best in the NFL. The secondary's O.K. The defensive line plays with high emotion; guys like Jerome Sally, a free-agent pickup two years ago, and Leonard Marshall were hell on wheels at the end of last season, when the Giants were going nowhere.
The defense will again be one of the league's best, but oh, that offense. Every week last year a different wide receiver would look like an All-Pro, and the next week he'd drop three balls. The runners, minus Rob Carpenter, who was out the last six weeks of the season with a knee injury, would turn it on one week, go in the tank the next. The line got overrun. The ever-shifting quarterback picture kept headline writers busy.
Phil Simms is the QB now. Carpenter is back. Brad Benson, switched from left tackle, is a competent right guard. The Giants are hoping Karl Nelson can handle right tackle, replacing the injured Gordon King. And at left tackle, well, there's prayer. William Roberts, the club's second No. 1 pick, got the first and longest look. In the opening exhibition game, the Patriots ate him up. Waiting in the wings are rookie Conrad Goode and ex-USFLer Chris Godfrey. Everyone's keeping his fingers crossed.
No NFC team in the last three years has had as many running plays called against it as the PHILADELPHIA EAGLES did last year. Consequently, they had the second worst offensive time of possession in the NFL, called the fewest plays, scored the fewest points and ended up with a 5-11 record.
Eagle fans, who looked on in shock as Dick Vermeil's final team slumped to 3-6 in the strike-shortened '82 season, had a chance to boo for real last year. The USFL's Philly Stars challenged the Eagles to a game, loser goes to Norristown. The bookies made it pick-'em. The Eagles declined. Owner Leonard Tose said don't worry, there's enough bank financing to let him hang on to the team for another year. The fans booed again.
Is there any hope for the Eagles, who were a Super Bowl team not so long ago? Well, in the off-season they lopped many years (and a lot of contract dough) off their roster—wide receiver Harold Carmichael, linebacker Frank LeMaster, defensive end Carl Hairston. They cut the coaching staff from 11 to eight, and in the process fired offensive coaches Dick Wood and Jerry Wampfler. In the first round they drafted a wide receiver, Kenny Jackson, to team with Pro Bowler Mike Quick, prompting QB Ron Jaworski to remark, "This is my eleventh year in the league, and I've never had two wide receivers with that kind of ability."
As for the rest of the picture in Philly—don't ask.
Linebacker Mel Kaufman (55) is a Redskin on a rampage, tearing up turf to bring L.A.'s high-flying Eric Dickerson down to earth.
Ex-USFLer Godfrey (left) and rookie Roberts are new Giants on New York's offensive line.