Ron Baker, who played guard for the Eagles for nine years and is now retired, recalls the time he missed a block and let in a rusher who sacked Cunningham. When Baker went to the sidelines he figured he was going to be blistered. Instead, Ryan put his arm around him and said, "That's a block you'll make nine times out of 10. Now you owe me nine."
Four Eagle veterans left an exhibition game in Philadelphia this year at half-time. They had permission from Ryan to go to New Jersey to attend a birthday party for singer Whitney Houston. "What's the big deal?" says Ryan. "It was important to those guys. That's the girl who sings One Moment in Time. Hell of a song."
All-Pro defensive end Reggie White held out for 31 days during training camp before coming to terms on a four-year, $6.09 million contract. "If it wasn't for Buddy, I would have definitely played out my option and gone somewhere else," says White.
A personality cult can take a team only so far in the NFL. But every so often a coach comes along who seems to get his players doing what no one thought possible. Vince Lombardi whipped the Green Bay Packers into a mighty machine. When he left, they collapsed. George Allen had a bunch of overaged rejects playing out of their minds in Washington. When he was fired, the Skins' fortunes declined—until Joe Gibbs arrived. It's too early to put Ryan, with one division championship in three years, in such fast company, but he has his players believing in miracles.
First play of Sunday's game: Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien hooked up with wide receiver Gary Clark on an 80-yard touchdown pass. Second Washington play: Running back Gerald Riggs bolted 41 yards for a score to put the Redskins ahead 14-0. "Bud-dee! Bud-dee! Bud-dee!," chanted the fans, just as they had done in 1986, when Ryan first came to RFK Stadium as coach of the Eagles and lost 41-14. Last week Ryan said that yes, he had heard the chant from the Washington fans; no, he didn't like it; and, yes, he would make those fans eat that word this time.
First more humiliation: A short pass from Rypien to Earnest Byner for a touchdown following cornerback Brian Davis's interception gave Washington a 20-0 lead in the first quarter. By half-time the Eagles had been able to narrow the gap only slightly, to 30-14.
Philadelphia got off a 92-yard, 12-play scoring drive early in the third quarter, and for the first time the Washington fans started quieting down. The Redskins defense began to fade. The only way it could get pressure on Cunningham was by blitzing, and that isn't Washington's style. On the previous Monday night the New York Giants had manhandled the Skins in the fourth quarter en route to a 27-24 victory. Hot night, tough game, short work week. You had to wonder about how much zip the Redskins had left in their legs.
Their offensive legs turned out to be fine. On their next possession Rypien completed a 47-yard pass to Clark, who broke a short inside pattern against cornerback Eric Allen. Allen was in an impossible coverage—Herb Adderley or Night Train Lane couldn't have handled it. The Eagles had gambled by rushing seven men. That left Allen to cover Clark all over the field. "I saw some of their schemes on film," said Rypien the day before the game. "They really gamble and put their cornerbacks on an island. They make them do impossible things."
It's the Ryan system, though. You take big chances, you get big results, good and bad. Three plays later, with Washington on the Philadelphia 20, Rypien got the big rush again. This time it produced a sack and a fumble, which safety Andre Waters returned 16 yards. The net loss for Washington was 38 yards. Seven plays later Philly scored to make the score 30-28. Then, with 3:06 remaining, the Redskins made it 37-28 when Rypien connected with wide receiver Art Monk, who went 43 yards down the left sideline. On that play Philadelphia again went with a big blitz, leaving defensive back Eric Everett to cover Monk all by his lonesome.
But it was Washington's defense that was really on the ropes now. While Cunningham was driving the Eagles down to the two, the Skins' tackling was sloppy, just as it had been against New York. Their coverage was soft. But time was running out on Philadelphia. On third-and-goal the Eagles pulled off the first of two memorable plays. Both wideouts, Cris Carter and Mike Quick, wound up in the same part of the end zone, which isn't supposed to happen. Cunningham lobbed the ball, Carter had a good shot at it in the middle of a mob, but Quick stole it from him for the score.