When the Washington Redskins opened the current National Football League season by tying the lowly Dallas Cowboys, 35-35, it seemed about as much success as they would achieve all year. The next week, to the amazement of almost everybody, particularly Paul Brown, they managed an enormous upset by beating the Cleveland Browns, 17-16. At the time, Cleveland was considered the favorite for the Eastern Conference championship. However, the Browns had come off a tough victory over the Giants the week before, and most people, including a few of the Redskins, considered Washington's victory a fluke.
The flirtation with glory was supposed to end the following week when the Redskins played the St. Louis Cardinals, equipped with John David Crow, a sort of combination Jim Brown and Paul Hornung, and a very stout defense. After all, the year before the same Redskin team with the same quarterback had won only one game. No matter what happened against the Cardinals, the season was already a success. But even the doubting Redskins were beginning to believe that they were members of what in fact was a very good team. They proceeded to document their belief by thumping the Cardinals, 24-14, holding Crow to his skimpiest running yardage of the year.
As they prepared for the Los Angeles Rams last week, the Redskins found themselves favored for the first time in several years. To be sure, the margin was only by four points over a team that had yet to win a game. But the Redskins accepted the small compliment with gratitude and a private belief that the odds makers had created a big overlay for Washington bettors.
As it turned out, the odds makers were nearly right; the Redskins won 20 to 14. The win, however, was impressive, and it confirmed the fact that this Redskin team is a first-rate ball club, which very likely will not fade away and die. Already, it has won more games than the 1960 and 1961 teams did combined.
Sunday's victory, like the other two and the tie, was engineered and operated by Norman Snead, Washington's 6-foot-4-inch, 215-pound second-year quarterback. He picked apart the Ram defenses with precocious skill. He ran the Redskins with the aplomb and the assurance of a Norman Van Brocklin or a Bobby Layne, and he completed 15 of 22 passes for 205 yards, including two touchdowns. In previous games he had depended on the ebullient Bobby Mitchell as his principal target; the Ram defenses were designed to shut off this route, so Snead calmly looked for the weakness created when the Rams covered Mitchell with two men. It turned out that they had assigned only a second-year halfback to stay with the experienced end, Fred Dugan. Snead saved Dugan for the key third down and long yardage plays, then completed passes to him to keep drives going. Once, on the Ram two-yard line, with the bulky Ram defense packed tight in front of him, Snead stepped back and flipped a quick crisp pass to Dugan in the end zone for a touchdown. Another time, under awesome pressure from the big Ram ends, he flipped a 25-yard pass as he was falling which Dugan caught across the goal for another touchdown.
Snead's passing, of course, probably was the most vital element in the Washington victory, which now leaves the Redskins comfortably in first place in the Eastern Conference. But his play selection was intelligent, too. Once, as a Washington drive appeared to have petered out on the Ram 20, Snead brought his team out of the huddle into a spread formation in a situation that seemed to dictate a pass. As the Ram defenders scattered to try to pick up receivers, Snead handed the ball to Don Bosseler, the Redskin fullback, and Bosseler gained 11 yards to the Ram nine before the Los Angeles defenders could regroup forces and stop him. Snead's first touchdown pass to Dugan followed.
There were, naturally, other heroes on the Redskin team in this and the previous games. The Washington offensive line, which last year often appeared to be of the consistency of cotton candy, almost always was successful in holding the Rams off Snead so that he had time to throw. The defense, a sometime thing a year ago, was intelligent, quick and lusty. The linebackers, buoyed up and informed by the presence of veteran Bob Pellegrini (acquired from the Eagles), acquitted themselves very well.
These miracles have been wrought only recently; it was during the exhibition season that George Preston Marshall, the owner of the Redskins, was convalescing from an operation and obtained permission to watch a Redskin game from his hospital bed. His team was playing the Eagles and the Philadelphia team was chewing up the Washington defense dreadfully. Marshall, who was not supposed to get excited, slammed his fist on his bedside table and howled until his nurse came running.
"Is there anything I can do for you?" she asked anxiously.
"No," said Marshall, "unless you can back a line."