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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.