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Monday, January 16, 2023

OPINION:

As they walked off the field after the Washington Redskins’ 27-24 preseason win over the Miami Dolphins in August 1972, Redskins safety Brig Owens said to Dolphins running back Jim Kiick, “See you at the Super Bowl.”

He was clairvoyant, but it wasn’t that prescient — the Dolphins were an AFC favorite, having been to the Super Bowl the year before, losing to the Dallas Cowboys, 24-3. The Redskins, coming off a strong 9-4-1 season in George Allen’s first year, were considered NFC Super Bowl contenders.


The Jan. 14, 1973, contest had a different outcome, with Miami defeating Washington 14-7 in a forgettable Super Bowl VII — except for Washington players and fans, who for 50 years have still wondered what might have been, and for Miami players and fans, who have toasted their perfect 17-0 1972 season every year since.

Ironically, the last team to beat the Dolphins that year were the Redskins in that preseason game. Sonny Jurgensen played in that game and would start the season, going 3-0 before suffering a torn Achilles in the fourth game of the season. Billy Kilmer took over, and Washington went on to an 11-3 season, capped off by their 26-3 win over the defending Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys for the NFC East title at RFK Stadium.

The championship contest is best known for a broken play that gave Washington its only score — the Garo Yepremian blocked field goal attempt late in the fourth quarter that the diminutive place kicker picked up and tried to throw but was intercepted by Redskins cornerback Mike Bass, who ran it back 49 yards for the touchdown to make it a 14-7 game.

I spoke to many of the players on that Redskins squad about the game — and the questions they lived with — for my book, “Hail Victory: An Oral History of the Washington Redskins.” Here are some of those memories.

Cornerback Mike Bass: “The touchdown in the Super Bowl is my claim to fame. We were down. We hadn’t scored any points. Garo Yepremian and I were teammates in Detroit. We were on the taxi squad together. I was the Spy Man. I was the one who had to go after the ball if a missed snap happened or something like that. I had scored one or two touchdowns on blocked field goals during my career in Washington. When the ball was snapped, Marv Levy must have picked up something, and Bill Brundige blocked it. I saw Garo grab the ball. In an attempt to pass the ball, it slipped out of his hands, and he batted it. I just kept my eye on the ball. I couldn’t believe this guy was batting the ball all around the place.

“I was bearing down on him to hit him, and when he batted it in the air, it wasn’t that hard to catch, because all my concentration there was on that ball. I thought I would get tackled immediately, but I didn’t. The last thing I wanted was for Garo or Earl Morrall, the holder, to tackle me. I grabbed the ball and before I knew it I was in the end zone. Now it was a 14-7 game, and we still had a chance. Our offense had an off day, unfortunately.”

There has been a lot of speculation by those players about what went wrong that day. Most believe two things — that George Allen overcoached and that Washington would have won with a healthy Jurgensen.

Safety Brig Owens, who passed away last June: “We were thrown out of rhythm for that game. George was so worried about us staying in California, especially with the kind of guys we had who liked to roam a little bit, that he kept us in a lot of long meetings and kept us in practice too long. Once we got to the game, we were flat. And I really think we missed Sonny, too.”

Wide receiver Roy Jefferson: “If Sonny had been healthy, he would have eaten them alive. Billy just had a bad game. Billy was an adequate quarterback throwing the football, but what they did was dared him to throw. They set up their defense to stop Larry Brown. The defensive linemen, all they did was make sure they didn’t get blown out, and the linebackers just ate up Larry coming through there.”

Cornerback Pat Fischer: “We would have been better served if we had played at the end of one week. We didn’t know how to manage our time. We practiced hard for two weeks, the same schedule. We didn’t know how to manage what we were thinking about, the excitement of it. We were kind of an exhausted team. People might think that’s an odd statement, but it happens to be true. We had never experienced anything like that, even though we were a veteran team. We mismanaged it.”

Receiver Charley Taylor, who passed away in February 2022: “I think we lost that game on Thursday. We practiced so strong and so hard and had that plan down so pat, I think we went out on Thursday and executed it perfectly, and I think we left it there.”

Center Len Hauss, who passed away in 2021, had a different perspective: “That was one of those deals, this was Miami’s second trip to the Super Bowl. They had been there the year before. They treated it a little differently than we did. We had some people that did not keep training, and one of our key people thought it was more important to go out after curfew than to get ready for the Super Bowl. He jumped out of a motel room and injured his knee. There were a number of things involved in that football game that took away a little bit from what it should have been.”

And what did Sonny tell me? “If I was healthy for that Super Bowl, I think we would have won.”

Hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.


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