The next few editions of The Pigskin Past will explore great teams in great years. They will all have one thing in common, however. They will all be teams that had a super season and went to the Super Bowl, only to lose that Super Bowl. The first of these teams that I would like to discuss is the 1972 Washington Redskins. Yes, in 1972, the Washington Football Team was actually called the Washington Redskins.
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The Over the Hill Gang
In 1971, their new head coach George Allen told his players after losing their first playoff game in years that the next year, they would be a championship team. Allen did not lie. In 1972, Washington managed to win the NFC Championship. Allen is most known for trading away draft picks in order to obtain older and more experienced players from around the league.
They were called The Over the Hill Gang, and woe be to the teams that took them lightly and believing that they were in reality too old to play the game effectively. In 1972, the Redskins had all of two rookies on their roster, which was usually two more than Allen would have preferred. But regardless of the older ages of most of their players, the Redskins were winning on a regular basis. They started their season by winning two of their first three games.
They then went on a killer nine-game winning streak to all but sew up the NFC Eastern Division. Experience, as far as Allen and his team were concerned, was the most important factor in their successes in ’72.
Washington’s offensive statistics were not eye-popping in 1972. But they did bear mentioning. Tailback Larry Brown led the NFC in rushing with 1,216 yards, and veteran quarterback Billy Kilmer tied for the league lead in touchdown passes with 19. The Redskins defense, however, had plenty of notable and superior statistics. They hovered around the best marks in the league in such statistics as rushing first downs allowed, rushing yardage allowed, and net yardage allowed. But certainly, the most important defensive statistic that Washington’s defense could lay claim to was points allowed.
They surrendered only 218 points in 1972, the best mark in the NFC. Impressive wins during the 1972 regular season included beating the Minnesota Vikings at Minnesota on the first Monday Night Football game of the year, 24-21. Other big victories included sweeping division foes St. Louis, Philadelphia, and the New York Giants.
Very helpful in getting the Redskins to win their division were surprisingly enough two losses against the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills. When a team lost to a team in a different conference, the damage to any tie-breaking procedures in their own conference was minimal. Because both the Patriots and the Jets were in the AFC and not the NFC, the Redskins suffered hardly at all by sustaining the defeats against those two clubs.
In the first round of the NFC playoffs, the Redskins easily defeated the NFC Champion Green Bay Packers, 16-3. The final score of that game did not truly express the full dominance of Washington’s attack. Then in what could easily be described as the most important victory in years, the Redskins destroyed their arch-rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, in the 1972 NFC Championship Game. It was a tight game during the first half, but Washington poured it on the Cowboys all throughout the second half to post an inspirational 26-3 victory.
We have a great article covering the Cowboys and Redskins rivalry of the 70s and 80s if you’re interested.
The fans in the District of Columbia stormed the field at RFK Stadium like never before. Those who did so will probably never forget that feeling that they experienced on that day, the feeling of triumph over your hated division rival, the feeling of victory after knocking off the defending World Champions, and the feeling of knowing that your beloved Redskins were now going to their first Super Bowl.
Unfortunately for the Redskins and their fans, their dream of obtaining the ultimate triumph in a Super Bowl would take 10 more years to occur. The 1972 Redskins fell to the undefeated Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VII by a score of 14-7. Miami’s win gave them the NFL’s only perfect season. But Washington’s loss could not diminish the fact that this was the Redskins’ greatest year in many years, and one well worth remembering.