Page 2 columnist
WASHINGTON (Wednesday, 5 p.m. ET) -- I feel like Colonel Jessup right now. You want stories? You want stories???? You can't handle these stories!!!!
I just spent four consecutive hours with the Hogs -- the heart and soul of the Redskins' Super Bowl teams in '83, '88 and '91 -- nodding, prodding, giggling, winding them up, watching them go. Head Hog George Starke was there. And future Hall of Famer Joe Jacoby. And former Pro Bowler Mark May. And tight ends Don Warren and Doc Walker. Original Hogs Russ Grimm and Jeff Bostic couldn't make it, but we didn't need 'em. The stories kept coming. And coming. And coming.We started off at the venerable RFK, arguably the Boston Garden of football stadiums. Lambeau Field might get the press -- heck, it's the closest thing to a sports cathedral we have right now -- but RFK and Chicago's Soldier Field always reeked of football more than any other place. The seats practically hug the field. The sections look like they might collapse onto one another. There's enough concrete and metal going around to start your own construction company. Even now, even after they tried to jazz it up for soccer, it still seems like this place hasn't seen a paint job or tweaking since 1342 AD. Once everyone arrived, we headed right out onto the field, ignoring the chilly breeze and light drizzle. As May said, "This is perfect. This is our weather." You could practically smell the nostalgia. And then the stories started coming, one after the other. Starke remembered the playoff game with the Rams in '83, when 'Skins offensive line coach Joe Bugel told the team that the Rams players had wrapped up a Saturday practice by peeing on the Redskins emblem on the 50-yard-line. Incensed, the defending champs decided to hand out an obligatory butt-whupping. "We won that game something like 52-7," Starke said. "They never had a chance." Of course, Bugel made up the story ... but the players didn't find that out until later. That game paled in comparison to the '82 NFC Championship Game against the Cowboys. As the Hogs tell it, the fans had been chanting, "We want Dal-las! We want Dal-las!" during the playoff run, which transformed into something much more primal during the late stages of a convincing victory over Minnesota in round two. Near the end of that game, the chants intensified and 'Skins fans started bouncing up and down in unison. May remembers looking up from the field, seeing the sections swaying and wondering if the stadium was going to collapse like a house of cards.
"Remember that?" he asked the other Hogs. "The stands were moving like 10 inches in the air."Everyone nodded. You don't forget things like that. Somehow everyone made it out alive, but legend has it that the first and second sections actually compacted closer together by nearly a foot. When was the last time that ever happened at a football game? And then there was the Dallas game, the definitive RFK moment during the Hogs Era. If you recall, that '82 Cowboys were on the last legs of their decade-long dynasty, while the Redskins were embarking on the first Super Bowl run of the Joe Gibbs Era. The fans and media had been gunning for the 'Boys all season. According to Warren, before that one, a hungover John Riggins -- the legendary running back, honorary Hog and Super Bowl XXVII MVP -- pulled all the lineman aside and told them, "I don't want to embarrass myself today. Don't give me any huge holes -- I don't want to get chased down from behind. Just give me little creases and let me bang off people. That's all I need. No huge holes." He was serious. Walker remembered seeing the popular Riggins jog out of the tunnel before the game, as the RFK crowd emitted a sound that he hasn't heard before or since. "It was over right then," he says. "It was over." That game sparked more memories than just about anything. Starke remembered how Bugel had quit smoking that season, but as the game grew closer and closer, he suddenly slipped off the wagon and became a chain-smoking maniac: "All week, Buges had been urging us to keep our composure, stay in control, and then by the third quarter, he's holding up both middle fingers, pointing them across the sideline and telling (Cowboys defensive coach Ernie) Stautner, 'F--- you!!!!!' He was more out of control than anybody!" Walker remembers a crucial short-yardage play when Grimm told Riggins, Just bring this play right over my ass. Hit me from behind -- aim for right between the numbers on my jersey. I'll do the rest. So Riggo took the handoff, followed instructions and nailed Grimm so hard that they both went flying, ending up helmet to helmet right on top of one another. Of course, they got the yards they needed, but Grimm was seeing stars. And Riggins was smiling at him. "Bullseye," he told Grimm. "Right between the numbers."
That was also the same game when the 'Skins were running out the clock and ran the same play (50 Gut) nine times in a row. After the second or third play, Grimm and Bostic decided to have some fun and tell Cowboys lineman Randy White that the play was coming. And they kept running it, anyway. By the fifth or sixth time, Warren (pulling on the play) was coming over to block White, but a frustrated White was ignoring the running back and simply trying to level Warren every time. "Everyone in the huddle was laughing," said Warren. "I was the only one who wasn't having too much fun."Speaking of White, he was renowned for buying bubble wrap, taping it real tight around his arms, then wacking people in the head with his juiced-up forearms. He wasn't the only one who tried to cheat against the Hogs. Other defensive players covered their jerseys in silicone, making it impossible to hold their jerseys. One Colts player even taped thumbtacks to his fingers, then clawed holes into Grimm's arms for an entire quarter before the 'Skins realized what was going on. Grimm kept dabbing the blood off his arms and saying, "Man, this guy has long fingernails!" As for the Hogs, they prided themselves in playing (relatively) clean and avoiding trash-talking ... except for May, who couldn't help himself. "I had, like, an on/off switch," he says. "When it was on, all hell broke loose." May motivated himself by talking to other players ("Never to his own guy though," joked Jacoby), even feuding with the imposing White during the early-'80s -- which didn't make Grimm happy since he was the one usually stuck blocking White. So when May started yapping at White, Grimm would reprimand him, and they'd start yelling at each other in the huddle. The Hogs argued with one another all the time on the field, which they believed was the sign of a close-knit, friendly team that wasn't afraid to communicate. As Starke said, "Successful football is not about talent, it's about the relationships between men. It's like war." And everyone agreed with him. These guys were genuinely friends, even buddies; that's why they worked together so well. During practice weeks, the Hogs hung out in a shed behind the practice facility, drank beer, played cards, watched TV and made fun of one another, calling it "The 5 O'Clock Club" (the only non-lineman they allowed was Riggins, who probably would have set the place on fire if they didn't let him in). Joe Theismann applied for Hog membership, but got turned down. "No quarterbacks," sneered Starke. And everyone else left them alone.
"I don't think people realize how close we were," Walker said, his fellow Hogs nodding in agreement. "We hung around for three hours after each practice, we knew each other's families, we hung out during the offseasons. And that stuff transfers to the field. So when Jake (Jacoby) comes back to the huddle all pissed-off and saying, 'We gotta get this guy,' it was all over. Everyone on the team went after that guy on the next play."And then there were the pranks. They picked on long-time kicker Mark Moseley all the time, mainly because he kept a hair dryer and cologne in his locker. After one muddy practice in the rain, the team was feeling a little cranky, so the Hogs loosened the mood by grabbing Moseley, carrying him back out onto the field and dragging him through the mud in his underwear. And that's one of the few Moseley-related pranks I can actually print. Another whipping boy was Dexter Manley, the butt end of about 345,923 pranks during his Redskins career. The Hogs would call his room and pretend they were reporters from various newspapers -- "This is Tom Smith from the Milwaukee Gazette ... this is Lou Phillips from the Chicago Tribune" -- and stage mock interviews with Manley, sometimes for 25-30 minutes (as the questions became more and more outrageous) before he finally caught on. Their favorite Manley ploy was to pretend they were newspaper photographers, then ask Manley to get dressed up for a night-time photo shoot and meet the fake photographer in some fictitious hotel room. "He fell for that one every time," laughed Walker. Nobody was funnier than Riggins, though. His pregame ritual went as follows: A pregame enema, followed by a B-12 shot. Yikes. Unfortunately, Riggins loathed getting shots, so the players could hear him howling in pain in the locker room before every game ("That's when we knew it was game time," said May). The players revered Riggins; nobody had ever met anyone quite like him. Just the mere mention of his name prompted four or five quick anecdotes. Remember the time Riggo hitchhiked to the NFC Championship Game and the coaches inadvertently picked him up? Remember the time Riggo pulled five chairs together, stretched out on them and took a nap during a team meeting? Remember the time Riggo retired and lived in a pup tent on the Potomac River for an entire winter? Maybe the defining Riggo story: During one team meeting, the players heard a strange noise from inside the locker room, like the sound you hear when it just starts to pour rain. They glanced in the back and there was a groggy Riggins, lying on his back, his pants pulled down, peeing straight into the air all over himself. Gibbs and the poor coaching staff always looked the other way with Riggo, as long as he was coherent on Sundays, but this seemed a little much ... and yet the coaching staff never did anything. "They always looked the other way with him," said May. "It just wasn't Gibbs's nature to constantly battle with a player like that."
The other player who commanded the most respect with the Hogs? Lawrence Taylor. Best defensive player any of them had ever seen; they discussed him reverentially. The 'Skins actually switched to a one-back offense when LT came into the league, because you needed two tight ends on the field just to handle him (depending on where he lined up). Even though the Hogs faced some famous defenses over the years -- Dallas' Doomsday Defense, the '85 Bears, those great Eagles defenses of the late-'80s -- they still give the edge to the Giants. "They were there year after year," said Jacoby. "They were the steadiest. And they had LT.""LT could do it all," added Warren. "And if you pissed him off, forget it." For some reason, LT sparked a round of goofy football stories. Jacoby told one about a pigpile for a fumble that ended with the sentence, "It's amazing what a guy will do when you're holding his family jewels in your hands." Starke told one that involved Dirty Biggs threatening to castrate Giants rookie Doug Kotar. Warren told a story that ended with this exchange:
- Warren: "Yeah, that's when they took my bed out of my hotel room."
Walker: "But you were in it!"