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Giants-Redskins a matchup for the ages

WP: It's been awhile since NFC East contest had meaning
/ Source: a href="" linktype="External" resizable="true" status="true" scrollbars="true">The Washington Post</a

LaVar Arrington has played a number of games against the New York Giants over his first five years in the NFL, but when he was asked the other day to recall a particularly meaningful game between the teams since he joined the Redskins in 2000, he was hard-pressed to do so.

"I'd have to think about that," he said at first. "No, wait. With [Steve] Spurrier, we were undefeated [2-0 in 2003]. Yeah, that was a big game. We kind of skidded out of line in that one [a 24-21 overtime loss]. They kind of exposed us that day."

The Redskins beat the New England Patriots the following week to go 3-1 in the high-water mark of the Spurrier era, only to finish 5-11 and have Spurrier walk away from the job after two seasons.

It's been awhile since Redskins-Giants was a weeklong topic of conversation in either city. On Sunday, the Redskins will face the Giants for the 147th time and both are 4-2 in a three-way tie with Philadelphia for first place in the NFC East. The Dallas Cowboys are close behind at 4-3 in the only division in which all four teams have winning records. The death yesterday of longtime Giants co-owner Wellington Mara guarantees that Sunday's game at Giants Stadium will be added to a long list of historic confrontations between the franchises.

The first game the Redskins played in Washington came against the Giants on Sept. 16, 1937. Only eight days earlier, Sammy Baugh, the rookie from Texas Christian University, had stepped off an Eastern Airlines plane at Washington-Hoover Airport to begin his first season in Washington. A crowd of 24,492 showed up at Griffith Stadium to see his debut, and in his pregame talk to his team (as documented by the late Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich), Redskins Coach Ray Flaherty offered up an inspired speech.

"All right, you guys," he said. "You've got a football game out there. What are you going to do about it? You're gonna kick hell out of those Giants, that's what. You've got to. You've moved into a new town, you and me and all of us. And the future of pro football in Washington depends on this game tonight, here. You've got pretty good jobs, and that means we've got to win this ballgame. Not only that, there's a hell of a crowd out there tonight. They're gonna come out to see what pro football is like. We'll show 'em. I want 60 minutes of the best that's in you. I won't take anything less. Sixty minutes of 100 percent effort. Those Giants are going to be tough tonight. You know how they hate us."

The Redskins won that night, with Riley Smith, the team's No. 1 draft pick from Alabama in 1936, scoring all the points in a 13-3 victory. Four months later, the Redskins ended the regular season with a 49-14 drubbing of the Giants on a day when Baugh completed 11 of 15 passes and future Hall of Famer Cliff Battles scored on runs of 75 and 76 yards.

More than 10,000 Washington fans traveled to New York for that game and, led by team owner George Preston Marshall, paraded up Broadway behind the team's marching band to the Polo Grounds to watch the Redskins sweep the season series. The Redskins have won both regular season games against the Giants 16 times; the Giants have swept 26 times.

By the mid-1940s, both teams had fallen on hard times, a trend that continued for the Redskins until the George Allen era began in 1971. The Giants, on the other hand, became serious contenders again in the 1950s, winning an NFL title in 1956 with a talented rookie middle linebacker named Sam Huff. The Giants, with Vince Lombardi coaching the offense and Tom Landry the defense, dominated the Redskins from 1956 to '63, going 13-2-1 over that span, including a 53-0 rout in 1961.

Huff eventually was traded to the Redskins, much to his dismay at the time. But in one of the more memorable Washington victories over the Giants in 1966, he exacted some measure of revenge on Allie Sherman, the coach who had traded him. The Redskins were 5-6 at the time and the Giants 1-8-1, with the league's worst defense in a season in which they would yield 501 points.

The Redskins posted a 72-41 victory, a team record for points, and the last three came courtesy of Huff, who had predicted on a New York radio show before the game that Sonny Jurgensen's offense would score 60 points on the Giants.

"In the final seconds, we were just trying to kill the clock," Huff wrote in his autobiography. "We had a fourth down at the Giants 22 and timeout was called with seven seconds left. While Otto [Graham, the head coach] was talking to Sonny, I took it upon myself to yell for the field goal team to get out there, and before anyone knew what was happening, [Charlie] Gogolak had kicked a 29-yard field goal for a final score of 72-41. After the game, Otto took a lot of heat for kicking the field goal and rubbing it in. But it wasn't Otto's decision, it was all mine. That was a day of judgment, and in my mind, justice was finally done."

In 1985, the game was a disaster for the Redskins and particularly quarterback Joe Theismann in arguably the most memorable Monday night game in either teams' history. The Redskins went into that game at 5-5, and 5-6 looked imminent when, in the second quarter, Theismann was hit by linebackers Harry Carson and future Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor. He suffered a compound fracture of his leg, a career-ending injury. Jay Schroeder came off the bench to complete 13 of 20 throws for 221 yards and a game-winning scoring pass to Clint Didier in a 23-21 victory.

A year later, Schroeder was victimized in the swirling winds of Giants Stadium in a 17-0 loss to the Giants in the NFC title game. In the third matchup between the teams that season, Bill Parcells's Giants beat the Redskins for the third time, marking the only time either team scored a three-peat in a single year. Under Parcells, the Giants swept the series against Gibbs's Redskins in 1988, '89 and '90.

The Giants lead the regular season series 81-59-4 and the teams have only met twice in the postseason, with Washington beating New York, 28-0, for the Eastern Division title in 1943, then losing to the Giants, 17-0, in the NFC championship game in 1986.

In '97, the teams played one of the more bizarre games in the rivalry. It ended in a 7-7 tie on a night when Washington starting quarterback Gus Frerotte celebrated his one-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter by butting the top of his helmeted head into a padded wall beyond the end zone.

He briefly came back into the game at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium just before the half, but eventually had to be taken to the hospital for a CAT scan, and never returned.

The game also included an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Redskins wide receiver Michael Westbrook, who had ripped off his helmet in anger when a game official ruled no catch on a diving grab inches from the sideline in overtime. It pushed the Redskins back to their 47 and took them out of field goal range. Two plays later, Scott Blanton's 54-yard field goal attempt was well short, resulting in the tie.

Three weeks later, the Redskins, after committing six turnovers, lost 30-10 to the Giants. New York clinched the NFC East that day for its first division title since the 1990 season and essentially ended the Redskins' playoffs hopes, as well.

Three years later, the Giants prevailed, 9-7, in the 13th game of the 2000 season and the final game of Coach Norv Turner's tenure in Washington.

Eddie Murray missed a 49-yard field goal in the final minute, and the next day, owner Daniel Snyder fired Turner, replacing him with interim coach Terry Robiskie. The Redskins, still in the playoff hunt despite that loss, dropped two of their final three games, the last time the team was seriously in contention for a postseason berth under three more coaches who followed Turner and Robiskie.

Last year, the Giants handed Gibbs the first loss of his second stint with the Redskins in the second game of the season. Washington split the season series with a 31-7 victory over the Giants on Dec. 5 with Patrick Ramsey at quarterback, ending a three-game losing streak and starting a trend of better play that included three wins in the final five games.

Now they meet again Sunday at Giants Stadium in arguably the most significant game between the teams this century.

"A huge deal," Gibbs said.

Redskins Note: The Redskins signed defensive lineman Lynn McGruder to their practice squad yesterday and released linebacker Nick McNeil.