[Editor’s Note: In honor of the 20th anniversary of the Redskins’ victory over the Bills in Super Bowl XXVI, I wanted to put together something that captured the emotion of the season, the title, and the players involved. With the help of Jim Gehman and his book, Then Gibbs Said to Riggins: The Best Washington Redskins Stories Ever Told, we look back on the magical 1991-1992 Redskins Super Bowl victory. For much more, I encourage you to buy the book, here.]
The stage was set for the biggest game of the year, featuring a matchup between the Washington Redskins and Buffalo Bills. For the Redskins, it was their third trip in a decade, and their first appearance following a full regulation season without work stoppages. For the Jim Kelly Bills, it was their second of what would be four consecutive trips to the Super Bowl (each in defeat).
The two teams were similar in stature, both boasting a Top-4 offense, with the Bills ranked No. 1 overall. The Redskins had finished the season with a red-hot 14-2 record, balanced by their No. 3 ranked defense in the NFL.
The two teams would meet in the Metrodome in frozen Minneapolis, Minn., only the second time in Super Bowl history that the game was held north of the Mason Dixon Line. A deep freeze put fan travel in jeopardy, but according to rookie runnning back Ricky Ervins, helped to keep the Redskins focused on the task at hand (via Gehman):
“We never got a chance to experience the whole week. We had it inMinnesota, and there was nothing but snow there,” laughed Ervins. “When you go to Super Bowls now when they have them inMiamiorPasadena, the whole week is a festivity of things going on. We never had that NFL experience.
“Once you get to the game and all the hoopla that’s going on, the singers and the balloons inside the building, it hit me. That year, we were constantly winning, so I was used to winning. So when we playedBuffalo, it was just another game. But once the game was over with and you see tapes that they make up, that’s when it hits you. Wow! I actually played in that game.”
The first man to put points on the board that evening was Redskins kicker Chip Lohmiller. Despite the social deep freeze of holding a Super Bowl in the Twin Cities, this was a homecoming party for the kicker, who had played at the Metrodrome his entire life (via Jim Gehman):
“I had to come up with 77 tickets! That was a big bill for me, and all of my buddies never paid me back,” laughed Lohmiller. “But it was very nice to go back and play in front of the fans that I had [while] playing at the University of Minnesota and in high school.”
The Redskins followed that up with a touchdown pass to veteran running back Earnest Byner, who had had a tough-luck career in big games. His biggest contribution to the 1991 team came in the NFC Championship game, in which he rushed for a team-high 62 yards. As he told Gehman later, getting revved up for the Super Bowl actually took a big wallop:
“Playing in the Super Bowl was actually a little bit more subdued until the first play. I ran the ball and got swamped byBuffalo’s defense. And right there for an instant, I thought, ‘Gosh, the whole world is watching.’ And that was a magnificent feeling.
“After that, the game was on. Catching the first touchdown for our team, winning the Super Bowl was a dream come true.”
Part of the offensive explosion and focus that week also had to do with the Bills’ cocky swagger and smack-talk throughout the week. While head coach Joe Gibbs was able to keep him team focused during the ruckus, players like Brian Mitchell heard every word of what was being said (via Gehman):
“Well, I thought we were a better team,” Mitchell said. “Then again, they did a lot of talking during the week, which motivated us a lot more. The week of practice was probably the most intense week of practice I’ve ever seen on that team. And I’m talking about even training camp. We got so fired up about [what] they were calling our [offensive] linemen; they said they were fat. ‘The Hogs, yeah, they’re fat, they’re sloppy.’
“[And] they were arguing back and forth with each other about who was going to be the MVP of the Super Bowl as if we weren’t there! We took that seriously and went out there and showed them we were way more physical then they were. They were a bunch of guys in the AFC, and that was a pass-happy league at that time. And we just took the physical to them, and they couldn’t handle it.”
The Redskins roster is generally considered one of the best ever assembled, and they proved their muster in Minnesota. The offense finished the day with 417 total yards, while the defense picked off four passes and sacked Kelly five times. The Bills running game managed only 43 yards vs. 125 yards by the Redskins.
Super Bowl MVP Mark Rypien had a typically sharp day under center, throwing 18-of-33 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns. He dazzled in front of 63,000-plus packed into the Metrodome and tens of millions watching around the globe.
But for what it’s worth, Rypien would have preferred the pure football atmosphere of RFK Stadium (via Gehman)
“Your fan base is not nearly the same as you would have at RFK Stadium. You get some people that are fanatic about it no matter what that was able to get there, but it’s a different fan base.
“The game was somewhat different because there is so much put into that thing, so much drama to the whole thing that it didn’t really feel like a playoff game or NFC Championship Game or something in your own stadium and in front of your own people.”
The team was the perfect mix of character veterans and young playmakers, and Gibbs was the glue that held it all together. This is the team in the players’ own words (via Gehman):
Andre Collins, LB:
“It was just a bunch of veteran players that had a history of winning a lot of games,” Collins said. “I’m talking about Joe Jacoby, Russ Grimm, Jim Lachey, Earnest Byner, Gerald Riggs, Art Monk, Ricky Sanders, Gary Clark, and that’s just offense. These guys knew how to put points on the board, and that made our job easy.
“It was Joe Gibbs’ ability to keep veteran players around, his system, and selling his players on the system,” said Rypien. “I think that [enables] you to be successful.”
Chip Lohmiller, K:
“That was a tremendous year. We had a great group of guys that played so well together, it was just like a family. Off the field, we did things together. On the field, we jelled as a team. We clicked. Everybody got along and we’d just do what it takes to win.”
Martin Mayhew, CB:
“We stayed pretty much injury-free that year. We had a lot of guys that had career years that year.
“Things just kind of fell into place for us. I think Coach Gibbs and [defensive coordinator] Richie Petitbon did a great job using the players that we had and figuring out what those players would be good at and putting us in position to be successful.”
Earnest Byner, RB:
“That whole season was really a dream. I think it was a culmination of the experience that Coach Gibbs had had over the years, the respect he had for the veteran players, and the relationship he had established. It was a genuine caring for one another. All those combined produced a magical year.”
Special thanks to Jim Gehman for the quotes, which really tell the story better than I ever could. Congratulations to one of the greatest teams ever assembled, and thanks for the lasting memories.