The Future Is Now!

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Greetings from The Booth!

Today is Selection Sunday, one of the most exciting days in sports if your college basketball team is going dancin’ (or you think they should be) in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. And most of us will fill out our brackets tomorrow and get ready for wall-to-wall basketball in the coming weeks. We’ll probably talk about that next week, but today I want to get away from college hoop and remember a glorious time to be a Washington Redskins fan.

The last few weeks have seen a bevy of personnel moves by new Washington Commanders’ General Manager Adam Peters. Peters has taken advantage of a surplus of salary cap money and brought to DC the likes of future Hall-Of-Famer Bobby Wagner, exciting linebacker Frankie Luvu, quarterback Marcus Mariota, and others who will dramatically transform this long-sorry franchise into potential playoff contenders as soon as next season.

We all know about the glory days of Joe Gibbs and Bobby Beathard, and what transpired with that great Coach-GM combo. But I want to go back even farther than that, because what happened this past 10 days with the Commanders reminded me of 1971.

In 1969, the great Vince Lombardi came to Washington and gave Redskins fans an all-too-brief glimpse of what could be. In his first and only season in DC, Lombardi molded the team into a unit that went 7-5-2, their first winning season in 14 years. There was much anticipation about the 1970 season, as things could only get better under the legendary “St. Vince.” Sadly, Lombardi would be diagnosed with cancer and pass away before getting to coach the 1970 season.

That season was a lost one, as the ‘Skins fell back into their losing ways. Shortly after that 6-8 campaign, George Allen was announced as the team’s new Head Coach and GM. Asked about his coaching philosophy, Allen would say famously, “the future is now,” and would proceed to trade away most of the Redskins’ draft choices in return for proven players, many of who were thought to be past their prime. Allen, a defensive-minded coach, brought in veterans like Jack Pardee, Myron Pottios, Richie Pettibon, Ron McDole, Verlon Biggs, and Diron Talbert, players that would turn the Washington defense from laughing stock into one of the NFL’s best.

Offensively, Allen brought in Billy Kilmer to backup Sonny Jurgensen, and it would be one of his best moves. Kilmer, once an agile, running-style quarterback, was now a potbellied journeyman who threw wobbly passes, but had something Allen loved–a fierce desire to win and an inner fire that burned to silence his critics. Kilmer would do just that over and over again in his time with the Redskins.

After an initial 9-4-1 season in 1971 , the “Over The Hill Gang” would post an 11-3 record and NFC East Championship in 1972, with Kilmer throwing 2 TD passes against the hated Cowboys in the title game at RFK Stadium. Over the next few seasons, Allen’s players would eventually get too old and Washington would have no draft choices to replace them with, but for a city starved for winning, that brief time would be a glorious one.

Fast forward to this week, and it indeed feels like “the future is now.”

Until the next visit from The Booth…HTTR!

RW

 

Riggo & “Brother” Walker

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Greetings from The Booth!

Well, we are just days away from “The Big Game” as we head toward Super Bowl 57, or XLVII if you insist on using the Roman numerals (I’ll use those when the Coliseum in Rome is rebuilt and they bring back the chariot races). Countless words have been written about this year’s matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs, and by kickoff Sunday, you will know everything about every player, down to the shoe size. So, instead of more expert analysis (you can get that in our latest Sports Dogs Podcast on this very website), I choose to look back at one of my favorite Super Bowls, Super Bowl 17.

That game holds a special place in my memory for several reasons. The Chinese say that revenge is a meal best served cold, and it took 10 years for the Washington Redskins to avenge their Super Bowl loss in the 1972 season to the undefeated Miami Dolphins. The 14-7 score that year belied the domination of the ‘Fins on that January day in Los Angeles. The ‘Skins only score came late in the 4th quarter on a fluke Mike Bass touchdown on a botched Miami  field goal attempt. That Super Bowl appearance was the high-water mark for the “Over The Hill Gang.” George Allen’s geriatric bunch would never return to the Big Game.

Enter Joe Gibbs, who, in his second year as head coach of the Burgundy & Gold, navigated his team through a work stoppage, through a revamped playoff format, and back to the Super Bowl against…the Miami Dolphins. The ‘Skins found a winning formula that season with a stout defense, quick strike passes from quarterback Joe Theismann to a receiving corps known as The Smurfs, an MVP kicker in Mark Moseley, and The Diesel, John Riggins, who ran behind the legendary O-line, The Hogs.

Riggo was the engine that made the Redskins go, especially in the post-season, rushing for 610 yards in 4 playoff games that season. But it is one run that stands out. Facing a crucial 4th and 1 at the Miami 43 and trailing 17-13 (and everyone in the Rose Bowl knowing who was going to get the football), The ‘Skins called on Riggins, who shook off an initial tackle and raced into the end zone to complete the most iconic run in Washington football history. The Redskins would add another score for the 27-17 final, and the Lombardi Trophy was headed to the Nation’s Capital!

I had the best of both worlds that day. Not only did my beloved ‘Skins win the Super Bowl, but Martinsburg’s own Fulton Walker returned a Miami kickoff for a touchdown. I had the pleasure of playing high school baseball with Walker for the MHS Bulldogs, and I’m pretty sure that even the many Redskins fans in the Eastern Panhandle, including me, swelled with pride as “Brother” Walker, as he was known, outraced the Washington coverage and put his team ahead 17-10.

Walker died in 2016, but I believe there is still a great picture of his Super Bowl kickoff return that hangs in a ticket building at the MHS football stadium. The full-size picture shows Fulton racing toward the end zone with all 11 Redskins trying to chase him down. Riggo’s touchdown that day is probably most remembered, but those of us in Martinsburg will never forget the afternoon that one of our own made Super Bowl history. Rest in Peace, Brother Walker!

Until the next visit from The Booth…enjoy the Big Game!

RW

 

Sports Dogs Podcast: R-Dog And The Duke Talk Commanders

It’s pretty simple for the Washington Commanders: Beat Cleveland and Dallas in the final 2 regular season games, and they are in the NFC playoffs as a Wild-Card team. The R-Dog and The Duke break it down, and also talk about the QB switch to Carson Wentz and look back at the legendary Hogs, as the team honors the iconic O-line before Sunday’s game against the Browns…HTTC!

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Remembering “Mr. August”

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Greetings From The Booth!

Well, the NFL Preseason is underway, and how strange was it to see the Washington Commanders in action last Saturday in the new uniforms that look nothing like the ‘Skins of old. It’s going to take some getting-used-to, as the saying goes. While the Commanders dropped their preseason opener 23-21 to the Carolina Panthers, which really is no big deal, one player stood out. Rookie QB Sam Howell played the entire second half, and led a Commanders comeback with 145 yards passing and 2 rushing touchdowns.

Now, before we crown Howell the next Tom Brady, let’s dial the excitement back just a bit. As we know, the second half of preseason games are filled with second and third stringers, some of whom won’t be playing pro football come September, at least not in the NFL. That being said, Howell seems to have all the tools necessary to be a quality pro quarterback. He has a strong arm, pocket awareness, and escapability, and athleticism. Let’s not forget that at one time Howell was projected to be a high draft pick before his stock fell a bit at the end of last season.  A few more performances like last Saturday, and Howell might move ahead of Taylor Heinicke as the Commanders’ backup.

Watching Howell Saturday made me think of a Washington quarterback who was nicknamed “Mr. August,” and though he never played a regular season snap for the burgundy-and-gold, became a folk hero in DC because of his exciting preseason play. Babe Laufenberg led many a Redskins comeback in games that didn’t count in the 1980’s. If you look up his NFL stats, you’ll see that Babe only played in 16 “for real” games, throwing for a grand total of just over 1,000 yards and had a less-than-stellar 45.9 passer rating.

Laufenberg was also a footnote in 2 of the ‘Skins Super Bowl appearances. In 1983, his rookie season, the Indiana University product was declared inactive in every contest, as Washington reached Super Bowl XVIII. After bouncing around with several teams in 1985 and 1986, including another stint with the Redskins, Babe was signed by Washington to be Doug Williams’ backup in 1987, but the players’ strike interfered, and replacement players were used. Long story short, Laufenberg was only on the roster for 2 games that year, and when the ‘Skins eventually won the Lombardi Trophy, he missed out on a Super Bowl share by one game.

Laufenberg would go on to play for the Dallas Cowboys, and again, was the bridesmaid, but never the bride, backing up the likes of Troy Aikman. It was in Texas that Babe would earn his fame after football, becoming a highly regarded broadcaster, earning several awards from the National Sports Media Association and working as a color analyst beside Cowboys play-by-play man Brad Sham. Laufenberg also suffered personal tragedy in 2019, losing his son Luke to lymphoma. But it’s those great Redskin comebacks that Babe Laufenberg will be remembered for in Washington.

Sam Howell has big shoes to fill…

Until the next visit from The Booth…GO COMMANDERS!

RW

 

Remembering Brig Owens

Greetings from The Booth!

In the down time between the Spring and Fall seasons at Shenandoah University, we take time this week to recognize the academic achievements of the Hornet’s Athletic Department. For only the second time since team GPAs have been tracked at SU, all 22 intercollegiate programs have at least a 3.0 team grade point average. Ashley Smeltzer-Kraft’s field hockey team were the ‘brainiacs” of the bunch, leading the way with a collective 3.68, while on the men’s side, ODAC champ baseball had a team 3.4. When you consider the hectic schedule of a D-3 student-athlete, this is an amazing accomplishment. The bar has been set high at Shenandoah, both on the academic and athletic fronts, not to mention community service, and you can’t do much better than 22 for 22!  For more on this topic, check out this week’s Sports Dog’s Podcast, and my conversation with SU’s Scott Musa.

If you’re a fan of the old Washington Redskins’ “Over The Hill Gang” of the 1970’s, this is a tough week. On Tuesday, safety Brig Owens passed away at the age of 79. Owens was a defensive captain for those George Allen-led teams, including the 1972 squad, who went all the way to Super Bowl VII, before falling to Miami (Owens picked off a pass in that game).

His 36 interceptions are second only to the great Darrell Green in team history, a mark that earned Owens a spot in the ‘Skins Ring Of Fame. He also made some NFL history that you may not know about. In 1966, Owens and tight end Jerry Smith became the league’s first interracial roommates, and remained so in their 12 seasons in DC. In an age where most NFL players had to have an off-season job to make ends meet, Brig Owens attended law school as his playing days wound down, and put that to good use in the NFL Players Association as a player rep, and assistant executive director.

I had the pleasure, through my good friend Dr. Kurt Pierce (who played football at UVA and for the Miami Dolphins), of meeting Brig Owens over the Christmas holidays at the Sam Huff memorial in Middleburg. Among other things, we talked about maybe his most famous play. It happened on a Monday Night game in 1973 against the Dallas Cowboys. With the score tied at 7 late in the contest, RFK Stadium erupted as Owens picked off a Craig Morton pass and returned it 26 yards for what would be the game-winning score. That play was overshadowed somewhat by the Ken Houston goal line tackle moments later on Walt Garrison (the most famous tackle in Washington football history). I said to Brig, “I remember that interception like it was yesterday.” His reply to me, in his understated way, was “So do I.”

Brig Owens accomplished much on the field and off in his illustrious career , but my lingering memory of him will be of that legendary pick-six against the hated Cowboys. Rest in Peace, Brig! I’m proud to have met you…

Until the next visit from the Booth, GO HORNETS and HTTR!

RW

 

 

 

 

Vaya Con Dios Mo, CT, And Zim

Greetings from The Booth!

With Shenandoah University men’s basketball coming to an end this week in the ODAC Tournament, the book closes on a great broadcasting era at SU. Men’s basketball play-by-play voice Mike O’Dell has decided to hang up the headphones after a run that goes all the way back to the late 80’s. In that period of time Mike has taken us through the ups and downs of Hornet Hoop, from the NCAA years of Dave Dutton to the present, where times have been a bit tough. In every instance, Mike has been a professional (even with an occasional jab at an official) and has made even the losses seem exciting. Anyone who has ever done play-by-play knows how tough that can be. I had the pleasure of working with Mike through the early Dutton years, and several seasons in the 2000’s when I came to the River 95-3/WZRV, “The Flagship For SU Athletics,” and the thing I remember most are the many stories from the road we accumulated. Maybe we’ll write a book one day. Mike, I hope you enjoy your post-broadcast years, but as we both know, play-by-play gets in your blood and never leaves. Hornet fans will certainly miss your passion for SU and your golden tones…

Another goodbye, this one permanently, as we lost Washington receiver Charley Taylor this past weekend. Taylor, a Pro Football Hall Of Famer, retired as the leading NFL receiver of all time  (he has since fallen to 67th all-time), but you can look up the stats for yourself. Charley came to the ‘Skins in the mid-60’s as a running back and could have excelled at that position, if it weren’t for the fumbles. After 2 seasons at running back he was converted to a wide-receiver and the rest is history. Taylor, along with Bobby Mitchell and Jerry Smith, became part of one of the most prolific receiving corps in the NFL, hauling in the passes of Sonny Jurgensen. Those were mainly losing years for Washington, until the arrival of Vince Lombardi and George Allen, when Charley saved his best for the big games. In the 1972 NFC Championship, Taylor hauled in 2 Billy Kilmer TD passes, as Washington mauled the hated Cowboys at RFK Stadium 26-3. And, there was the familiar Charley Taylor “touchdown” pose after every score. Thanks for the memories, number 42…

Finally, a goodbye to Ryan Zimmerman, who last week retired after spending his entire career as a Washington National. Zim was drafted by the Nats out of UVA and almost immediately gave baseball-starved fans in DC a glimpse of how bright the future could be, even in those early losing years. When the Montreal Expos franchise came to Washington as the fledgling Nationals, my long-dormant passion for baseball was reignited, and Zimmerman was a big reason. On a roster full of names like Lastings Milledge, Zim was a homegrown talent, and even as the losses piled up, one could see that he was a core player that you could build  team around. Zim was “the king of the walkoff,” with 11 career game-ending home runs. I was fortunate enough to see one of those at RFK while hosting a Nationals baseball trip for several of our listeners. And it’s only fitting that after toiling through the lean years, that he finally got his ring several years ago. When all is said and done, Zim may not get to Cooperstown, but he is certainly a Hall-Of-Famer in the hearts of DC baseball fans.

Until the next visit, thank you Mo, Charley, and Zim…and GO HORNETS!

RW

Middletown announces Grand Marshals for 4th of July parade

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Middletown announced their Grand Marshals for the July 4th Celebration Parade and 225th anniversary.

The group features former Washington football players Brian Mitchell and Ken Harvey as well as Miss Virginia, Tatum Sheppard.

Mitchell ranks 2nd all time in NFL history in all purpose yards behind Jerry Rice and 3rd all time in punt return touchdowns.

Harvey is a 4 time Pro Bowler and one of the 70 greatest players in team history.

Miss Virginia is the daughter of former Miss America, Kellye Cash and Great Niece of Johnny Cash.

The parade will make its way down Main Street starting at 5 pm on the 4th.

For more news from across the Shenandoah Valley, click here.

Sports: Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Nats’ Slide Continues, Caps Win Finale, Former WFT Draft Pick Dies

The Washigton Nationals have now lost 6 of their last 7 games, folowing a 6-2 loss to the Phillies last night. Former Nat Bryce Harper cracked a homer against his old team, as the Nationals dropped to 13-18 on the season. Trea Turner continued his hot hitting with a 3-for-4 night for Washington, who take on the Phils again tonight starting at 6:35 on Sports Radio 1450.

The Baltimore bullpen gave up 2 runs in the bottom of the 9th and lost to the New York Mets 3-2. The loss spoiled another strong performance from Oriole pitcher John Means, who gave up no runs in 6 innings of work. The 2 teams play again today just after noon.

The Caps beat the Boston Bruins 2-1 last night in the regular season finale. Michael Raffl scored the game-winning goal with just 3 seconds left for the Capitals, who will face Boston in the first round of the NHL Playoffs starting Saturday. The puck drops at 7 on The River 95-3.

And, quarterback Colt Brennan has died. Brennan set records at the University of Hawaii and was a former draft pick of the then-Washington Redskins. After a promising pre-season in 2008, Brennan never took a regular-season snap in the NFL. He was just 37.

Memorable Super Bowls

In this week’s SDPC, I’m joined by friend, client, and fellow sports geek Scott Snapp, as we talk about our most memorable Super Bowls, the first Super Bowls we remember, and predictions for The Big Game…and how could the Sports Dogs NOT talk about The Puppy Bowl? Enjoy!

R-Dog