Judge Christopher Kulik was going to make a joke about this team's name, but it was deemed culturally insensitive.
"I just want you guys to know that you're my team. I selected you to play for the Redskins. You're going to be great!"—Vince Lombardi
When running back John Riggins ran over 40 yards to a touchdown at Super Bowl XVII, it was a defining moment in the history of the Redskins. The team hadn't won a championship since 1942, and while there were many winning seasons and an appearance at Super Bowl VII, Riggins' run ensured the return of one of the NFL's finest teams. The Redskins defeated the Dolphins 27-17, and Coach Joe Gibbs would take his team back to the Bowl three more times, winning two with different quarterbacks. Like many other football teams, the Redskins' journey has been a rollercoaster ride, with as many victories as there have been defeats. Speaking as a devoted fan, I was largely unaware of what the pre-Gibbs Redskins were like. Complimenting the histories of the Cleveland Browns and the New England Cheat—excuse me, Patriots, Warner Bros. has also released NFL History Of The Washington Redskins, which focuses on the last 75 years of the Capital's team.
Beginning in 1932 as the Boston Braves, the team would be named the Redskins after moving to Washington three years later. Pioneer owner George Preston Marshall was convinced by his wife that D.C. was the perfect city to have a football team because of its "displaced citizens." Under Coach Ray Flaherty (1936-1945) and QB Sammy Baugh (1936-1952), the team would prove to be one of the best in the sport; its primary rival was the Chicago Bears, who slaughtered the Skins at the 1940 championship, winning 73-0. After 1942, however, the Redskins would fail to enter the playoffs for almost three decades, yet would continue to have winning seasons up until the late 1950s. What boosted the team's popularity was Marshall's landmark contributions of elaborate halftime shows and airing Skins games on television, a first for professional football. In the early 1960s, the team may have reached its nadir in terms of winning games, but the fans kept coming to the stadium.
Things didn't turn around for the Skins until the legendary Vince Lombardi was hired as head coach for the 1969 season. Amazingly, he had broken a 14-season losing streak, and guided the team to a 9-1 record, the final highlight of his career. After he died suddenly from cancer, the L.A. Rams coach George Allen stepped in to replace him. Although Allen continued the winning game streak at Washington with jubilance, he lost his one Super Bowl appearance (against Don Shula's perfect Dolphins) and was fired after seven seasons. Several years later, Gibbs would come onto the scene and history was made in 1983, 1988 and 1992. Since Gibb's initial retirement, the Redskins' performance has run hot-and-cold, and coaches like Norv Turner, Marty Schottenheimer, and Steve Spurrier were unable to turn the team into a formidable presence. Even when Gibbs returned, it wasn't enough and in 2007, the Redskins reached a new low with the tragic death of safety Sean Taylor.
Running 2 hours and 37 minutes, NFL History Of The Washington Redskins provides an awesome overview of the franchise. While I would have preferred equal time spent on the early years as well as the Gibbs dynasty, there is still much to relish here, particularly if you are a Skins fan like me. The first hour roughly covers the entire Marshall era, culminating in Lombardi's 1970 death, with the next 70 minutes devoted to the Allen and Gibbs coaching years. Some of the vintage footage is fascinating, particularly when some of it was filmed in color, including the 1943 championship game. As expected, there are many recollections from former players, coaches, and commentators, including Baugh, who is now 94 years old! One of the most compelling speakers is Bobby Mitchell, who became the first African-American player for the Skins in 1960, when the team was the last to be segregated due to Marshall's bigoted, Dixie-singing nature.
Bonus material can be found on Disc Two, and they include six individual retrospectives. The longest of these, clocking in at 44 minutes, is a provocative look at Coach George Allen, with his daughter Jennifer serving as the primary interviewer. Known by many as "Nixon with a Whistle," Allen brought a positively rigorous spirit to the team, which would usually lead to "hip, hip, hooray" chants. However, his controversial coaching techniques and "winning is everything" attitude didn't sit well with many in Washington, and many branded him in egoist and megalomaniac. This featurette isn't one-sided and its mission is to not only honor Allen but be critical of him, which was surprising. Naturally, most of his family is interviewed, including his widow, three sons, and only daughter, the latter of whom wrote a book about Allen and how she always felt detached from his world of football. On a side note, this doc was made for the NFL network in 1998 while Allen's son (aka Macaca Man) was Governor of Virginia, and one addresses how he will mostly become U.S. President.
The other five retrospectives focus on five Washington players, all
hall-of-famers: Bobby Mitchell, John Riggins, Larry Brown, Samm Baugh, and Billy
Kilmer. The first two pieces are quite detailed (running about 20 minutes each),
while the docs on Brown and Kilmer are both from 1983. All of them are
interesting, yet I'm stunned there is not a featurette on Darrell Green, who is
not only one of the finest Redskins, but also holder of several NFL records.
That nitpick aside, the only other bonus feature is a look at the NFL's highest
scoring game, a 1966 matchup between the Skins and the New York Giants, with
Washington winning 72-41. On the technical side, NFL History Of The
Washington Redskins is in full frame and boasts a DD 2.0 Stereo track, with
subtitles in English and Spanish.
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