Remember When: Joe Theismann and Redskins started 0-5 in '81

Joe Theismann threw for 987 yards through the first three games in 1981. (USATSI)
Joe Theismann threw for 987 yards through the first three games in 1981. (USATSI)

One of the biggest surprises of the young NFL season is that the Redskins, the NFC East champions from last year, are 0-3 and that Robert Griffin III’s knee doesn’t appear to be healthy. But Griffin probably isn’t the main reason Washington is winless so far (for that, you can thank the team’s 32nd-ranked defense).

In fact, Griffin has thrown for 975 yards. Which would put him on pace for 5,200 passing yards this season (last year, Griffin threw for 3,200 yards in 15 regular-season games), and that would rank third all time.

So, Griffin basically is throwing for an unprecedented number of yards for a team that’s 0-3, right?

Well, not exactly.

After seeing that, I decided that we should briefly take a look at that season in Washington.

For the Redskins, they were a team of transition. After the 1980 season, Jack Pardee had been fired by Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, and the team gave its head coaching job to an offensive coordinator named Joe Gibbs. Gibbs knew about the passing attack that coach Don Coryell was using in San Diego -- probably because Gibbs had been Coryell’s offensive coordinator the previous two years -- and he implemented a facsimile of that with Theismann, by then in his eighth year at quarterback.

And then the team lost its first five games.

But finally on Oct. 11, this happened vs. the Bears. (And even better, you could get a really good deal on some surf and turf from Lewiston Elks in Lewiston, Idaho).

"It feels like a big weight has been lifted," Gibbs said after the game, via the Washington Post.

I bet it did. Cooke had called Gibbs into his office earlier that week, and Gibbs feared he was about to lose his job. Instead, Cooke just wanted to reassure Gibbs that his job was safe.

"We kept hoping and praying that we would stop making turnovers and killing ourselves,” Gibbs said. That’s what finally happened. I knew we’d win one eventually. After putting in all the long hours, well, no one goes through harder times when you are losing. You are supposed to win, this is a winner’s game. I really feel good for our players. They worked hard every week, and now they know it was worth it."

Gibbs wasn’t the only one concerned with the five-game losing streak, as reported in the Redskins Encyclopedia book:

But after that first win, Theismann and the Redskins exploded, as you can see here:

 Score
WeekDayDate OTRec OppTmOpp
5 Sun October 4 L   0-5   San Francisco 49ers 17 30
6 Sun October 11 W   1-5 @ Chicago Bears 24 7
7 Sun October 18 L   1-6 @ Miami Dolphins 10 13
8 Sun October 25 W   2-6   New England Patriots 24 22
9 Sun November 1 W   3-6   St. Louis Cardinals 42 21
10 Sun November 8 W   4-6   Detroit Lions 33 31
11 Sun November 15 W OT 5-6 @ New York Giants 30 27
12 Sun November 22 L   5-7 @ Dallas Cowboys 10 24
13 Sun November 29 L   5-8 @ Buffalo Bills 14 21
14 Sun December 6 W   6-8   Philadelphia Eagles 15 13
15 Sun December 13 W   7-8   Baltimore Colts 38 14
16 Sun December 20 W   8-8 @ Los Angeles Rams 30 7

Theismann would finish the year in style -- at the age of 32, it was the best season of his career up until that point -- and the Redskins rode that momentum and won seven of the final nine games of the season.

So, all is not lost for the 2013 version of the Redskins and for Griffin. Because you know what happened in 1982 for Washington?

The Redskins won the Super Bowl.

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