The Washington Redskins have one of the greatest histories of any NFL team. Picking the Redskins’ ten best players is nearly impossible, so here’s a list of the ten best Redskins of the Super Bowl era, based on one observer’s opinion. Receiver Art Monk tops the list, Sonny Jurgensen comes in second, and John Riggins rounds out the top three.
Sammy Baugh was the greatest Redskin, but this list only includes players who played since 1966. Sam Huff and Bobby Mitchell didn’t make the list, only because by the time the Super Bowl era had begun, their Hall of Fame careers were almost over. Only two defensive players made the list, though Dave Butz, Pat Fischer, Chris Hanburger, Dexter Manley, Charles Mann, and Wilber Marshall would have likely made the next ten.
Special teamers Brian Mitchell and Mark Moseley also warrant consideration. Among Redskins from the past decade, Chris Cooley, Santana Moss, and Chris Samuels would probably make the top 30, but just barely. So without further ado, here are the ten greatest Redskins of the Super Bowl era.
1. Art Monk
When Art Monk was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008, he received the longest standing ovation ever at the Hall, lasting more than four minutes before he stopped the crowd.
Monk played 14 of his 16 seasons for the Washington Redskins and led them to three Super Bowl victories and four appearances. His 106 catches in 1984 were an NFL record that stood for eight years. At one time, Monk also had the records for most catches in a career and most consecutive games with a catch.
Monk was nicknamed “Money” for his uncanny ability to make crucial catches in big games. If there were a statistic kept for most critical first downs receiving, Monk would surely be at the top of the list. Monk had excellent hands, speed and height, ran precise routes, and was a fearsome blocker. He sacrificed his body to get the tough yards over the middle.
Monk was one of the most respected players on a three-time Super Bowl winning team. In 1990, with the Redskins’ season on the line, the normally reserved Monk called a now legendary team meeting that lit a fire under the Skins. The Redskins went on to win four of their next five games to make the playoffs and won the Super Bowl against Buffalo the following year. Washington’s record was 6-5 before the meeting and 22-4 after.
In the playoffs, Monk had four 100-yard games as well as seven touchdowns for an average of 26 yards per catch for those touchdowns. In Super Bowl XXII against Denver, with the Redskins down 10-0, Monk caught a critical pass after missing the previous two playoff games with an injury. Monk caught a 40-yard pass on a 3rd and 16 play. Without that catch, history might have been different, but the Redskins went on to win, 42-10. In January 1992, Monk had seven catches for 113 yards as the Redskins beat Buffalo 37-24 in Super Bowl XXVI.
If coach Joe Gibbs gets credit for three Super Bowls with three quarterbacks, Monk should too. He didn’t play with a Hall of Fame quarterback, but he was a Hall of Fame receiver, and the best Redskin of the Super Bowl era.
2. Sonny Jurgensen
Sonny Jurgensen has been called the greatest pure passer in the history of the game. Longtime Redskins fans say Sonny would heave the ball long, get sacked behind a porous offensive line, and then dust himself off to learn that Charley Taylor, Bobby Mitchell, or Jerry Smith had come down with the ball. The 1964 trade that brought Jurgensen to the Redskins from Philadelphia for Norm Snead was one of the most lopsided deals in NFL history.
Jurgy passed for more than 3,000 yards three times as a Redskin, in an era that did not favor aerial attacks and led the NFL in passing three times. Jurgensen set NFL records for yards, attempts, and completions in 1967. By the time the Redskins became a playoff team in the 1970s, George Allen had given the job to the more conservative Billy Kilmer. But in his prime, Sonny was one of the game’s great signal callers. Today, Sonny is still one of the most recognizable Redskins, three decades after first calling games on the radio.
3. John Riggins
Riggins, a former track star at Kansas, possessed a rare combination of power and speed on the way to rushing for 11,352 yards and scoring 116 touchdowns. Riggo played like a runaway truck, and his nickname of the “Diesel” was never more fitting than during his famous run through the playoffs in January 1983. Riggins’ iconic bow to the RFK Stadium crowd after rumbling for 185 yards in a playoff win over Minnesota is etched in the minds of Redskins fans everywhere.
Redskins fans will always remember “70 chip,” the 4th and 1 play In the Super Bowl against Miami, when Riggins ran for a 43-yard touchdown to seal a 27-17 victory. Riggins finished with 166 yards rushing and took home the MVP trophy. Riggins was one of a kind, once telling former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to “loosen up, Sandy baby.” After Riggins sat out the 1980 season in a contract dispute, Washington’s new coach, Joe Gibbs, traveled to Kansas to convince Riggins to return. “I’m bored, I’m broke, and I’m back,” said the running back upon returning to the nation’s capital. The rest is history.
4. Charley Taylor
By any measure, Charley Taylor was one of the greatest wide receivers in NFL history. Taylor was a prototype receiver — big, strong and fast. Like teammate Bobby Mitchell, Taylor started out as a running back before being converted to receiver. Taylor retired as the NFL’s all-time leading receiver with 649 catches after the 1977 season. Taylor played in eight Pro Bowls and scored 90 touchdowns, an incredible number considering it wasn’t until after he retired that the NFL liberalized its passing rules. In the 1972 NFC Championship game against Dallas, Taylor caught 7 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Redskins to a 26-3 rout over the Cowboys. He went on to coach Redskins wide receivers during their three Super Bowl wins.
5. Joe Theismann
Joe Theismann led the Redskins to their first Super Bowl win after the 1982 season and became the NFL MVP in 1983 when he threw for 3,714 yards and 29 touchdowns and had a passer rating of 97. He started more games for Washington than any other quarterback in the Super Bowl era, starting 99 of a possible 100 games until he broke his leg in 1985.
Theismann passed for more than 25,000 yards, a number that would have been higher if he hadn’t gotten a late start to his career after playing in Canada and sitting behind Billy Kilmer and Sonny Jurgensen. At a low point in 1981 with the Redskins at 0-5, Theismann met with new coach Joe Gibbs. The Redskins would go 47-12 from that point on through 1984. The former Notre Dame star was brash but backed up his talk on the field, leading the Redskins to a record of 28-4 during the 1982 and 1983 seasons.
Theismann was an excellent scrambling quarterback who scored 17 career rushing touchdowns. Theismann was an underrated quarterback. Because the Redskins won three Super Bowls with three quarterbacks, Joe T.’s accomplishments get lost a bit, but there is no question that Theismann was the Redskins’ best quarterback of the last 35 years. In 10 seasons as a Redskins quarterback, Theismann only had one losing season.
6. Ken Houston
Ken Houston may have been the best safety in the history of the NFL. His most famous play was a game-saving tackle against Walt Garrison of the Dallas Cowboys on 4th down at the one yard line on Monday Night Football in 1973. The previous offseason, Redskins coach George Allen traded five players to the Oilers for Houston. For 12 straight seasons, Houston was selected to the AFL All-Star game or the Pro Bowl. Houston scored 12 touchdowns, nine on interception returns and one on a punt return, fumble return, and blocked field goal return. The rangy Houston had 49 career interceptions. From 1967 to 1978 Houston did not miss a game.
7. Joe Jacoby
Joe Jacoby revolutionized the left tackle position in the NFL, leading the “Hogs” to become one of the greatest offensive lines of all-time. Alongside players such as Russ Grimm, Jeff Bostic, George Starke, Mark May, Raleigh McKenzie, and Jim Lachey, Jacoby and the Hogs were famous for smashmouth football. When Jacoby arrived at Redskins training camp in 1981, Jacoby was so massive at 6-7 and more than 300 pounds, coach Joe Gibbs thought Jake was a defensive lineman.
Undrafted out of Louisville, Jacoby helped the Redskins to four Super Bowls, including three victories. With unmatched speed and quickness for a player his size, Jacoby helped the Redskins win three Super Bowls with three 1000-yard rushers and three different quarterbacks. The relatively immobile Mark Rypien was sacked only nine times the entire season as Jacoby protected his blind side. Jacoby and Grimm used their athletic ability to run the misdirection “counter-trey” play in which they pulled from the left to the right side of the field countless times. Jacoby paved the way for the athletic giants who play tackle today.
8. Darrell Green
For much of his career, Darrell Green may have been both the fastest and the smallest player in the NFL. He played for 20 years in the league and could have played some more if he had so desired. Green never played across from a standout cornerback except in 1999 when Champ Bailey was a rookie. Always assigned to the opposing team’s top wide receiver, Green finished his career with 54 interceptions. Green was not only a shutdown cover corner but an excellent tackler.
Green scored eight touchdowns, six on interception returns and two on fumble returns. Green stunned the NFL when, as a rookie, he ran down Tony Dorsett from behind in an unforgettable Monday Night Football game in 1983. Green also caught Eric Dickerson from behind in a 1986 playoff game. One of Green’s greatest highlights was returning a punt 52 yards for a touchdown in a 1987 playoff game against Chicago. Green leaped a defender, tore rib cartilage, and still took it to the house. In the NFC Championship game the next week against Minnesota, Green broke up a potential game-tying pass to preserve Washington’s win and a spot in Super Bowl XXII against Denver. Green was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008 along with teammate Art Monk.
9. Russ Grimm
Russ Grimm personified the “Hogs,” and the Redskins successful run of three Super Bowl titles and four appearances paralleled his career from 1981 to 1991. Grimm was an athletic guard who played linebacker his first two years in college and quarterback in high school. Along with left tackle Joe Jacoby, Grimm held down the left side of the line for the Redskins’ prolific running and passing attacks.
During Grimm’s 11 seasons, the Redskins had six different running backs lead the team in rushing, and three of them, Hall of Famer John Riggins, George Rogers, and Earnest Byner, had 1,000-yard seasons. Washington finished in the top five in the NFL in passing five times during Grimm’s career. He made four consecutive Pro Bowls, was named a three-time All-Pro, and was selected to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1980s. Quarterbacks and running backs changed during the Redskins’ run of four Super Bowls in nine seasons, but Grimm was one of the constants, along with Jacoby, Hall of Fame receiver Art Monk, coach Joe Gibbs, and defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon.
Grimm’s offensive line coach, Joe Bugel, called him the smartest player he ever coached. Grimm, an assistant coach with the Redskins, Steelers, and Cardinals for the past two decades, might have been an excellent Redskins head coach, but we’ll never know. In 2010, Grimm was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
10. Gary Clark
On a team of mostly humble superstars, Gary Clark, along with Joe Theismann, John Riggins, and Dexter Manley, added some fire and brimstone to the Redskins. Known to run laps around RFK Stadium to fire up the crowd, Clark was as good as any receiver in the NFL during his peak. Listed at 5-9, 173, Clark had excellent speed and toughness. With chronic hamstring problems, Clark often couldn’t practice but always came through during big games.
During the 1987 and 1991 seasons when the Redskins won Super Bowls, Clark averaged 19 or more yards per catch. He had seven catches for 114 yards and a touchdown against Buffalo in Super Bowl XXVI. Clark was the first NFL receiver to catch 50 passes in his first ten years in the league. Clark had the same number of touchdowns as Michael Irvin (65), averaged more catches per year, and didn’t play with a Hall of Fame quarterback. If Clark played on the Steelers or Cowboys he would be in the Hall of Fame. But Redskins fans, teammates, and the players he played against know he is deserving of the honor.
Honorable Mention: Larry Brown
Larry Brown may not have had the longest career, but in the early 1970s, he was one of the very best running backs in the game. Brown won the 1972 NFL MVP Award with 1,216 yards rushing and 12 total touchdowns in 12 games, leading the league in yards from scrimmage. He also had 32 receptions for a 14.8-yard average that season, excellent numbers for a running back. During Brown’s rookie year in 1969, Vince Lombardi noticed Brown was slow to get off the line of scrimmage. Brown was deaf in his right ear. Lombardi had a hearing aid put in Brown’s helmet, and Brown went on to make the Pro Bowl his first four years in the NFL.
A punishing rusher, Brown helped the Redskins get to Super Bowl VII against the Miami Dolphins after the 1972 season where they lost 14-7 to the undefeated Dolphins. Brown rushed for more than 5,000 yards his first five seasons, but less than 1,000 his final three years and retired at 29. Brown was a tough, bruising back whose career was cut short because of knee injuries, but in the early 1970s, he was the best running back in the NFC.
Honorable Mention: Chris Hanburger
In the 1970s, outside linebacker Chris Hanburger was part of George Allen’s “Over the Hill Gang,” a group of veterans who led the Redskins to five playoff appearances and seven winning seasons in a row from 1971 to 1977. Hanburger was nicknamed the “Hangman” for using his right arm to tackle quarterbacks high. Hanburger played 14 seasons for the Redskins, making the Pro Bowl nine times and winning the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 1972 when Washington made it to the Super Bowl.
Hanburger intercepted 19 passes in his career, returning two for touchdowns, and recovered 17 fumbles, returning three for scores. A great all-around player, Hanburger played in an era when linebackers played every down on defense, playing the run, dropping into coverage, and blitzing effectively well. In 2011, Hanburger was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
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