I was fortunate enough to attend a fundraiser by the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation on Tuesday night. The event was co-hosted by Redskins legend and original Hogs member Mark May. Joining him on stage were Darryl Grant (a Hog his rookie year, then a defensive tackle), Ken Huff, Raleigh McKenzie, and Fred Dean. Chief Zee and the Hogettes were also in attendance.
May had hosted a similar fundraiser with the foundation during his playing days, auctioning off a Bentley at the end of the night, and decided the bring the gang back together all these years later. Times have changed, but the (sometimes unfiltered) stories these guys told gave me a vivid sense of what it was like to play for and cheer for the Washington Redskins in the 1980s. Some of this may be familiar to those of you who remember the era. For readers born too late to enjoy the Hogs in their heyday, think of this as an introduction to one of the most charismatic—and talented—groups in NFL history.
Mark May led off the evening with a memory of Hogs hysteria in Washington. "Even going to the grocery store, people would come up and yell at you," he said. "Doug Williams was on the Wheaties box. The only thing on the Wheaties box was my back half—my butt—and people were going, 'Can you sign this?'"
"[Washington]'s the only place in the country—collegiately or in the NFL—that the offensive line was recognized to a point where we were almost super stars here. And that's why it's such a special place." As soon as he said the word "almost," a man in the crowd interjected, "Not almost! You are a super star!." And the whole place erupted in applause.
Fred Dean piped in to say, "We are one of the top offensive lines in the whole game. If you ever watch an NFL show and they are talking about the different groups, we're up in the top three of all time. And if you're wondering what's going on, we won with three different quarterbacks. That lets you know right there."
No matter how many years have passed since the Hogs suited up in burgundy and gold, some things never change: Part of being a Redskin is hating the Cowboys. Mark May summed up his feelings saying, "Thing is, they've always considered themselves America's team. That's a bunch of crap. We're in Washington, DC. We're America's team." More applause.
One of the Hogs proudest moments came during the 1983 NFC Championship against the Cowboys. Almost everyone had memories of that game. Dallas was favored and had been one of the league's most dominant teams for some time. Needless to say, emotions were running high.
Mark May explained how RFK Stadium had filled up a full two hours before the game and the crowd began chanting for Dallas at least an hour before kickoff. The fans were so fired up that players could feel the stadium rocking back and forth under their weight.
"You could hear them people in the stands from our locker room," added Dean. "So you know what that did to us. And when we came out there, it would be no question. That day the Dallas Cowboys was gonna take one of them A-whippings."
"[Offensive line coach Joe Bugel] doesn't smoke. He's chain smoking before the game. Saying, 'You guys be cool out there. Don't want you guys fighting. Just hold your heads out there,'" said May. "So we're walking out of the tunnel, and Ernie Stautner's their offensive line coach. And Buges gets out of the tunnel and looks right at Ernie Stautner and goes, 'Hey Ernie!' and gives him the bird. It's like, we're supposed to be calm? Buges is losing his mind."
Darryl Grant—who famously returned an interception for a touchdown to seal the game—said, "It was no way out. We weren't coming out of that stadium without a win. That was the most focused I've ever seen a team. It was quiet, everybody was focused, everybody was making eye contact. And we knew what was about to happen. The icing on the cake was when the fans started screaming, ‘We want Dallas!'"
And once the game was underway, Grant remembers watching the Redskins offense literally run over Cowboys' vaunted defense. "It was just a beautiful thing to see that Dallas defense just get crushed play after play. And it was funny, if you look real close, you'll see Riggins laughing as he gets the first down. But to see those guys on the Cowboys defense just get mauled, it was like they had no idea what was happening. They couldn't stop it."
Mark May was asked about one of the great pieces of Redskins lore: On that last drive, did the offensive line really tell legendary Cowboys defensive tackle Randy White that they were going to run the ball down his throat?
"Jeff Bostic said, 'Hey Randy, guess what. It's coming right at you.' So next play: 'Randy, take a guess where the ball's going. Right at you!' Third and one: 'Give ya one more chance, Randy. It's coming right at you!' We kept running the same play right up the gut and we just told him it was coming. Like try to stop it." May guessed that they ran the same rushing play eight times in a row to finish off the clock. I double-checked this morning—it was nine times in a row.
The rivalry was no less intense as time wore on. And Randy White continued to get under the Hogs' skin. Ken Huff recalled Mark May berating him in the locker room for talking to White before a game. "What the hell are you doing talking to the enemy? We don't have friends here!," May had said.
Years later, Raleigh McKenzie also had a run-in with White, who stomped on McKenzie's knee during a Redskins field goal attempt, shooting him a look to say it wasn't an accident. From that point forward, McKenzie made a point to repay White on every passing play. "I sprint five yards, then I turn around and I hit 54 every single play. He was just a-fussin' and a-cussin', calling me a young puppy. I kept coming bam, bam, bam! And by the end of the game, he came up to me and he apologized for doing that. I said, ‘Yeah, you better apologize because we got to play y'all one more time.'"
Of course, the '80s Redskins were hardly innocent when it came to taking cheap shots. In a moment that elicited uncomfortable laughter from a crowd well-versed in the dangers of concussions, Darryl Grant told a story about intentionally kneeing Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett in the back of the head.
Referees didn't catch the dirty play because it happened as Grant was diving over the Cowboys running back, but a livid Dorsett jumped up and hit Grant in the face with the ball. Refs flagged Dorsett for unsportsmanlike conduct, and the 15-yard penalty pushed Dallas out of field-goal range. "People always say, 'Man, you let Dorsett do that.' And I say, 'Yeah, but you don't know the whole story.' And it helped us win the game."
The Hogs also had fond memories of playing under coach Joe Gibbs. The intensity of the early years hardly waned as time went on. During the 1988 Super Bowl versus Denver, Raleigh McKenzie remembered not worrying about the Broncos taking an early lead because he knew the Redskins were tougher and had worked harder.
"The way we practiced, it showed up in that game," he said. "It was Thursday and we were out there looking like we were scrimmaging. We were just fired up. We were hitting each other and getting after it. And [a reporter] was telling me that Denver was almost playing touch football out there."
For his part, Mark May was as fierce as always. "He was pointing at somebody every play. Pointing at the players, pointing at coaches. He was even pointing at our own coaches if we didn't run the ball. Run it my way!" said McKenzie.
Darryl Grant's fondest memories of the Joe Gibbs era happened off the field. When asked if Gibbs ever cursed, Grant shared my favorite tale of the night.
"He got close one time in Philly when he got his foot stuck in a chair. That was one of the funniest things I've ever seen. It was a crucial time at half time, we weren't playing well, and Joe knew we could have played better. He kicked a chair and got his foot stuck and was wrestling with the chair trying to get it off his foot. It seemed like an eternity, but all I could do was just take a towel and put it over my head because, you know, you've got your game face on. And when I saw that, I almost lost it."
More recently, when Joe Gibbs first returned to Washington in 2004, Darryl Grant remembers being unable to greet his old coach through the crowd of media and fans at Redskins Park. When the phone rang at 7 a.m. the next morning, it was Gibbs. He'd seen Grant and wanted to apologize for not getting a moment to say hello. He wanted to make plans to get together soon, and he had a question for Grant that he'd always wondered about. Gibbs asked if Grant had been the prankster who once ordered 25 pizzas delivered to the film room during training camp. "I said, ‘Yeah coach, that was me.' Coach said, "After all these years, it's good to see you still tell the truth.'"
Darryl Grant went on to explain the joke that still makes him laugh. He described how he imitated Gibbs's high-pitched voice when ordering the pizzas, and how the delivery boy stood outside in tears fearing the coaches wouldn't pay for the pies. "And you know [assistant coach] Don Breaux. He loved to eat. He loves him some Diet Coke," said Grant. "Don Breaux was standing there and Joe Gibbs said, ‘I didn't order these pizzas.' And Don Breaux said, ‘Aw Joe! C'mon man, just give him the money Joe.' So we had already eaten at dining hall, and all the coaches were breaking down film, and they got 25 pizzas in there smelling up the room."
All in all, the night was more laughter than lecture, more sharing stories than giving speeches. The tone did take a serious turn when Mark May was asked his opinion on the current team's struggles. This is a long one, but worth a block quote.
I think we just need an adjustment in attitude... Some of the things that they're doing are just unacceptable. You're not breaking down the ball defensively, you're not closing until the end, you're not giving 100 percent. You can tackle a guy on the five instead of giving up on the ten and letting him go score a touchdown. Under Richie Petitbon, you wouldn't be in the game.
And the way I see some of their linemen, whey they block, they give up the end of the play instead of running down the field and helping out the running back or wide receiver another eight or ten yards down the field. Picking off bodies in the pile ‘cause they've got eight, nine defenders knocking your running back around. Get somebody. It's just an attitude that they just don't have anymore.
Maybe it's just me being old and the game has changed, but we had the attitude that we protected one another and we did not give up on a play. And come heck or high water, you're gonna have to drag us off the field if you're going to beat us. You better be playing your best to beat us because we're not giving up. And I just got frustrated just watching the carelessness of their attitudes out there. Maybe I'm just from a different era because when we played, we didn't have that. Because we'd pull for one another.
And the thing is, if you were a dog, we knew before the coaches would. If they drafted a dog or signed one, we knew. And we got rid of him. Because we went out in practice and kicked your butt and proved to the coaches that you didn't belong. And they just need to have that attitude.
The night ended pleasantly with autograph signings and photos taken with the Hogs. Despite the spotlight on football, the event never lost sight of its true purpose: raising money for the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation. Even if you didn't attend the event, you can still help Mark May and the foundation with an online donation.