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Gut Punch? I’ll Tell You About Gut Punches!

Sports Illustrated just released its biggest gut-punching losses of the Super Bowl era for each of the 32 teams.

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Despite a brilliant game from John Riggins, the Redskins lost a winner take all heartbreaker in Dallas (AP Photo)

 July is the only month of the year that the NFL doesn’t gobble up.  Except for the last couple of days of the month when training camps open, it’s the one time of the year that coaches and front office people go on vacation, so little news is generated.  However, since the league holds such a grip on the sports world, news organizations are constantly looking for NFL-driven content.    This is what they gave us for the Redskins:

Washington Redskins: Dec. 2, 2007—Bills 17, Redskins 16

This game stands out mostly for the tragic circumstances surrounding it. The matchup came mere days after Sean Taylor was murdered during an armed robbery attempt at his home. Washington, under coach Joe Gibbs, opened this game with just 10 defenders on the field as a tribute to its fallen teammate. It was an emotional, painful afternoon at a rainy FedEx Field.

Then came the ending. Gibbs called timeout to ice Buffalo kicker Rian Lindell before a game-winning, 51-yard FG attempt. He then signaled for a second consecutive timeout, an illegal ploy that drew a 15-yard penalty. Lindell hit the ensuing 36-yarder.

As a lover of sports lists and the co-author of “The Great Book of Washington, D.C. Sports Lists” with Leonard Shapiro, I find it laughable to think that’s the biggest gut-punch loss of the last 50 years.  To quote the great Warner Wolf, “C’mon man give me a break.”

As a matter of fact, I made a list of the top 10 gut-punch Redskins losses since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 and that game isn’t even in the top five!  If you didn’t buy the book (and there were dozens who did), here is how my list looked.  And keep in mind, the book came out in 2008, nearly five years before the Robert Griffin III knee-blowout playoff loss to Seattle which would ultimately lead to the implosion of the Mike Shanahan era.  Looking back, that actually feels like a punch to another part of the body – one a bit lower.

10.  December 15, 1996, Cardinals 27 – Redskins 26 – With a chance to go 9-6 and set up what would be a playoff-clinching win over Dallas the following week, the Skins blew it. Up 26-24 they allowed Kent Graham to go four-for-six on a drive that ate up the last seven minutes of the game.  The drive was kept alive by a Romeo Bandison facemask penalty on a fourth down pass that fell incomplete.  Kevin Butler kicked a 28-yard field goal at the gun to end the Redskins playoff hopes.

9.  November 10, 1996, Cardinals 37 – Redskins 34 OT – Up 27-13 in the third quarter, the Redskins seemed on their way to a 7-2 record.  But Boomer Esiason, on his way to a 531 yard passing day, rallied the Cardinals for a pair of scores to send the game to overtime.  Still, the Redskins appeared to have it won when Scott Blanton kicked a 38-yard field goal in overtime.  But a holding penalty on Scott Galbraith pushed Blanton five yards back and he missed the retry.  A short time later, Kevin Butler blew a 37-yard attempt, but the Skins were called for offsides.  With only 33 seconds left in overtime, Butler kicked the game winner and the Redskins kicked themselves.

8.  November 13, 2005, Buccaneers 36 – Redskins 35 – This one seemed in hand when Clinton Portis, on his way to a 144-yard day, scored to make it 35-28 with just over six minutes left.  But Chris Simms threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Edell Shepherd with less than a minute left.  Still, even with the extra point, there would be overtime and a chance to win.  But the Skins were called for offsides trying to block the extra point.  And with the half the distance to the goal penalty, Bucs coach John Gruden decided to go for two with the shorter distance.  Mike Alstott took it in for two.  Redskins coach Joe Gibbs argued that Alstott’s elbow hit the ground before the goal line, but since it was inside of two minutes, he couldn’t challenge the call.

7.  Here’s where I put SI.COM’s choice.  See above

6.  January 15, 1999, Buccaneers 14 – Redskins 13 – Helped by Brian Mitchell’s return of the second half kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, the Skins led 13-0 late in the third quarter and appeared headed to the NFC Championship game in St. Louis.  But John Lynch picked off Brad Johnson and the game changed.  Shawn King (yeah Shawn King was the Bucs quarterback) threw a touchdown pass to John Davis to make it 14-13.  However, the Skins got the last shot.  With just over a minute left, Brett Conway lined up for a 52-yard field goal attempt to try to make it 16-14.  But he never got to try.  Dan Turk’s snap rolled along the ground and Johnson, who was holding, threw a desperation heave into the end zone which fell incomplete.  Turk never got on the team plane and spent the night walking through Tampa.  He died of cancer less than a year later.

5.  November 5, 1975, Cardinals 20 – Redskins 17 OT – The game appeared to be over when a fourth-down pass from Jim Hart to Mel Gray was knocked down by Redskins cornerback Pat Fischer.  But the referees huddled for three minutes and somehow managed to come up with the conclusion that Gray had both feet down with possession of the ball before Fischer knocked it loose.  Instant replay could not be used in those days.  The game would go into overtime, St. Louis won the toss and Jim Bakken kicked the game-winner from 37 yards out.

4.  January 14, 1973, Dolphins 14 – Redskins 7 – Yes losing a Super Bowl hurts more than a regular season game.  But this one really hurt for a variety of reasons.  Sonny Jurgensen couldn’t even play because of injury and Billy Kilmer’s arm was not enough to put fear in Miami’s “No Name” defense.  One of Kilmer’s touchdown pass attempts to Jerry Smith hit the crossbar (the uprights were in the front of the end zone in those days) and even when they got a big break like the famous Garo Yepremian botched pass on a blocked field goal that Mike Bass returned for a touchdown, they couldn’t build on the momentum.  This one hurt until a decade later when the Redskins beat the Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII.

3.  January 22, 1984, Raiders 38 – Redskins 9 – When you get your doors blown off, maybe it shouldn’t technically count as a gut punch.  But this one came in the Super Bowl on the heels of one of the greatest regular seasons ever.  The Skins had set a record with 561 points and an incredible plus 43 turnover ratio.   More than 30 years later, just the words “rocket screen” feel like a gut punch.  It was the play that Jack Squirek sniffed out just before halftime and intercepted Joe Theismann’s pass for a touchdown and a 21-3 Raider lead.

2.  November 28, 1974, Cowboys 24 – Redskins 23 – On this Thanksgiving day with the Redskins up 16-3 in the third quarter and Roger Staubach knocked out of the game with a concussion, it looked like it was time to carve the turkey.  The Redskins turned out to be the turkeys as untested rookie Clint Longley came off the bench to burn the Redskins.  His 50-yard touchdown pass to Drew Pearson with less than a minute left provided the appetite-killing margin of victory.

1.  December 16, 1979, Cowboys 35 – Redskins 34 – It was very simple for the Redskins going into this game.  A win meant the division title.  A loss ended the season.  Up 13 in the fourth quarter thanks to a 66-yard touchdown run from John Riggins, it all looked good.  But in his last career regular season game, Roger Staubach had one more drop of magic left.  He threw a 26-yard scoring pass to Ron Springs to cut it to six with 2:20 left and drove the dagger into the Skins hearts with a seven-yard scoring pass to Tony Hill with less than a minute left.  One final indignity:  after getting the ball to the Dallas 42, Joe Theismann couldn’t get the officials attention to call time out and the clock ran out.  To this day, Mark Moseley claims he would have made the 59-yarder for the win.  You want gut punch?  That’s a gut punch.

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