Monday’s game against the Eagles marks the 10th time the Redskins are kicking off a season under the lights on Monday night.
They’ve won twice before, 35-16 over the Cowboys in 1993 and 24-21 over the Vikings in 1972. The win against Dallas was a tease in a forgettable 4-12 season, but beating Minnesota set the tone for a year when the Redskins ended up playing in their first Super Bowl.
Monday night football, in its third season by 1972, was already a national spectacle. The new and bold form of TV entertainment, which then aired on ABC, featured the loquacious and controversial Howard Cosell, jokester “Dandy” Don Meredith and monotone-speaking Frank Gifford in the booth.
“We were the team to be seen on Monday nights,” said Brig Owens, a Redskins safety at the time. “At one point, we had the most Monday night appearances of any other team.”
Their third Monday night showing came on Sept. 18, 1972 at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn. That night, the Redskins beat Minnesota largely on the strength of their special teams, an engine of the George Allen-coached Redskin squads of the 1970s.
At the time, most teams put little emphasis on the concept of special teams. Allen, a pioneer in that facet of the game, lunged at the chance to gain an edge.
Allen depended on special teams for at least two wins per season. His men responded by influencing games with blocked kicks, clutch kick returns and forced turnovers.
The Vikings game was no different. Redskin special teams had a hand in 17 points, with Bill Malinchak, a reserve wide receiver reactivated before the game after going unclaimed on waivers, leading the way.
Early in the game, Malinchak charged in from the right side, blocked a punt squarely in the chest, scooped up the loose ball and ran 16 yards into the end zone for a 7-0 lead. Washington’s offense was sluggish, though, and the Vikings took a 14-10 lead into the fourth quarter.
But the offense came alive to produce a 58-yard scoring drive.
Quarterback Billy Kilmer, who completed only five of his first 13 passes with an interception, hit receiver Roy Jefferson on a 16-yard third-down pass, and running back Larry Brown ran 14 yards for another third-down conversion. Brown ended the drive with a three-yard scoring run.
Minnesota fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Malinchak again made the highlight reels by recovering the ball deep in Vikings territory. That set up fullback Charley Harraway’s nine-yard scoring run with about three minutes left. Ball game.
After beating the Vikings, the Redskins charged up the Metropolitan Stadium ramp and shouted, “We’re on our way.” Malinchak received a game ball, and one of his special teams buddies, Ted Vactor, earned kudos for deflecting a 43-yard field goal attempt.
The Redskins defeated Atlanta, 24-13, in their other Monday night game that season as part of a nine-game win streak that secured the NFC East title. They crushed the Packers and Cowboys in the playoffs before losing to Miami, 14-7, in Super Bowl VII.
Reflecting back, Owens said he and his teammates saw nothing special in playing on Monday nights. To him, it was “just another game.” He recalled, however, that Allen reveled in making Monday night appearances.
“George would press the fact that the nation is watching us,” Owens said of the Redskins’ famed coach. “He thought everyone around the country wants to see what the Redskins are going to do. So he made it really extra special.”
Mike Richman is the author of The Redskins Encyclopedia and the Washington Redskins Football Vault. His web site is redskinshistorian.com. Check out his Facebook Friend and Fan pages and follow him on Twitter.