By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
After a Wild Card playoff win against the Minnesota Vikings, the 1992-93 ‘Skins traveled to San Francisco for a showdown with the 49ers on 9 January 1993.
Washington, the defending Super Bowl champion, had experienced all the post-championship trappings – injuries, inspired opponents and ring-satisfaction - and backed into playoffs with a modest 9-7 record. On the other coast, the 49ers, behind QB Steve Young, had posted a league-best 14-2 record. It was a mismatch on paper. Vegas’ take? Niners -9.5.
San Francisco predictably jumped out to a 17-3 halftime lead. It wouldn’t be that easy though, not against a prideful, veteran opponent and a Hall of Fame coach (Joe Gibbs). The 60-minute game meant the 49ers would get a 60-minute fight.
In the second half, Washington methodically trimmed the 49ers’ lead to 17-13 and grabbed full momentum after recovering a fourth quarter fumble by Young deep in ‘Skins territory. This was it – winning time.
A handful of plays later, the ‘Skins had a first down at the 49ers 24-yard-line. A conservative, bread-and-butter running play was called. At the snap, The Hogs, the most famous offensive line in NFL history, opened a drive-a-truck-through-it hole in the 49ers’ defensive front. As QB Mark Rypien went to hand off to RB Brian Mitchell for a big gain, if not the go-ahead score, the ball slipped from Rypien’s hand, caromed off Mitchell’s leg and was recovered by 49ers LB Mike Walter.
That was effectively it. The 49ers chewed up the clock on the subsequent possession, tacked on a field goal and won 20-13.
I remember three things from the game: the fumble, the hole and the image of an aging, defeated giant. I don’t know if the broken giant appeared after Rypien’s fumble or as the clock expired - the years have contorted the details of the game, among other things. No matter, the image of Joe Jacoby, the ‘Skins icon and player perhaps most synonymous with The Hogs, remains sharp and poignant. He stood, this human mountain, with hand on hips, drenched in sweat and with mud stains all over his uniform. The forlorn look on his face reflected a great champion’s resignation of a defeat much greater than a single contest.
Everything changed after that game. Gibbs resigned a few weeks later. Jacoby hung on for one more season but the franchise cratered to a 4-12 record in 1993 and entered a dark period of losing that it hasn’t consistently escaped to this day.
For me, that final stand of The Hogs and the Joe Gibbs ‘Skins version 1.0 was a line of demarcation. I was no longer the innocent, carefree young lad capable of developing fairytale relationships with his sports heroes. Such bonds, as I’ve learned, are only possible through a child’s mind. I was eight when Jacoby started playing and 20 when the ‘Skins lost to San Francisco in 1993. The boy was gone; the man I’d become, one aware of the real world, acquainted with life issues and dashed with adult cynicism, was emerging. Sports would never be the perfectly filtered allusion it once was; its players would never again be the giants my young mind created. There would never be another Joe Jacoby, even if there was another player who was just like Joe Jacoby.
Right now there’s a 12-year-old kid that’s crafting a comic book hero out of Alex Ovechkin, Manny Machado, Bryce Harper and John Wall. There are 20-somethings for whom Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are beyond reproach. Good for them (and you if you’re one of them). Now in my forties, I’ve formed all my sports heroes - those players who stir raw emotions and remind of more carefree times; there will be no more.
I have one more moment with Jacoby. After being a Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist for the second consecutive time this year, he was passed over. I consider it a great injustice, but one I believe will eventually be righted. And when it does, when “HOF” trails Jacoby’s name, I’ll be overcome with pure, unrestrained joy. I’ll be a kid again, if only for a day.
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