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Washington Redskins History

The modern era of the Washington Redskins has had two significant eras. The first came when George Allen arrived in the nation’s capital to take over a franchise that had gone through rough times for the better part of two decades.

Allen, with a track record as defensive coordinator for George “Papa Bear” Halas in Chicago and then a winning head coach in his own right with the Los Angeles Rams, came to Washington and began cleaning house. He traded draft picks for veterans and the Redskins of the 1970s became known as “The Over The Hill Gang”. Allen coached the Redskins from 1971-77, a winning stretch that included the franchise’s first Super Bowl appearance.

But in the pantheon of Redskins history, the Allen Era is simply the appetizer. The real meal came when Joe Gibbs arrived in 1981. For the next twelve years, the Washington Redskins were routinely among the league’s elite. They went to four Super Bowls and won three of them. They had a clear identity behind a physical offensive line known as “The Hogs.” 1981-92 were the glory years of professional football in Washington D.C.

TheSportsNotebook has compiled a series of articles that capture the highs and lows of both eras. Each season has its own narrative, a game-by-game recapping of the season along with discussion of the best players and an examination of how the playoff race each year unfolded. The articles are a great way to see how the season looked to fans in the moment, as well as from the eyes of history.


1971: In his first year on the scene, George Allen puts the Redskins in the playoffs—including an exciting Monday Night battle in his old stomping grounds of Los Angeles that sealed it. Read the season-long narrative.

1972: The ’72 Redskins built off the success of the first year and took the next step. They won the NFC East, then defeated the Packers and Cowboys in the playoffs to reach the Super Bowl. Only the undefeated Miami Dolphins could stop them. Read the season-long narrative.   

1973: A return trip to the Super Bowl wasn’t in the cards, but the Redskins again made the playoffs and in an era when only four teams per conference qualified. A merry-go-around at quarterback held them back from greater heights. Read the season-long narrative.

1974: Sonny Jurgensen is a Redskins legend and at age 40, the Hall of Fame quarterback came off the bench in relief to deliver memorable moments and another playoff trip in his last ride. Read the season-long narrative.

1975: The string of playoff berths came to an end in a tough three-team race with the St. Louis Cardinals and Cowboys. A bitter loss at Dallas in the penultimate game of the season was the dagger blow. Read the season-long narrative.

1976: Another aging quarterback, this time 37-year-old Billy Kilmer had his own glorious last run in 1976. The tough quarterback pulled out several big performances that helped the Redskins get back in the playoffs. Read the season-long narrative.  

 1977: Tension was building between Allen, who wanted to stick with his veterans and an emerging GM named Bobby Beathard who wanted to get younger. The Redskins still had a good year, but a pair of aggravating losses to a bad New York Giants team cost them the playoffs. Read the season-long narrative.


There were three years in between the departure of Allen and the arrival of Gibbs. And those three seasons under Jack Pardee produced some epic memories—albeit not the kind that Redskins fans look back fondly on.

1978: With Pardee at the helm and Joe Theismann installed at quarterback, the ‘Skins came blazing out of the gates at 6-0. But they collapsed and finished 8-8, including bad losses to Atlanta and Chicago at the end. Read the season-long narrative.

1979:  In the annals of heartbreaks, the ’79 Redskins have to be at the top of the list. They were in position to be the #1 seed in the NFC playoffs. Instead, a crazy sequence of events in the final week left them home for Christmas. Read the season-long narrative

1980: After three straight years of missing the playoffs in the final week, the ’80 Redskins gave the fan base a break—by never contending at all. A six-win season spelled the end for Pardee. Read the season-long narrative.


1981: The new era didn’t exactly start off well—Gibbs lost his first five games. But the 1981 season ended with a flourish. The Redskins rallied to 8-8 and had momentum going into Year Two. Read the season-long narrative.

1982: It was a strike-torn year with only nine regular season games and an expanded 16-team playoff bracket. But no one cared in Washington D.C. The ‘Skins went 8-1 and then ripped through the Lions, Vikings, Cowboys and Dolphins behind big John Riggins to win their first Super Bowl. Read the season-long narrative.

1983: They were explosive and fantastic. Theismann won the MVP award, the Redskins won 14 games, blew out the Rams in the playoffs and had the 49ers buried. But they barely hung on against San Francisco and then came apart in the Super Bowl. Read the season-long narrative.

1984: Early losses to Miami and San Francisco indicated Washington had slipped a notch behind the elite. But the Redskins still won one of the most exciting NFC East races ever, a four-team affair that came down to a final battle in old RFK Stadium. Read the season-long narrative.

1985: It was a bridge year, as key personnel was replaced—notably Theismann, whose career ended with a horrific Monday Night injury. But Gibbs still won 10 games and almost snuck into the playoffs at the very end. Read the season-long narrative.

1986: The ‘Skins came back with a vengeance. They won 12 games. They dismantled Eric Dickerson and the Rams in the playoffs, then upset the defending champion Bears. The only team the ’86 Redskins couldn’t beat was the Giants. Read the season-long narrative.

1987: Another strike year was bad for fans, but great for the Redskins. They went 8-4 in games played by regulars, but swept all three played with replacements. A late-season quarterback change to Doug Williams led to history—another upset of the Bears and Williams became the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Read the season-long narrative.

1988: It was the worst season of the era, as the Redskins were inconsistent at the beginning and played poorly down the stretch. Only a heartening upset at eventual NFC East champ Philadelphia late in the year was salvageable. Read the season-long narrative.

1989: There were heartbreaking losses at home to the Giants and Eagles. There was an unthinkable loss at home to the winless Cowboys. But there were also five straight wins to close the year, a 10-6 record and a sense that the team was back on track. Read the season-long narrative.

1990: It wasn’t always easy. There was more heartbreak against the Giants and national TV debacles at Philly and Dallas. But there were clutch wins over the Bears and Dolphins, another 10-6 season and a return trip to the playoffs. Read the season-long narrative.

1991: What more can you say but G.O.A.T.? They were dominant in all three phases, offense, defense and special teams. There were stunning displays of excellence in prime-time games. And an easy run through the postseason brought a third Super Bowl trophy to Washington. Read the season-long narrative.

1992: An up-and-down year had the defending champs on the verge of missing the playoffs. But they won a fantastic late Sunday afternoon game over the Cowboys and got the help necessary in the final week to make the postseason one last time before Gibbs retired. Read the season-long narrative.


The success was over, but the era wasn’t quite finished. There were two more seasons that drew the final curtain down…

1993: Defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon got the head job, but the roster was aging and the timing wasn’t right. A stunning Monday Night blowout of Dallas to start the year proved to be illusory. The ‘Skins went 3-13 and ownership began a wholesale makeover. Read the season-long narrative.

1996: RFK Stadium, located in the heart of D.C., is inextricably tied up with the greatest years of the Redskins. ’96 marked the final year for RFK. A 7-1 start to the season made it look like RFK might get one more playoff appearance. But it faded to a 9-7 finish—although a blowout of Dallas to end the great stadium’s career was a fitting conclusion. Read the season-long narrative.