After still another disappointing season for our local football team, it’s easy for Washington-area football fans to forget the days when we had something to cheer about. Yet it was 30 years ago today—January 26, 1992—that the burgundy and gold beat the Buffalo Bills by a 37-24 score to win Super Bowl XXVI in Minneapolis. It was the then-proud franchise’s third Super Bowl championship over the prior ten seasons, and it would also be its last. For a look back on our city’s last NFL victory, Washingtonian spoke with Charley Casserly, who as general manager assembled the Super Bowl-winning roster. (This transcript has been edited for clarity.)
What were some of the off-season personnel moves you made prior to the start of the 1991 season to put the team in position for a strong year?
It was over a period of, like, two years. We added Ricky Ervins on offense; he was our leading rusher in the playoffs. He gave us speed on the outside, which is something that gave us a dimension we didn’t have. We added Ron Middleton as a blocking tight end. [Veteran tight end] Donnie Warren had a great career but when Middleton was in there, we averaged 20 more yards a game rushing the ball. So he was a guy we added. We added Brian Mitchell, who obviously was at that point a great returner for us. Defensively, there were some major changes. [We brought in defensive lineman] Jumpy Geathers. We brought in [defensive end] Fred Stokes from the Rams in [free agency]. And then obviously, the coaching staff was a Hall of Fame coaching staff. I mean, we had a phenomenal coaching staff.
When you looked at that roster going into the 1991 season, did you think you had a championship team?
You know, [then-head Coach Joe] Gibbs never looked at it that way. We knew we had a good chance. But to just sit there and say, “Hey, this is the year we go 14-2 and almost undefeated?” No. You just know you have a good team and you prepare, right? [Gibbs] would always talk about, “Let’s win the division. Let’s get home-field advantage. And let’s go from there.” Now, here’s the thing you got to know. We played Buffalo in the last preseason game and we stunk up the joint. So on the plane ride back, I thought it was tense. We knew we didn’t play good. There was an edge to us. So that’s kind of how I saw the team going in. We’re not sitting there saying “We’re panicked.” But we knew we had to play better.
At what point during the season did you think you might have something special here with this team?
I don’t know if you ever think that way. That September, we had a close one with Dallas. And Cincinnati, we had a close one with them. So we’re winning close games, but it just kind of gradually built. It’s one thing to look at it in retrospect, but when you’re doing it, it’s week to week. And it just seemed like everything flowed effortlessly, as far as the teamwork went. Everybody was on the same page. Practices were great. Everything just got on a roll.
The offensive line was particularly good that year. As I recall, quarterback Mark Rypien only got sacked a handful of times during the entire season.
He was sacked seven times [out of about] 420 passes. Seven times. That’s once every 60 passes. That’s a guy going full games and not being touched. We played the Giants twice. So that’s [playing against] Lawrence Taylor. That’s Carl Banks. That’s Leonard Marshall. Then you go play the Eagles; you got Reggie White—and Reggie lined up in different spots too, so. And then we played Buffalo and they had Bruce Smith and Cornelius Bennett. Yeah, so you had all that, that’s who you played during the course of the season [when Washington’s football team allowed such few sacks].
How did you celebrate the Super Bowl win?
This is the God’s honest story. [Quarterback Mark] Rypien was on a one-year contract. So I’m in the locker room after the game, and I got a writer saying, “Well, what are you gonna do about Rypien with his contract?” I says, “Well, let’s get out of the locker room. Let’s start with that.” I remember riding back with some of the coaches to the hotel. You know, a guy like Jim Hanifan who had been in this career forever and this was his first Super Bowl. He was excited about that. It was a celebration, everybody was happy.
What do you think that the ’91 team isn’t more often recognized as one of the NFL’s all-time best teams?
There’s been recognition through the years, but I think why it never got as much recognition is [Head Coach] Joe [Gibbs] was not a guy that to go out there and pump his chest. The players followed his lead. We had a lot of great players, [wide receiver Art] Monk and [wide receiver Gary] Clark and [aide receive Ricky] Sanders. But when your offensive line is the headline of the team, so to speak, that’s not Joe Montana, or Jerry Rice or something like that. So I think that’s where the team has not gotten the recognition that [it might otherwise have.]