The Nine Best Wins In The Modern Era Of The Washington Redskins

An era ended this week when the Washington professional football franchise decided to retire the “Redskins” nickname. Whether you find that decision lamentable and unnecessary, as I do, or enlightened and overdue as others may, we now have a clearly delineated era of Washington Redskins football to unpack. So today’s Notebook Nine will focus on the nine best victories in Washington Redskins history.

Two notes before we begin. The first is that the list is restricted to games no earlier than the late 1970s. TheSportsNotebook has an introductory video where I explain why this is the case, but the short version is this—I want to keep the focus on games I can actually remember watching. There’s no disrespect intended to the earlier era.

The other note is that all the games on the list are Super Bowls or playoff games. I trust the reason why I consider those the biggest is self-evident. Although it pains me enough to leave off some of the big regular season wins that a separate Notebook Nine devoted to those will soon be forthcoming.

With the caveats out of the way, let’s dive into the nine best Redskins wins of the modern era…



It’s easy enough to pick the three Super Bowl wins under Joe Gibbs as the top three. And ranking one of them is also pretty easy. The 1987 title has to rank #3. Not that it wasn’t sweet, but the other two championships have very distinctive features.

The 1982 title was the first one, it was punctuated by a memorable Super Bowl performance by John Riggins and Riggo’s 43-yard touchdown jaunt on 4th-and-1 in the fourth quarter remains a run for the ages. The 1991 title wasn’t as dramatic, but capped off a run for a team that is arguably the greatest of all time.

1)1982: Redskins 27 Dolphins 17—I’m going with the first one for the reasons listed above. And while the ’82 Redskins aren’t included among history’s all-time great champions, part of the reason for that is the strike that limited the regular season to nine games. But this ‘Skins edition went 8-1, then swept through an expanded 16-team playoff bracket. Combine that with it being the first championship and I think it deserves to be at the top of the list.

2)1991: Redskins 37 Bills 24—This game wasn’t as close as the score makes it look (and even that isn’t all that close). The ‘Skins led 37-10 in the second half before Buffalo tacked on a couple TDs in garbage time. It’s also worth pointing out that the Redskins and Bills distinguished themselves very early in the season as the class of their respective conferences and this was a matchup anticipated as early as October. And the ‘Skins still demolished a team that had Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed and Bruce Smith, among others.

3)1987: Redskins 42 Broncos 10—This game got off to a rough start. John Elway hit Ricky Nattiel on a long touchdown pass to start the scoring. Denver added a field goal and Redskins QB Doug Williams sprained his ankle. But Williams came back, the ‘Skins unloaded for a record-breaking 35 points in the second quarter and Williams became the first black quarterback to win the Super Bowl.


First, a shoutout to the 1972 Redskins, who also won the NFC title. I was only two years old when this happened, so it’s not officially in the rankings, but a 26-3 demolishing of Dallas to get to a Super Bowl would surely be on the list if it qualified.

1982: Redskins 31 Cowboys 17–On the ten-year anniversary of that ’72 team, there was another Redskins-Cowboys game at RFK Stadium with a Super Bowl trip on the line. The ‘Skins dominated the line of scrimmage, knocked Dallas quarterback Danny White out of the game and led 24-17 late in the fourth quarter. Defensive tackle Daryl Grant sealed the win when he tipped a pass, caught it and got into the end zone.

1987: Redskins 17 Vikings 10—This wasn’t the prettiest of football games ever played. Hall of Fame corner Darrell Green was the story. Playing with an injured rib cage he kept Minnesota’s explosive receiver Anthony Carter from going off. And on a fourth-down throw into the end zone in the closing moments, Green jarred the ball loose from running back Darrin Nelson to secure the win.

1991: Redskins 41 Lions 10—Demolition, pure and simple. Detroit might not have the most storied of histories, but this Lion team had gone 12-4, earned the 2-seed in the NFC playoffs and crushed Dallas the week before. Detroit had Barry Sanders in the backfield, in the midst of a 1990s run where they were generally pretty good.

1983: Redskins 24 49ers 21—Beating Bill Walsh and Joe Montana on a last-second field goal should probably rank higher. But it doesn’t, and not just because this is the one NFC Championship Game win that didn’t lead to a Lombardi Trophy. The ‘Skins blew a 21-0 lead and needed a couple controversial pass interference calls to get in position for the winning kick. But in the end, it’s still an NFC Championship and it’s still beating the ‘80s Niners so it deserves a place on the list.





1986-1987: Beating The Bears In Chicago—I’m going to cheat and include two games under one heading. For two straight years, the Redskins went to Soldier Field as at least a touchdown underdog. Both times they won. In 1986, they took over the second half and won 27-13. 1987 was a terrific game. After spotting the Bears a 14-0 lead, the ‘Skins rallied to win 21-17. The winning play was a punt return by Green for a touchdown.

1990: Payback In Philadelphia—This was in the wild-card round, but it’s sweet enough to rank ahead of divisional round wins in 1982, 1983 and 1991. Earlier in the 1990 season, the Eagles humiliated the Redskins on a Monday Night, knocking out their quarterbacks and calling it “The Bodybag Game.” Playing on the road, Washington was an underdog in this playoff game. They started slowly, but again took over the second half and won 20-6.

And there’s our nine. There wasn’t room for everything. The first two wins of the 1982 run against the Lions and Vikings were fairly standard. A 51-7 blowout of the Rams in the divisional round of 1983 was electric, but a decisive win had been expected. The ‘Skins later beat the Rams again in the wild-card game of 1986.

Since the end of Joe Gibbs’ first term (1981-92) there were only two playoff wins for the Redskins. And one of them came in Gibbs’ second term (2004-07), in 2005. The other was a wild-card round win under Norv Turner in 1999, again over Detroit. It’s been a long time in the wilderness.

So for fellow Redskins fans who lament the name change, I offer this—we’ve gotten used to living on memories from days gone by for a long time. It’s not like anything major has changed.