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Didinger: The Body Bag Game

Posted Nov 14, 2013

Eagles History

It is one of the most mind-boggling statistics in sports - the Eagles have lost a franchise-record 10 consecutive games at home. There was a time when the Eagles had one of the best homefield advantages in the NFL. No one wanted to come to Philadelphia and face the Eagles and, more specifically, their fans.

Maybe the Eagles will turn things around Sunday when the Washington Redskins visit Lincoln Financial Field. Perhaps the Eagles can set the mood by showing highlights of the November 12, 1990 game between the Eagles and Redskins at Veterans Stadium. If that doesn't get the crowd going, nothing will.

Eagles fans remember it as "The Body Bag Game." The Redskins remember it as one of the most painful nights in franchise history.

The Eagles won the game, 28-14, but that's not what most fans remember. They remember the sight of one Washington player after another being helped off the field. The Redskins lost six players to injury that night. At one point, Eagles safety William Frizzell turned to the Washington bench and asked: "You need any more body bags?" That's how the game got its name.

Here is the casualty report: Quarterback Jeff Rutledge (broken thumb), quarterback Stan Humphries (sprained knee), running back Gerald Riggs (sprained foot), kick returner Walter Stanley (sprained knee), wide receiver Joe Howard (concussion) and linebacker Greg Manusky (sprained knee). All left the game. Howard was carried off on a stretcher.

"This was a big setback for us," Washington coach Joe Gibbs said. "We not only lost the game but we got a lot of people hurt. I don't think I've ever been involved in a game where so many players went down. It seemed like every play."

Body Bag Game

The Vet could be a scary place and it was particularly true that night. The crowd always seemed louder for night games and the atmosphere in the stadium more intimidating. The fans got fired up for the national showcase of Monday Night Football. Visiting teams knew what they were walking into. It was a hostile place, especially in those years when the fans fed off the emotion of Buddy Ryan's defense.

This was a very big game. Three weeks earlier, the Redskins defeated the Eagles, 13-7, in Washington, dropping the Eagles' record to 2-4. But coming into the rematch, the Eagles had won two in a row and were building momentum. They were just one game behind Washington in the NFC East.

"They'll be ready for us," Gibbs said. "We have to be ready for them."

The game started badly for Washington as Frizzell intercepted a Rutledge pass and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown. Later, Wes Hopkins sacked Rutledge and forced a fumble that Clyde Simmons returned 18 yards for another touchdown. Rutledge broke his thumb on the play and left the game. Humphries replaced him but he, too, went down.

The injuries kept piling up, one after another. On the Monday night telecast, Dan Dierdorf said: "What a nightmare for the Washington Redskins."

"When we're playing like that, we're scary," defensive tackle Mike Golic said. "We showed the whole package tonight. You could see it in their eyes, the way we were dominating them."

Running back Heath Sherman had a career game. He carried the ball 35 times, tying the club record set by the great Steve Van Buren, and gained 124 yards. Sherman also caught two touchdown passes, one from Randall Cunningham, the other from Keith Byars.

But when Eagles fans talk about that game, they talk about the feeding frenzy of the Gang Green defense. The Eagles recorded three sacks and forced three turnovers, including Reggie White's first career interception, and scored two defensive touchdowns.

Eagles fans also remember how the game ended: With rookie Brian Mitchell playing quarterback for Washington. The Redskins had no other options with Mark Rypien sidelined and Rutledge and Humphries knocked out of the game. Mitchell was a quarterback in college (Southwest Louisiana) who made the Redskins roster as a kick returner, but he was pressed into service at quarterback that night.

"Joe (Gibbs) said, 'Just do the best you can,'" said Mitchell, who later starred as a kick returner with the Eagles. "Obviously, I hadn't practiced (at quarterback) and I was going up against Reggie White, Jerome Brown and those guys."

Mitchell did well considering the circumstances. He completed three of six passes for 40 yards, gained 11 yards on two carries and led Washington's only touchdown drive, scoring on a 1-yard run late in the game.

"The next morning, our phone lines lit up like you wouldn't believe," said WIP morning show host Angelo Cataldi. "People couldn't wait to talk about the game. They loved that the Eagles kicked the crap out of the Redskins. That's when I realized there is a different set of rules in Philadelphia. It's not just about winning games, it's about proving your manhood."

An award-winning writer and producer, Ray Didinger was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995. He has also won six Emmy Awards for his work as a writer and producer at NFL Films. The five-time Pennsylvania Sportswriter of the Year is a writer and analyst for Comcast SportsNet. Didinger will provide Eagles fans a unique historical perspective on the team throughout the season for PhiladelphiaEagles.com. You can read all of his Eagles History columns here.

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