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Pro Football / Week 6 | PHILADELPHIA 17, WASHINGTON
12

The Battle for No. 1 Takes On New Meaning

October 12, 1998|DIANE PUCIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PHILADELPHIA — Veterans Stadium was full and nobody could quite figure out why.

"Free tickets, that's why I'm here and I'm still asking myself when I'm gonna get a life," Dan Palumbo, a 26-year-old construction worker, said Sunday afternoon.

Palumbo was wearing a torn T-shirt, holding a beer in each hand, and he was standing outside the Vet yelling, "Let's go Flyers."

For only the sixth time in NFL history--and for the first time in the NFC East --two 0-5 football teams played.

The sun was out, which seemed wrong somehow, when the Philadelphia Eagles tiptoed gingerly onto their home field, uncertain if they would be cheered, jeered, or pelted with batteries, which has actually happened to teams, visiting and home, here.

The Eagles ended up with a 17-12 victory over the Washington Redskins, who have been even more pitiful than the Eagles, particularly considering the Redskins had invested $57 million in free agents Dana Stubblefield and Dan Wilkinson.

The idea was that adding two key players would finally push the Redskins into the playoffs for Coach Norv Turner.

It hasn't turned out that way.

Sunday's game was a battle of the two most pathetic teams in the NFL's most pathetic division, and the infamy is building.

"Go home ya stinkin' losers," harangued a proud Eagle fan who was quickly shushed by his friend.

"We ain't much better," the friend said.

And indeed there was little glory for anyone.

The two coaches, Turner and Philadelphia's Ray Rhodes, are both barely hanging onto jobs that neither seems absolutely convinced he wants, which is OK because it's possible neither might finish the season.

It has been speculated in both Washington and Philadelphia that each coach will either quit or be fired when the teams reach their bye weeks.

Rodney Peete, the Eagles' starting quarterback for this game, has in the past replaced Randall Cunningham and Ty Detmer. Against the Redskins, Peete, a 10-year NFL veteran of little distinction but with a Hollywood wife named Holly Robinson, was replacing Bobby Hoying, a boy wonder last year and a boy failure this season.

If Peete was no star (15 for 28 for 121 yards, one touchdown) he did not do anything too foolish. He did not, in other words, lose the game.

Starting for the Redskins was Trent Green, who once turned, slipped and fell on his rear right on the nose of the mean-eyed Eagle which is painted onto the threadbare Vet carpet.

Someone thought they heard the Eagle snicker. Green (12 for 21, 115 yards) was hapless enough to be replaced by the man he had already replaced, Gus Frerotte.

"I wish I was a genie," Redskin running back Brian Mitchell said, "and I could just wiggle my nose and make it go away."

Whether he meant make his nose go away, or the Redskins, or their 0-6 record or all of it was unclear.

"This is one of my worst nightmares," Green, the quarterback, said. "To think we could start out 0-6."

And actually things were no cheerier on the winner's side.

"It wasn't a pretty sight," Rhodes said. "We got our first win of the year. But it's not a big step from 0-5 to 1-5."

As Eagle wide receiver Irving Fryar pointed out, "We still made mistakes, still had some broken plays, still took some sacks and dropped some balls. A lot of things didn't go right. But we did just enough right to win."

Indeed there was not a lot of back-slapping jubilation in the winner's locker room and not a tremendous amount of despair in the loser's locker room. What would be the point?

When Rhodes led the Eagles to the playoffs with many of the same players that ex-coach Rich Kotite had failed miserably with, Rhodes was tagged as one of the league's bright new leaders and was considered a hero in Philadelphia, which appreciated Rhodes rough language and straight talk. Turner was considered a genius, too, an intelligent and polished student of Jimmy Johnson in Dallas.

That was then.

This is now.

Washington and Philadelphia have contributed no wins and seven losses to a 4-14 record for NFC East teams against non-division opposition.

The only other winless team going into Sunday's games was Carolina and, heck, the Panthers led the NFC East-leading Cowboys for a while on Sunday.

"It's bad," Mitchell said. "It's real bad. It's embarrassing for two teams that are used to better."

Most of the Philly fans had cleared out with about five minutes left in the game, content, apparently, to have seen the Eagles at least lead a game. The Redskins must go home now and wait. Wait for the Eagles to come to town. Wait for win No. 1.

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