It Wasn’t a Crime Scene, but Perhaps It Should Have Been.

It began as a seemingly innocuous Monday Night Football Game in November 1990 when the Philadelphia Eagles hosted the Washington Redskins. One month earlier, the two teams had met in Landover, Maryland. Washington had won that game 13–7.

That night, the game at Veterans Stadium started like a typical NFC East battle in November. William Frizzell intercepted a Jeff Rutledge pass, and Rutledge led the Washington offense with a touchdown pass in the first quarter.

Photo: The Philadelphia Inquirer

Then it happened like a brutal beating, like a 12-round prize fight where one fighter begins to impose his will on the other by the midway point. By the end of the game, the Eagles had delivered a dominant 28–14 victory that included a Keith Byars touchdown pass to running back Heath Sherman.

Buddy Ryan had molded a defense after the model that he developed in Chicago for the 4–6 defense that won a championship in 1986. The Eagles defense was ferocious. They had a simple formula for dealing with the finesse of NFL offenses of the day.

Inflict pain.

Plenty of it.

Buddy Ryan’s Eagles defenses inflicted a merciless punishment on game day. The Eagles defensive line manufactured its own pressure without needing a blitz, much like the Eagles’ defense of 2023. Reggie White, Clyde Simmons, Jerome Brown, Mike Pitts, and Mike Golic ravaged opposing offensive lines. The Eagles linebackers Seth Joyner, Byron Evans, and Jessie Small were equally relentless in pursuing the ball and always looking to create a turnover. The secondary of Eric Allen, Ben Smith, Wes Hopkins, and heat-seeking missile Andre Waters pulverized opposing wide receivers.

Try to run across the middle, and you are unlikely to run that route again.

Dan Dierdorf, Al Michaels, and Frank Gifford announced the parade of brutality as an injury report that read like a casualty list. Washington running back Gerald Riggs was knocked out with a toe injury. Then a crushing submarine-like blow sent Jeff Rutledge out with a broken thumb.

His backup, Stan Humphries, exited the war zone with a sprained knee. Kick returner Walter Stanley also had a sprained knee, and wide receiver Joe Howard had a concussion. Linebacker Greg Manusky also had a knee injury.

At one point, Eagles Safety William Frizzell walked over to the Washington sideline and yelled, “You need any more body bags?”

The Redskins punter even had to limp off the field.

By the end of the game, Redskins rookie running back Brian Mitchell had to play quarterback for Washington. Ironically, he would play for the Eagles for three seasons and is still the Eagles’ all-time leader in punt return yardage. In the 2003 NFC Championship Game, Mitchell took the opening kickoff back seventy yards to open the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Unfortunately, the second piece of irony would not go in the Eagles’ favor. Eight weeks after the body-bag game, the Eagles and Redskins met again in the 1990 NFC Wildcard Playoffs, a game which Washington won 20–6. The victory was propelled by the Redskins Defense.

Buddy Ryan would never coach another game for the Eagles, fired by Eagles Owner Norman Braman, who Buddy referred to as “the guy in France.”

The Eagles’ defense of the late 1980s and early 1990s would be one of the best in NFL history.
The legend that grew from the best Eagles defense ever formed from devastating shut-down performances like the one at Veteran’s Stadium on November 12, 1990.

Photo: The Philadelphia Inquirer

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