October 30, 2000
Return to Glory
by Ric Sweeney
vs. Washington (October 30, 1988)
Site: The Astrodome
Records: Redskins (5-3); Oilers (5-3)
The NFL reserves primetime for the elite, a showcase for the very best the league has to offer. Not surprisingly, the Oilers, who had sunk to unimagineable depths during the early 80’s, spent most of the decade kicking off while the sun was still in the sky. That all changed in 1988.
It had been six years since Houston last graced the NFL after dark and seven years since their last win at night. But after a divisional playoff run in 1987, the Oilers landed under the lights and proved they belonged.
The Oilers hosted both the Washington Redskins and the ESPN cameras in week 9 in 1988 and only one was shown any kind of hospitality. The Oilers turned four Redskin turnovers into four touchdowns and routed the defending Super Bowl champions, 41-17. It was the Redskins, not the Oilers, who seemed to fade under the bright primetime spotlight.
Ray Childress recovered a Washington fumble midway through the first quarter to set up the Oilers’ first score. It was the first of three recoveries on the night by the former Aggie. Warren Moon hit Ernest Givins for 13 yards to put Houston inside Washington’s 15 before Drew Hill, wide open in the back of the end zone, dropped a sure touchdown. Undaunted, Hill ran the same route two plays later and this time held onto Moon’s pass. The Oilers had struck first and led, 7-0 with 5:53 remaining in the first quarter.
Washington answered. They drove from their 29 to Houston’s 15 before Johnny Meads snuffed out an end-around and sacked Art Monk for a 10-yard loss. William Fuller followed on third down with a sack of Doug Williams. The Redskins were forced to settle for a 46-yard field goal by Chip Lohmiller, making it 7-3.
Moon went back to work, moving the Oilers 78 yards in 8 plays, three of which went to Hill, including the 33-yard score. Houston led, 14-3, with 7:31 left in the half. On the ensuing kickoff, replacement player legacy Eugene Seale smashed Derrick Shepard and jarred loose the football. Eric Fairs pounced on it and Houston’s offense was back in business at the Washington 13. But Alonzo Highsmith fumbled a short pass and Washington avoided an early knock-out punch.
On the Redskins’ ensuing possession, nose tackle Doug Smith nailed Kelvin Bryant in the backfield and safety Jeff Donaldson recovered Bryant’s fumble at the Redskins’ 23. On third down, Moon scrambled 10 to keep the drive alive and an unsportsmanlike penalty on Washington moved the ball to the five and set off a string of flags.
Mike Rozier’s first attempt to hit pay dirt picked up only two yards but the Redskins were penalized for being offsides, putting the ball at the one. On the very next play, however, Jamie Williams was called for offensive pass interference and Houston was back at the 11 facing a second and goal. No problem. Washington helped wipe out the call by holding Curtis Duncan and Houston was back at the one with a fresh set of downs.
After Rozier lost two yards, Moon scrambled for the 3-yard score and with just under two minutes to go in the half, Houston had increased its lead, 21-3.
They weren’t done.
The Oilers’ defense forced a Redskin punt and Moon drove the Oilers back downfield. Three plays and 40 yards later, Tony Zendejas kicked a 41-yard field goal and the Oilers took a 24-3 lead into the locker room.
Houston blew two early chances to increase their lead in the third. Moon was picked off on the team’s opening drive, his only interception of the night, and, after Meads and Childress collaborated on a forced fumble and recovery, the Oilers were unable to move the ball inside Redskin territory.
The Redskins finally responded and the Oilers helped out with a barrage of penalties. First, Steve Brown was called for a 42-yard pass interference infraction. Then Robert Lyles was slapped with a 10-yard holding call. Perhaps taken aback by Houston’s generosity, Washington dropped consecutive passes, one a sure first down, the other a sure touchdown.
Faced with a fourth and 10 at the Houston 31, Washington converted when Bryant caught a Williams pass over the middle and rumbled 30 yards to the Oilers’ 1. Former Super Bowl hero Tim Smith scored on his second attempt and Washington trailed, 24-10.
Houston rebuked another Redskin threat late in the third quarter. Fuller tipped a Williams pass and Smith intercepted, bumbling and stumbling for 20 yards. After another Redskin interference call, Moon hit Hill for their third score of the night, 31-10.
Houston continued their scoring onslaught as the fourth quarter began. Led by Highsmith, who broke two runs of 20 and 21 yards, Zendejas kicked his second field goal, a 39-yarder, to put Houston ahead, 34-10.
After Childress recovered his third fumble, Allen Pinkett ran 16 yards for the Oilers’ final touchdown and Zendejas added the exclamation point, 41-10. The Redskins, led by back-up Mark Rypien, would drive 75 yards on their final series, scoring with 1:34 remaining.
The Oilers’ defense played superb, forcing five turnovers and limiting the Redskins’ offense to just 250 yards, 75 of which came on the game’s final, meaningless drive. The five turnovers led to 31 Oiler points.
Hill enjoyed one of his better games as a pro, catching nine passes for 148 yards. It was the 17th 100-yard game of his career and his first-ever three touchdown performance. Highsmith would record a career high 75 yards on only 8 carries. In addition to his 20 and 21-yard bursts, he also added a 27-yarder, another career high.
The Oilers would make 22 more primetime appearances before moving to Tennessee, including the following week when they made their return to Monday Night Football against the Cleveland Browns. They would split those remaining games, going 11-11, losing their final four after winning five straight between 1990 and 1991.
The 1988 Oilers moved into the second round of the AFC playoffs before losing to Buffalo, 17-10. The Redskins would fall to 7-9, winning just twice more in 1988. It was their first losing season since 1980. But the champs left Houston with renewed respect for the Oilers.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for the Oilers after tonight,” said Houston resident Dexter Manley. “They’re for real.”
For one night at least, he was right.
GAME STATS Redskins Oilers First Downs 16 21 Rushing Yards 29 152 Passing Yards 221 184 Passes 27/47 19/31 Turnovers 6 2 Punts 6/39 6/33 Penalty Yards ? ?
Week 9 Eugene Seale leads the charge into primetime. Final Score Houston Oilers 41 Washington 17 Game Notes
Houston’s victory against the Redskins was their first of the year against a team with a winning record.
Drew Hill’s fourth catch of the night gave him 204 for his Oiler career, moving him into third place all-time ahead of Tim Smith. Hill would finish his Oiler career in second place with 480. Tony Zendejas, who kicked three field goals, was traded to Houston from the Redskins in 1985 for a fifth-round pick. The Dream Season Week Opponent Result 01 @ Oakland 37-22 02 @ Cleveland 16-7 03 NY Jets 26-20 04 @ Cincinnati 30-27 05 Denver 42-14 06 @ New England 28-14 07 @ Buffalo 28-16 08 @ Pittsburgh 24-17 09 Washington 41-17 10 NY Titans 49-13 11 @ New England 26-23 12 Miami 35-30 13 @ Dallas 30-24 14 Pittsburgh 31-6 15 @ San Francisco 10-7 16 @ Baltimore 24-21 17 Bye Week N/A 18 @ Cleveland 24-23 19 @ San Diego 17-14 20 LA Chargers 24-16 RETURN TO THE DREAM SEASON