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The Story Behind the 'Body Bag Game'

By Ryan Shute, Sports Talk Philly staff writer 

The 166th overall meeting between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins will take place at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. The Redskins lead the series, leaving the Birds with an all-time head-to-head record 74-85-6.

This will mark the clubs second matchup on the year, with Washington taking the first one on their home field by a 27-20 score.

The Redskins truly dominated that game from start to finish and it wasn’t as close of a game as the scoreboard indicated in large part due to the Redskins pass rushing attack led by linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. Kerrigan added to 2.5 sacks that day to his now career total of 57.5.

The Eagles offensive line was never adequately able to protect quarterback Carson Wentz, as he was sacked a total of five times and was never really given time to effectively throw the football. When he did have his chances, he only completed 11 of his 22 passes and the offense was unable to register a single point in the game.

After being down 14-0 in the second quarter, Wendell Smallwood got the Eagles on the board with an 86-yard kickoff return which was followed by a Malcolm Jenkins interception return for a touchdown that knotted the game at 14-14.

But the defense could not hold up on the ensuing Redskins drive, which ended with running back Matt Jones running in from one yard out to put Washington back up by seven and take the 21-14 lead into halftime.

Kicker Caleb Sturgis and his Redskins counterpart Dustin Hopkins would each kick two field goals in the second half and that would conclude all the scoring.

The Birds and Skins played in one of the most eventful games in not just the history of their long standing rivalry, but maybe even one of the most eventful games in the history of the NFL. The game went down under the bright lights of Monday Night Football at Veterans Stadium back in November of 1990 in the matchup known as the "Body Bag Game."

Here are the things that most fans do remember and discuss to this day about the "Body Bag Game":

  • The reason it was called the "Body Bag Game" is because of the number of Redskins that were injured and taken off the field as the Eagles were delivering punishing hits. The six injured Redskins were quarterbacks Jeff Rutledge and Stan Humphries, running back Gerald Riggs, linebacker Greg Manusky, return man Walter Stanley, and last but not least the man who was taken off the field on a stretcher, receiver Joe Howard.

  • With the Eagles knocking Rutledge and Humphries out of the game and regular starting quarterback Mark Rypien already unavailable due to a previous injury, rookie Brian Mitchell had to come in as the emergency quarterback for Washington to get through the game. Mitchell went on to have a great career in the NFL as one of the greatest return specialists of all-time. Mitchell would eventually become an Eagle later in his career, spending three of his 14 seasons in Philadelphia.

  • It is simply remembered that the Eagles did indeed win the football game.

But if you don’t remember exactly what happened in the actual football portion that was played that evening, here are some of the notable happenings that some may not remember or may have never known at all.

  • As usual in the Buddy Ryan era, the Birds would get points from their defense causing turnovers. Defensive back William Frizzell picked off Rutledge and returned the ball 30 yards to the end zone while defensive end Clyde Simmons scooped and scored on a fumble forced by Wes Hopkins’ sack.

  • The offensive star of the game was undoubtedly Eagles running back Heath Sherman. The possible reasons for anybody in 2016 to even recognize the name Heath Sherman could be that they covered the NFL back in the late 80s/early 90s, they are a die-hard fan of either the Eagles or Sherman’s alma mater Texas A&M-Kingsville, or perhaps they played a lot of Tecmo Super Bowl on the original Nintendo Entertainment System as the Eagles. Those of us who have played that video game know all too well that injuries are inevitable in season mode and you will resort to having to use second, third or even fourth string players.

    Okay, let’s get back to Heath Sherman. Sherman would have an outstanding game on the ground recording a career high in both rushing attempts and yards, carrying the ball 35 times for 124 yards. Despite all the chaos Sherman caused in the running game, he wouldn’t have a rushing touchdown, but would find the end zone twice as a receiver. One of his touchdowns came on a play that included some trickery.

  • In the third quarter, the Eagles possessed the ball on the Washington 9-yard line for a first and goal moving left to right. The Birds came out of the huddle in the I-Formation with running back Keith Byars in the backfield with Sherman. Quarterback Randall Cunningham called Sherman into motion to his left, essentially putting Sherman in a wide receiver position. Cunningham took the snap and pitched the ball to Byars who would started rushing left like an ordinary toss play. As Byars was about to turn the corner and start heading up field, he then pulled up just before crossing the line of scrimmage and threw a halfback pass to an open Sherman inside the end zone for a touchdown. The play worked out just as they drew it up.

So there was a football game played that night and the final score of the Body Bag Game would be with the Eagles coming out on top, 28-14.

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