Over the next few weeks we will be looking back on some Redskins greats for their heroics on the field as well as off of it. Today, Redskins.com intern Jamie Lockie retells the tail of running back Joe Washington.
Long before the days of aggressive aerial attacks and passing records being set to only be shattered weeks later, the National Football league was scattered with a plethora of talented tailbacks in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Teams would anchor their offenses around a premier back that carried the brunt of the load.
The Washington Redskins, however, weren’t one of these teams.
Instead with the greatest offensive line in league history paving the way, the Burgundy and Gold incorporated a running back by committee approach into their plans. While Hall of Famer John Riggins was setting records and barreling over opponents, the efforts of Joe Washington was just as important in the Redskins getting their first Lombardi Trophy.
During the late 1960’s the Oklahoma Sooners struggled to match their success from the decade prior, as they lose 30 more games in the 10-year span.
Without an undefeated season since 1956, the Sooners were looking for anything to jumpstart the program. That’s when Washington comes into play.
After landing Washington in the early 1970’s, head coach Barry Switzer knew that he had something special.
Oklahoma would defeat Penn State in the Sugar Bowl to conclude the 1972 season, a victory that would catapult the program back to the top of the college football heap.
Over the next two years, Oklahoma piled up win after win, failing to lose a single game. Washington eclipsed the 1,000 yard and double digit touchdown mark each season. His determination to win every game lead Switzer to call him his greatest player.
“I never thought I had limits. I could get in and out of places that other guys couldn’t dream of. My feet had a mind of their own.”
After twice being a Heisman finalist and landing a spot on the All-American team, it was time for the running back to take his talents to the NFL.
Washington was drafted fourth overall in the first round of the 1976 NFL draft by the Chargers. A month prior to the start of the 1978 season, though, he was traded to Baltimore Colts for Lydell Mitchell.
11 years after Hall of Famer Lenny Moore hung up his Colts helmet for the final time, the franchise was looked to Washington to fill his shoes. While Moore had been a seven-time Pro Bowler, his biggest accomplishment might have been being Washington’s idol.
“He was the reason I wore No. 24 in high school and college,” Washington said. “Lenny asked me if I wanted to wear it anyway,” said Washington, who respectfully declined. He wore No. 20 instead.
Washington was with the Baltimore Colts when he made his only Pro Bowl appearance in 1979 . He led the NFL that season with 82 receptions for 750 yards, and had 242 carries for 884 yards and seven touchdowns.
He cherished his time with the Colts because they were his team while growing up in Texas in the 1960s.
“They were the epitome of what the NFL was all about,” he said. “In fourth grade, I won a local punt, pass and kick contest. First prize was a Colts jacket. I wore that thing forever and a day. I even wore it to bed. Still have it, too.”
In 1981, he was traded to the Washington Redskins. His hope was the Redskins would do as well on Sundays as the Sooners did when he played for them.
Joe Washington and Terry Metcalf, referred to as the “TNT Twins” because of how almost identical they are as a running back tandem, were a huge role in the ‘81 Redskins success. In Washington’s first season in our Nation’s Capital he lead the team in rushing yards with 916.
Washington was also reportedly the only player who did not wear the 1982 Redskins logo on his helmet. He used the logo the Redskins had used from 1972–1981 and 1983 to present.
One of Washington’s memorable moments in his NFL career remains at RFK stadium.
Washington’s touchdown catch in the final seconds completed the Redskins’ dramatic comeback win over the Los Angeles Raiders, 37-35 on October 2, 1983. It was Washington’s second touchdown of the game.
Both teams were 4-1 at the start of the game and looking to build off of 8-1 seasons from a year prior. The two would end up facing each other later that year—in the Super Bowl.
Joe Washington played 43 games in his Washington Redskins career. He retired in 1985 after a 10-year NFL run with 4,839 rushing yards and 3,413 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns in his career.
He played in Super Bowl XVII and Super Bowl XVIII with the Redskins, where he earned a Super Bowl ring.
Despite his decision to retire, Washington has continued to make a name for himself away from the gridiron.
In the late 90’s, Washington teamed up with ex-NBA player Julius Erving to form the first, minority- owned race team to run on a NASCAR circuit for full season in the past 25 years. Washington believed if former coach, Joe Gibbs can do it, he could do it as well.
Washington said there was nothing that gets his adrenaline going like hearing the engines roar as they go by. It reminded him of weaving and darting through the line of scrimmage.
In 2007 Washington returned to his alma mater to join the athletic department. He became OU’s Special Assistant to the Athletic Director and Executive Director of the Varsity O Association.
The athletic department and coaching staff once again are placing the ball in Washington hands and believing he can make something happen.
Joe Washington, a husband and a father of one, is currently employed at Wells Fargo as a financial advisor.
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