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Joe Lavender’s Extraordinary 1976 Debut

Posted by Stephen Czarda on July 5, 2013 – 3:25 pm

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[With 20 days until the start of training camp, we take a look back at the career of ball-hawking cornerback Joe Lavender. Lavender's six-year stint with the Washington Redskins produced 29 interceptions, to include a career-high eight in 1976.]

In the weeks leading up to the Washington Redskins’ home opener on September 9th against the Philadelphia Eagles, keep a close eye on position battles in the secondary as this offseason significantly bulked up the defensive backfield.

With the return of three-time Pro Bowler DeAngelo Hall, the signing of four-year pro E.J. Biggers, and three rookies who love to intercept opposing quarterbacks in town, there’s a good chance the Burgundy and Gold will top their 21 interceptions in 2012.

Regardless of who starts, if David Amerson, Phillip Thomas or Bacarri Rambo can replicate the success of Joe Lavender in his first season in our Nation’s Capital, the Redskins will have nabbed another big play, ball-hawking defensive back capable of keeping quarterbacks up well past lights out before gameday.

With the 288th pick in the 1973 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles selected Lavender out of San Diego State.

In his first season in the NFL, he appeared in 13 games to include two Eagle losses against the Redskins. While he didn’t record an interception in 1973, he proved that if given playing time, he was going to be a star at the professional level.

In a game that pitted two teams that had been far from playoff contention for years, Lavender’s Eagles squared off against the Baltimore Colts in Week 3 of the 1974 season. While the game wasn’t necessarily a five-star, memorable affair for the ages, it was the site of his first career NFL interception.

Philadelphia’s defense held Baltimore to a measly three first half points, but the Colts were within striking distance at the start of the third quarter. Lavender, however, put the game out of reach—by returning an interception for a 37 yard touchdown.

The former Aztecs star spent one more season in Philly, but without a start on his resume and the Eagles playoff drought reaching 15 years, Lavender bolted south to our Nation’s Capital under Hall of Famer George Allen.

Allen quickly turned around Washington’s fortunes after being hired before the 1971 season as he took a franchise that hadn’t made a postseason appearance in 26 years to annual Super Bowl contender.

Behind a menacing defense that featured the likes of Brig Owens, Ken Houston, Mike Bass and Chris Hanburger among others, Allen knew how to mesh together homegrown players with those from other squads that had untapped talent. So when he had the opportunity to acquire a guy of Lavender’s skillset, he snatched him up without hesitation.

Despite the fact that No. 20 didn’t crack the Eagles starting lineup in his three years there, Allen anointed him as a starter alongside Pat Fischer entering their Week 1 matchup against the New York Giants—a 19-17 victory.

By Week 3, Lavender had firmly entrenched his status as one of the Burgundy and Gold’s best young talents and was ready to victimize an Eagles team that let him leave for a division rival.

In his first game as a visitor at Veterans Stadium, Lavender gobbled up a season-high two interceptions off Mike Boryla. It was the first off eight interceptions on the campaign for the corner.

Similar to the 2012 season, the Redskins entered the month of November desperately needing wins to stay afloat in the playoff picture. Behind four Lavender interceptions (one in each game), the Burgundy and Gold went 3-1 and secured a wild card spot.

Despite the fact that his eight interceptions were the most by a Redskin since 1971, No. 20 was snubbed from Pro Bowl selection.

After years of waiting, however, Lavender got his big break in 1979 as he was named to his first all-star game appearance with six interceptions.

In total, Lavender recorded 29 interceptions during his six-year stint in our Nation’s Capital to include a career-high three against his college’s hometown San Diego Chargers in 1980.

If you have any memories of Lavender’s time with the Redskins or one of his 29 interceptions stands out to you, let us know below.

Hail to the Redskins!


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3 Responses to “Joe Lavender’s Extraordinary 1976 Debut”

  1. By goskins44 on Jul 7, 2013 | Reply

    Stephen, What happened to the comments section on the main articles? It disappeared then came back shortly then disappeared again.

    For what it’s worth, I liked that when it came back you had to reregister and it looked to be moderated. There were a lot of unnecessary stuff going on before clouding Redskins talk.

    I look forward to your response.

  2. By goskins44 on Jul 7, 2013 | Reply

    Joe was a great corner. Unfortunately for him, most of his playing time for us was the end of George Allen, the beginning of Joe Gibbs and the turmoil that was in between. At this point in his career, Josh WIlson reminds me of Joe Lavendar. Nothing flashy, but a solid contributor, comes to play every week, hard worker.

    It’s interesting you left Josh out of the conversation. IMO right now Josh is a much better corner than DHall, who struggled last year till moved to more of a slot/FS position down the stretch. Also, JW should be 100% this year. He had some nagging injuries last year. He will have a breakout year for us.

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