A History Of Washington In The Super Bowl: The Good, The Bad, The Goofy

Written By Dann Stupp on January 7, 2022 - Last Updated on August 3, 2022
Super Bowl appearances

When it comes to Super Bowl appearances, where do the Washington Football Team‘s five games in “The Big One” rank all-time?

How do those WFT appearances stack up in Super Bowl history?

Did the WFT, which competed under the since-retired “Washington Redskins” moniker until mid-2020, bring the entertainment in those glory years? Were their games among the superb matchups of Super Bowl history? Are they true football classics?

We won’t see the Washington Football Team in this year’s Super Bowl LVI. There are no NFL playoff bets to be made on the WFT in early 2022. Not after a once-promising season hit the skids and now has no shot of continuing into the postseason, anyway.

So, let’s jump into the team’s history and look back to see where their appearances rank among the 55 SuperBowl matchups to date.

How to rank Washington’s Super Bowl appearances?

What makes a good Super Bowl?

Do you need a close game? Or can lopsided affairs be equally enthralling?

Do fans want to see two offenses light up the scoreboard? Or would a good ol’ fashioned defensive slobber knocker really make its mark in the history books?

And, more importantly, as Washington Football Team fans, does the WFT actually have to win the game for it to be a “good” Super Bowl? Or can we set aside our cheering allegiances to look at the game as objective historians of sorts?

For this exercise, let’s do the latter. Let’s rank the games as football fans, not WFT fans. Win or lose, we usually know what the historians think. We know what history will remember. But just to be sure, we crowdsourced our rankings with those from some major sites, including NFL.com, CBS Sports and USA Today.

So, without further adieu, here’s the ranking of Super Bowl appearances for the Washington Football Team.

Ranking #1-5: WFT in Super Bowl games

#5. Super Bowl XXVI, Washington 37, Buffalo 24

The good: Washington won! Sure, that’s not supposed to be part of the criteria for this whole thing. But in this case, it meant that future Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs became the first NFL coach to win a Super Bowl with three different quarterbacks. For Super Bowl XXVI in 1992, that MVP was Mark Rypien, who easily handled the Bills.

The bad: The game, which the city of Minneapolis hosted, was never really close despite the final score. Washington jumped out to an early 17-0 lead and was up 24-0 at one point in the second half. Buffalo scored some late points, but by then, most viewers had largely tuned out.

The goofy: With Washington’s commanding lead, many CBS viewers clicked over to Fox at halftime. With a special counter-programming edition of the hit show “In Living Color,” Fox lured over many Super Bowl viewers during halftime and kept them for the remainder of the game.

#4. Super Bowl XXII, Washington 42, Denver 10

The good: Again, we have to look at this objectively. Otherwise, it’d be hard not to rank this game higher. After all, backup QB Doug Williams posted a dazzling 35-point second quarter with four TDs. He also set multiple Super Bowl records to become the first Black quarterback to win a Super Bowl and the game’s first African-American MVP. Rookie running back Timmy Smith added a Super Bowl record 204 yards on the ground as Washington cruised to a blowout victory.

The bad: After that second quarter, non-Washington fans had little reason to keep watching Super Bowl XXII. Many viewers expected a big performance from the favored Broncos and QB John Elway, who ended up enduring three interceptions and five sacks in the game. Still, Super Bowl XXII has its proponents. In 2016, a Slate writer called it the greatest Super Bowl ever played because of the game’s dynamic storylines.

The goofy: On the eve of Super Bowl XXII, starting QB Williams quietly underwent an emergency root canal. However, despite the dental issue and the media circus that his historical start created, he easily outshone NFL MVP Elway that day.

Ranking Redskins Super Bowl appearances
Washington’s Timmy Smith, a rookie who got his first NFL start, ran for 204 yards at Super Bowl XXII in 1988. (AP / Bob Galbraith)

#3. Super Bowl XVIII, Los Angeles Raiders 38, Washington 9

The good: The game had plenty of hype for Washington, the defending Super Bowl champions who posted an NFL-best 14-2 record during the following 1983-84 season. And if you’re not a Washington fan, you got to see a true MVP performance from Raiders back Marcus Allen, who rushed for 191 yards.

The bad: Expectations were high for Washington and that year’s regular-season MVP, QB Joe Theismann. However, he went just 16-for-35 with 243 yards, no TDs, and two interceptions. By halftime, Los Angeles was already well on its way to a lopsided win over Washington on “Black Sunday” (so named because of the Raiders’ all-black uniforms).

The goofy: Amazingly, the 1983-84 Raiders remain the only Los Angeles team to win a Super Bowl title in NFL history.

#2. Super Bowl VII, Miami 14, Washington 7

The good: Despite going 16-0 in the regular season, the Miami Dolphins were actually one-point underdogs at Super Bowl VII in 1973. Despite the oddsmakers’ snub, Miami posted a 14-7 victory to post the first and only perfect season in NFL history: 17-0.

The bad: Of course, the bad news is that it came against Washington,  Still, it’s hard to ignore any team’s undefeated season. And what Miami, led by game MVP Jake Scott (two interceptions) and Larry Csonka (112 yards rushing), accomplished in a hard-fought Super Bowl VII was pretty spectacular. (You know, if you rooted for any team but Washington.)

The goofy: Miami planned to cap off a 17-0 season with a 17-0 Super Bowl win. However, the team’s final field goal attempt of the game came up short, and Washington’s Mike Bass actually returned it 49 yards for a touchdown. Rather than a 17-0 lead, Miami had to hold off Washington’s late charge for a narrow 14-7 win.

Super Bowl VII
The Miami Dolphins completed a perfect 17-0 season with a win over Washington in Super Bowl VII. (AP)

#1. Super Bowl XVII, Washington 27, Miami 17

The good: After the strike-shortened 1982 regular season, Washington won its first NFL title with a win over Miami at Super Bowl XVII in 1983. Running back John “Diesel” Riggins put Washington ahead for good in the fourth quarter for the comeback win in a closely contested matchup.

The bad: Most football fans have largely forgotten the 1982 NFL season. That disinterest and dismay over the labor dispute has put a bit of a gray cloud over Washington’s first Vince Lombardi Trophy. It probably also knocks Super Bowl XVII down a few pegs on most historians’ list of the greatest Super Bowls ever played.

The goofy: Just how odd was the nine-game 1982 season? Washington placekicker Mark Moseley (20 of 21 field goals, including 23 straight across two seasons) became the only special teams player to win the NFL’s annual MVP award. He then promptly missed four FGs in two playoff games before redeeming himself in the Super Bowl by going 3-for-3.

Photo by AP Photo / File
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Dann Stupp

Dann Stupp is a longtime sports journalist who’s written and edited for The Athletic, USA Today, ESPN, MLB.com and other outlets. He lives in Lexington, Virginia.

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