The Body Bag Game

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The Body Bag Game refers to a game played between the Washington Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles on November 12, 1990. The nickname came from the high number of injuries that were suffered by players in the game, with nine Redskins players having to leave the game with injuries.

Buildup to the Body Bag game

The two NFC East teams were facing each other for the second time that season and had developed a spirited rivalry. In their first encounter in October 21, the Redskins had won 13-7. The Redskins had won Super Bowl XXII just two years prior but the outfit that had achieved that was aging fast. The Body Bag Game came barely three weeks later on Monday Night Football, with the Redskins at 5-3 in second place and the Eagles at 4-4 sitting in third place. In the days leading up to the game, Eagles coaching and playing staff hyped up the game as a grudge match for the loss in October.

The Eagles home field, the Veterans Stadium was a dreaded place for visiting teams, with the intimidating Eagles defense being notorious for their rough handling of opposition offensive players. The Redskins on the other hand, under Coach Joe Gibbs had one of the most imperious offenses, which meant that this game pitted two teams of stark contrast. At the time, the NFL was not very strict on overt physicality, and this set the scene for what was one of the bloodiest, if not the bloodiest match in the history of the NFL.

The Body Bag Game Unfolds

The Eagles were the first to score, intercepting on the 30 yard line, with cornerback William Frizzell returning for a touchdown. In the second quarter, the Redskins made a touchdown through tight end Don Warren to tie the game at 7-7. In the third quarter, the Eagles made three touchdowns to all but settle the game. The final score was 28-14 in favor of the Eagles but that is not what everyone was talking about. Nine Redskins players were forced out of the game with various injuries as the Eagles defense turned on their most savage mood.

The Eagles lost two quarterbacks, including starting quarterback Jeff Rutledge and then his replacement Stan Humphries. Left with no conventional quarterbacks, Gibbs brought on rookie running back Brian Mitchell to fill the position. Despite playing in an unnatural position and facing two of the most intimidating defensive players in Reggie White and Jerome Brown, Mitchell had a fairly decent game. He made 3 out of 6 passes and passed 40 yards. As player after player was helped off the field, Philadelphia safety William Frizzell at one point went over to the Washington bench and asked something to the effect that they needed more body bags. That was how the game got its name.

Aftermath of the Body Bag Game

After the game, Gibbs described the game as a major setback for the Redskins for the remainder of the season, with a significant fraction of the starting team decimated. The Redskins and the Eagles both had decent runs to finish the season, each winning five out of the remaining seven games to make it into the playoffs. The teams were both tied at 10-6 and as fate would have it, met for a wildcard game to determine who would go onto the playoffs.

The game would again be played at the Veteran Stadium, and as one can imagine, the tension between the two teams was at the highest level. The Redskins would get sweet revenge, beating the Eagles 20-6. They would go on to lose to the eventual Super Bowl winners San Francisco 49ers. In 1991, the Redskins won the Super Bowl themselves and Coach Gibbs pointed to the Body Bag Game as a major impetus behind their success.

At the end of the season, the excessive physicality witnessed in that game compelled the NFL to make a raft of rule changes. Teams were now allowed to add a third quarterback to their roster, to cover for situations like that faced by the Redskins when two of their first choice quarterbacks got injured. The “third quarterback rule” allows teams to play a third quarterback in the fourth quarter. In 2011 the rule was changed, expanding the roster size to 46 from 45.