Redskins linemen go hog wild in slop


WASHINGTON -- You wouldn't think you could find the little boy in someone who's 6 feet 3 and 285 pounds, and then you mention mud.

Mark Schlereth, who's big enough to need mud flaps, loves mud. course he does. He's an offensive lineman. This is someone who enjoys it when people call him a hog. He doesn't think he's had a good day unless his uniform looks like it had to be cleaned with a jet spray, which means he likes to roll in mud. To belly-flop in mud. To exult in mud.

Just ask him about the, uh, inclement weather at RFK yesterday, and the Redskins guard smiles down on you like sunshine.

"That was fun," Schlereth said. "That was sloppy fun. Roll around in the mud and slop and everything. I loved it. I saw that field, and I knew it was our kind of day."

It was an all-day-rain kind of day in which there was plenty of time to wallow in the mire, and to rub a few Falcons' faces in it, too. Seems that somebody up there doesn't like Atlanta coach Jerry Glanville, which figures, since few enough people down here like him.

This was a grind-'em-out day when only one of the teams -- the Redskins -- had any grind at all. The Falcons are a high-risk, high-octave bunch who live by the big play. On this day, it was 3 yards and a spray of mud.

No wonder the Redskins squished their way to a 24-7, second-round playoff victory. Atlanta never had a chance. Glanville should have left tickets for Willard Scott.

Listen to Atlanta quarterback Chris Miller on the day's conditions: "I wouldn't let my kids play in that stuff."

Quarterbacks don't love mud. They love expensive cars and nice houses and vacations in sunny climes. Quarterbacks like to be pampered. That's why linemen block for them, instead of the other way around. Miller never, ever played line.

Neither did Ricky Ervins, who's a running back, but he had fun anyway. Not that he was supposed to. You see, he's a rookie running back for the Redskins, and you know how coach Joe Gibbs feels about rookies. It's about like how quarterbacks feel about rain. But Ervins, a third-round draft pick, is one of the surprise players in the NFL. He loves to run in any kind of weather.

"I'm low to the ground," he explained. "I think that helps in the mud."

He's 5-7 and 200 pounds, and maybe if he'd grown taller, he'd have been a lineman himself, except instead he's the quickest 5-7, 200-pounder you're ever likely to see.

He comes off the bench, takes over for Earnest Byner and speeds the game up. Yesterday, he ran 23 times for 104 yards and basically was the offense. Byner is going to the Pro Bowl, but he's probably not the best back on his own team.

"Earnest is the man," Ervins insisted. "I just take up the slack for him."

He took it up yesterday with a 17-yard touchdown run in the second quarter when even the mud couldn't slow him down. In the fourth quarter, he turned to grinding, play after play, run after run, eating up clock and mud and Falcons.

The last time the Falcons were here, it was sunny, and they played their blitzing defense and lost 56-17, but with honor. This time, they rarely blitzed and made it closer, not that it mattered. Once, the Redskins killed them with the pass. This time, they crushed them with the run.

So far, all you can say of the Falcons is that they talk a good game. Week after week, the Redskins play a good game.

"When I woke up today and saw the rain, I broke into a big smile," said Redskins tight end John Brandes. "I knew it was the Hogs' day. It was like hog slop out there."

He was smiling when he said it.

So was center Jeff Bostic when he said the playing conditions at RFK yesterday were the worst he'd ever seen -- college, pro, back yard. He smiled even as he likened the field to a suction cup.

"I loved it," he said.

"I'm wearing it," he said.

But what he liked most about it was the advantage it gave the Redskins.

"You have to be able to run in that kind of weather," he said, "and I knew we could. Ricky did a great job. He's done a great job all year. But the important thing in this kind of weather is that you hold on to the ball, and he did."

He never dropped it once, not even when sliding all over the field.

"It was great," Ervins said. "You felt like a little kid playing in the mud. You got mud in your face, mud everywhere. It was fun."

OK, it wasn't good, clean fun, but it was fun of a kind. The people who weren't having fun were on the Atlanta side. That included rap singer Hammer, whose "Too Legit to Quit" is the team's theme song. I wonder if he knows the words to "Slip Slidin' Away"?

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