Buck reaches out, grabs hold of NFL glory Pain of Bengals cut heals for Redskins DL


ASHBURN, Va. -- Jason Buck did his Andy Warhol number Sunday: He got his 15 minutes of fame.

"Yeah, that was fun," the Washington Redskins defensive lineman said of a pass rush that knocked the ball out of the hands of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman and started an improbable play that will make highlight films for years.

"You've watched the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry since you were a child. To make a play that will go down in the history of the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry is a lot of fun. It was just one of those magical moments you're never going to be able to forget," Buck said.

What made it even more magical was the fact that Buck was a long shot to make the team this year, much less make the play of the season and give the Redskins a 20-17 victory over their most bitter rivals.

Even coach Joe Gibbs found it all hard to believe.

"That's a great story. He's cut and on the street and we pick him up [and he makes the team]. We always talk about as coaches, 'Hey, you're going to go out and be on national TV. You can be a hero.' That's a good example of it. Jason becomes a household name with one big play like that," Gibbs said.

At the start of last season, Buck wasn't looking to be a hero. He was looking for a job.

"It was a nightmare," he said.

A first-round draft choice of the Cincinnati Bengals in 1987, he became a starter in his third season.

He said that Pete Brown, the team's director of player personnel, told him, "You're just coming into your own. You'll have a great career for us."

The next year, in 1990, he suddenly found himself a part-time player.

"The defensive line coach told me, the days of you slender hipped guys is over. We're going with big guys," he said.

At 265 pounds, Buck isn't a dominating lineman, but, more to the point, he said he was never a favorite of former coach Sam Wyche -- now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- because Wyche hadn't been keen on drafting him in the first place.

Last year, Buck was protected on Plan B so he couldn't leave and was then waived on the last cut.

"Management called me in and said, 'Jason, we really like you, we're sorry about it, but Sam just insists on you being gone.' I said, 'Well, how does that help my career and my life? I'm providing for my family and I'm let go on somebody's personal vendetta.' It was a hard ordeal to go through. If I wasn't playing good football, I would have walked away from the game, but I felt very confident."

Buck found out he wasn't in demand. For six weeks nobody called him until the Redskins, desperate for a lineman when Markus Koch got hurt, signed him last Oct. 9.

He wound up playing in eight regular-season games and starting one. He played in all three playoff games, got a sack in the Super Bowl and a Super Bowl ring.

That wiped out some of his frustration over the way he was let go in Cincinnati, but not all of it.

"I let bygones be bygones. Sam's gone on with his career. But it hurts, the way I was let go. It wasn't on performance. I was run out," he said.

The next question was whether his performance was good enough for Washington to keep him.

The Redskins didn't exactly give him a vote of confidence when NTC they signed two Plan B defensive lineman. They gave George Hinkle $200,000 and Keith Willis $150,000 to sign.

"It makes you nervous when you see them throwing out big signing bonuses to a couple of fine Plan B players. Every year you worry about it, unless you're a Pro Bowler like Charles [Mann] or one of the greats. You have to worry about your job every year. I was sweating," he said.

Buck kept sweating right through training camp -- right down to the final cut -- although he got a break when Hinkle was traded to the Minnesota Vikings.

"I knew it was close between myself and Keith. He was a fine pass rusher with the Steelers. I had the edge on the run. That's what you're weighing. He's got the pass rush. I've got the run play. What are they going to be looking for? I knew it was going to be close," he said.

He finally relaxed when he didn't get a phone call on the day of the final cuts.

He spent the first 10 weeks as a backup end and tackle until Eric Williams was injured against the New Orleans Saints. With Bobby Wilson already sidelined with back surgery, he became the starter three weeks ago at left tackle.

"He's played well. He got thrown into a role. He's really more of an end having to play tackle," Gibbs said.

That put him into position to make the play of his career against the Cowboys. Even the NFL hasn't been able to determine after looking at the films whether the officials made the right call when they said it was a fumble instead of an incomplete pass. Buck, naturally, thinks it was a fumble and that's the way it'll go in the record books.

Now Buck wants to put it behind him. "You can't live on that moment. What you want is continued success," he said.

That task couldn't be more difficult. Sunday the Redskins go to Philadelphia to contain scrambling Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham.

"It's probably the hardest game of the year," said Buck, who sacked Cunningham once in the first game.

"They ask you to get after the passer and yet they ask you to be very controlled and not let him run on you. That's tough. It contradicts itself to try to get pressure and yet be disciplined," he said.

Buck doesn't expect a repeat of last week's heroics.

"It'd be nice to have more plays like that, but nobody is going to make many plays like that one," he said.

The Jason Buck file

Age: 29. Height: 6-4. Weight: 265

Career highlights * 1986 Outland Trophy winner at Brigham Young

* First-round draft choice of Cincinnati Bengals

* Played in Super Bowl XXIII as backup DE for Bengals

* Started all 16 games for Bengals in 1989 season

* Cut by the Bengals in 1991, he joined the Redskins as a reserve after Markus Koch went out with a season-ending knee injury in Week 6

* Was playing Sunday only because defensive lineman Eric Williams was injured

Wild card for winner

A look at the Redskins-Eagles playoff possibilities:

Washington, which can't win the NFC East, can make the playoffs as a wild-card team if one of three things happen:

* The Redskins beat the Eagles.

* The Packers lose one of their last two games.

* The Steelers beat the Vikings and the Green Bay-Minnesota game doesn't end in a tie.

* Philadelphia can win the NFC East if it wins its last two games and the Cowboys lose their last two.

The Eagles can make the playoffs as a wild-card team if one of four things happen:

* The Eagles beat the Redskins.

* The Packers lose their last two.

* Green Bay and Philadelphia each lose one of their final two.

* Green Bay ties one of its final two and Philadelphia wins one of its final two.

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