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Throwback Thursday: Clarence Vaughn Sees The Genius Of Redskins Legendary Defensive Coordinator

Posted Oct 19, 2017

For today's Throwback Thursday moment presented by SUBWAY® restaurants, Redskins.com looks back at some of former safety Clarence Vaughn's thoughts on legendary defensive coordinator Richie Petibon.

For today's Throwback Thursday moment presented by SUBWAY® restaurants, Redskins.com looks back at some of former safety Clarence Vaughn's thoughts on legendary defensive coordinator Richie Petibon.

Warming up before Super Bowl XXII in San Diego in 1988, Redskins safety Clarence Vaughn was nervous and uptight. After all, the rookie would be playing in his biggest football game ever. He felt the tension.

Defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon tried to calm him down.

“This is one of many, relax,” Vaughn remembered Petitbon saying. “It’s just another game. You’ll be okay.”

Sounds like something a coach should say to get a player focused. But it was really a side of Petitbon that Vaughn had never seen.

“That’s what blew me away when he came up to me,” Vaughn said. “He was a straight-forward guy. You just knew what he wanted you to do. You didn’t mess up. He didn’t care for mental mistakes. You couldn’t make a mental mistake. If you made a mental mistake on Friday or Saturday, you’re not playing.”

Vaughn, who played his college ball at Northern Illinios, was an eighth-round Redskins pick in 1987. As a rookie, he played a lot of nickel back and substituted for strong safety Alvin Walton.

He was no stranger to Petitbon’s gruff coaching demeanor.

“I’ll never forget,” Vaughn said. “I was a rookie. I was a signal caller making a lot of mistakes, getting cussed out by Petitbon the whole season. They say if he’s doing that, he likes you.”

In Super Bowl XXII, Vaughn was part of a swarming defense that bewildered Broncos quarterback John Elway in a 42-10 Redskins blowout. Elway, who today is in the Hall of Fame, had a forgettable game, completing 14 of 38 passes for 257 yards with three interceptions. He scrambled for cover almost every time he dropped back and was sacked five times.

Late in the third quarter, Elway aired a 40-yard pass that Vaughn intercepted around midfield. But Walton was called for roughing the passer, nullifying the play.

At first, things looked promising for Elway and the Broncos. He threw a 56-yard touchdown pass two minutes into the game and completed six of his first eight throws. The Redskins trailed, 10-0, after one quarter. That’s when Petitbon said he’d seen enough of Denver’s talented quarterback. Vaughn recalled the coach’s marching orders:

“They scored 10 points, and Richie goes, `That’s it. I want that [guy] on his back whether he throws the ball or not. We’re going to blitz him the rest of this game.’ Sure enough, we blitzed him the whole game. I know that because we had him running for his life, even until the last play of the game.

“At that point, we’ve got one chinstrap off. We went to the sideline, and Petitbon is giving us the defensive signal. We were blitzing. It’s 42-10. He kept his promise. Every play until the end of the game we went after Elway. We had so much heat on him it was unbelievable.”

Vaughn played five seasons in the NFL, all in D.C. He earned another Super Bowl ring in the Redskins’ 37-24 win over Buffalo in Super Bowl XXVI that capped the 1991 season. His defensive coordinator the whole time was Petitbon, who served in that role from 1981 to 1992, a Redskins glory period when they stood as one of the NFL’s elite teams, winning three Super Bowls and five NFC East titles and posting eight playoff seasons during the Joe Gibbs-1 era.

In Vaugh’s mind, the Redskins wouldn’t have achieved such success without Petitbon, who was inducted into the Ring of Fame at FedExField in 2011. He’s also one of 12 coaches who is a preliminary nominee for the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2018.

“He was a smart guy,” Vaughn said. “Joe Gibbs couldn’t have done it without him. He’ll tell you that to this day. He’s the best defensive coordinator to ever walk through the doors at Redskins Park. I’ve seen some of the defenses today. The defenses that we ran, our stuff is still just complicated. We went pound for pound, play for play with every team. We motioned this way. We adjusted to it all kinds of ways.

“Richie Petitbon deserves more credit than what he gets these days,” Vaughn added. “I know we give him credit, but it took a whole team. Without him, we’re not winning those Super Bowls. Without that defense and his coaching and the schemes we ran, it’s not happening.”

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