The Redskins honored one of their coaching greats on Saturday when they inducted long-time defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon into the Ring of Fame at FedExField.
The team paid tribute to Petitbon during a halftime ceremony at Saturday's Redskins-Vikings game. Several of Petitbon's former players, including Hall of Famer Darrell Green, were on hand for the induction ceremony. General manager Bruce Allen presented Petitbon with an honorary plaque. Petitbon is the 45th member of the Redskins Ring of Fame.
"Let me just say that this is a really great honor for me," Petitbon said during a press conference on Dec. 15 at Redskins Park. "I just want to think everyone in the Redskins organization, past and present."
Added owner Daniel M. Snyder: "He was just an amazing coach. Looking at the history of the franchise, honoring coaches is as important as honoring great players. It's a well-deserved honor."
Petitbon’s legacy is closely intertwined with many of the legends associated with the Redskins in the latter part of the 20th century.
Petitbon played for the Redskins from 1971-72, as the four-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro was brought in by then-head coach George Allen to help form the nucleus of the “Over the Hill Gang.”
In 1978, Petitbon was named the team’s defensive coordinator, a position he held through 1992. He emerged as one of the game's top defensive innovators in that span. In 1993, he was named the 21st head coach in Redskins history and he served in that role for one season.
Petitbon is one of only three Redskins to have participated in all five of the franchise’s Super Bowl appearances as either a player or coach, joining Torgy Torgeson and Hall of Famer Charley Taylor.
"The reason that you play this game is to win it all, and [as a coach] we had the good fortune to get there four times and win it three times," Petitbon said. "And I think if I had to pick out one moment, it was after we won the first [Super Bowl] against Miami in Los Angeles.
"The first thing that came to my mind was, 'I'll never get fired again [as a defensive coordinator]. I can always get a job.' And that was a great moment for me."
Petitbon made his mark as an NFL player before he was a successful defensive coordinator.
He entered the league as a second-round draft choice by the Chicago Bears in 1959. He quickly made the conversion from college quarterback to pro safety to earn a spot in the Bears secondary.
His place in Chicago history was cemented in the 1963 championship game when his fourth quarter inception in the end zone ensured a title for the Bears.
As a member of the Bears, Petitbon played under two men close to the origins of the game in Clark Shaughnessy and Hall of Famer George Halas. He finished his playing career under Hall of Famer George Allen as a member of the Los Angeles Rams and Redskins.
Petitbon recorded 48 interceptions in his 14-year playing career. More importantly, he played on only two teams that had a losing record.
"I had no idea I would go into coaching," Petitbon admitted. "That was probably the furthest thing from my mind. I thought I could play football forever."
As an assistant coach, Petitbon spent most of his career under another Hall of Famer in head coach Joe Gibbs.
With Petitbon serving as defensive coordinator in Washington from 1978-92, the Redskins were annually ranked among the top defenses in the NFL.
During the Redskins’ 1982 Super Bowl season, Petitbon’s defense finished first overall in the NFL with just 14.2 points allowed per game.
The most impressive feat by a Petitbon-coached defense may have been in 1983 when the Redskins forced a remarkable 61 turnovers to finish with a 43 ratio.
In the Redskins’ 1991 Super Bowl season, the defense limited opponents to 224 points (second lowest in the NFL) while holding opponents to 14 points or less 10 times.
The unpredictable, mix-and-match game plans devised by Petitbon and his defensive staff often created havoc with offenses and his halftime adjustments paved the way for many Redskins wins.
The most notable was when he and assistant head coach Larry Peccatiello inserted a blitz on the bus taking the team to Super Bowl XXVI. Utilized on the first play of the second half, the blitz led to a Kurt Gouveia interception to set up a Redskins touchdown.
Petitbon began his coaching career as an assistant at Houston, where he spent four years until coming to Washington as defensive coordinator under Jack Pardee. When Gibbs arrived in 1981, Petitbon was the only assistant retained, beginning a partnership that would take the Redskins to three Super Bowl titles and eight playoff appearances in 12 years.
“Richie led an outstanding defensive coaching staff that was a huge part of our success around those Super Bowl years," Gibbs said. "He allowed me to focus on the offensive side of the ball because I was always confident that our defensive coaching staff was prepared."
Green called Petitbon the most influential coach of his career.
“He was a proven winner when I came to Washington, having already won a Super Bowl, and he gave me a chance to develop with a championship defense,” Green said. “[The honor] is well-deserved.”
A native of New Orleans, Petitbon is one of two sons of his late French immigrant father and American mother. He remained in New Orleans to attend Loyola of New Orleans on a track scholarship. After his freshman year, he transferred to Tulane University, where he was an all-Southeastern Conference quarterback as a senior.