Mckenzie Revisits Redskins Roots Rfk Stadium Holds A Lot Of Memories For The Lineman. He Returns As The Eagles' Center.

Posted: November 24, 1995

Raleigh McKenzie knows neither what to expect nor how to feel Sunday when he runs onto the grass at RFK Stadium in Washington.

For the first time in 11 years, McKenzie won't be wearing burgundy and gold on that field. He's an Eagle now.

"I'll be excited and nervous," says the 6-foot-2, 283-pound Eagles center who has a permanent smile stitched across his face. "The anticipation of this makes me jittery. My wife tells me she's been inclined to watch sports this past week and what's going on with (Redskins quarterback) Health Shuler."

Martha McKenzie and their three children live at their home in Herndon, Va., a touchdown throw from the Redskins' training complex. "Rollo" spent the first 10 years of his NFL career in Washington.

"It's sure gonna be different for me this time," McKenzie said. "When I go out there, that's a lot of memories for me."

Among those fond remembrances are appearances in Super Bowls XXII and XXVI. McKenzie played every snap of the 1987 strike-shortened season when the Redskins won Super Bowl XXII.

"The NFC championship game (in the 1987 season) against Minnesota was even bigger for me than the Super Bowl," said McKenzie, who played left guard that season. "Why? Because Keith Millard had dismantled San Francisco. Before that, he went up against New Orleans' two All-Pro guards and manhandled them. But then I went against him and pretty much shut him out.

"I remember I had Dan Hampton with Chicago, then Millard, and then I got Rulon Jones of Denver in the Super Bowl. I felt they were the best three games of my career. It's something I'll always remember."

McKenzie has played every position on the offensive line except right tackle. In 1990, he started nine straight games at right guard, then switched to left for the injured Russ Grimm. During a game against the Eagles that season, McKenzie switched spots for four consecutive plays in one series.

"Grimm got nicked and I jumped into his spot, then went to center, had a spot at tackle and then Joe Jacoby got hurt . . . "

Few players in the NFL are pliable enough to pull off what McKenzie did that afternoon. He says it was a snap.

"It'd be really difficult if you had to play them every week because you'd have to understand the whole scheme of things and all those techniques," McKenzie said. "But what I was really doing was switching from right- to lefthanded stances, that's all."

When the Eagles signed McKenzie last March to a two-year, $2.45 million deal, they did so knowing that he would replace veteran David Alexander, whose blocking had become suspect. McKenzie played three positions in his final year in Washington. The Eagles knew he could play at least that many here.

Jim Hanifan's line schemes in Washington and Bill Callahan's schemes with the Eagles are very different because of Jon Gruden's West Coast offense.

"The passing is quicker here and when we run, we hit the inside and outside off the tackles," McKenzie said. "In Washington, things were more methodical. You got a more determined push. The run was straight off tackle or up the gut. Here, we stretch the perimeter of the field. The tempo is higher here, too."

Amid this transition, McKenzie also became the guy calling the line signals to a group that changed four times in training camp. Since then, the line has had to overcome season-ending injuries to Lester Holmes and Joe Panos, as well as a season-ending suspension to Bernard Williams.

Somehow, the offensive line has become better through adversity, yielding 10 sacks in its last six games after giving up 20 in the first five games.

"It has to do with players and attitude," McKenzie said. "Plus Callahan doesn't work with just five guys in practice. He's working with everyone. The second unit sometimes outworks the first unit because they know they could be moved in there."

When Holmes went down with a knee injury in the second game of the season, Callahan asked McKenzie to work with tackle Antone Davis to raise his level of play. Davis' play has been up and down much of his career with the Eagles, and he's become the focal point of much criticism.

That struck a familiar chord with McKenzie, who was frequently in Joe Bugel's doghouse in Washington early in his career.

"A lot of times, Antone thinks people are picking on him or he's under the microscope," McKenzie said. "I told him I was in the same position in Washington. We'd be looking at films and Bugel and I seemed to be the only ones in the room, because he'd always be cussing at me. He'd never look for Jacoby or Grimm. I was the odd man out . . .

"Sure, it had something to do with me not being an all-pro like the others. But I understand what Bugel was saying. He wanted me to raise my level of play. And that's what I was trying to tell Antone. You can bring it up. You don't have to be Superman. Just pick up your own game and not worry about the other guy's game."

Whatever McKenzie said to Davis has helped.

On Sunday, McKenzie will limp into RFK with a sprained right ankle he suffered Nov. 12 against the Denver Broncos.

He says he's still in pain and has had to shift his weight and stance so that he can attack defensive players off his good foot. But McKenzie's ready to play.

"The stadium, the stands are gonna be rocking, and this time, they're gonna be booing me."

Raleigh McKenzie was laughing hard.

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