The Washington Post
Washington Redskins kicker Chip Lohmiller had a sense during training camp in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, back in August 1991 that the upcoming season would be special. The Redskins returned a core group of veterans from the previous year’s playoff team, they had full trust in Coach Joe Gibbs and his assistants, and they were united behind one goal.
“I played nine years, and that was the only time I experienced that feeling,” Lohmiller, whose sense turned out to be spot on, recalled last week.
The special season that ensued, including an 11-0 start en route to the best record (14-2) in the NFC and a cakewalk through the playoffs, culminated in a trip to the Super Bowl in Lohmiller’s backyard. He grew up in Woodbury, a half-hour drive from the Metrodome in Minneapolis, where he played his home games at the University of Minnesota.
As the only Minnesotan on the roster, Lohmiller served as the team’s personal tour guide during Super Bowl week. He took Earnest Byner, Monte Coleman and Art Monk ice fishing on Cedar Lake, and he led a larger group of teammates on a trip to the headquarters of Zubaz, the zebra-print clothing company that was all the rage at the time.
Lohmiller has done more interviews than usual over the past two weeks with the Super Bowl returning to Minneapolis for the first time since 1992. Now the fire chief in Crosslake, Minn., he’s scheduled to be part of an incident management team providing on-site support on Friday and Saturday ahead of Sunday’s game. Back in 1992, Lohmiller recalled that Gibbs had the team so focused he hardly remembers anything about the days leading up to the game. Gibbs remembers a particularly intense first practice at the Minnesota Vikings’ facility.
“John Madden came and we had some other TV people there,” Gibbs said this week. “Honestly, our guys were killing each other, and this is in practice. I’m looking at this like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to kill somebody.’ I cut practice like 20 minutes short. That team was so ready to play.”
The night before the game, Gibbs relocated the team, as he always did, to what Lohmiller described as a “bed and breakfast-type hotel” on the Mississippi River. It was northwest of Minneapolis and a long way from the team’s headquarters for the rest of the week in Bloomington.
“I always moved the team to someplace quiet,” Gibbs said. “We’d have our meetings and sleep in the next day because the game was late. We start driving, and we’re driving in the middle of nowhere for about 45 minutes. I hear the players start going, ‘Where are we?’ There’s snow on the side of the road about 10 feet high. We pull into this place, we went in there and had our meetings, it was so quiet and peaceful. Honestly, I think I may have slept 12 hours.”
The next morning, Lohmiller took a cab to the Metrodome with quarterback Mark Rypien, a game-day routine that dated to Lohmiller’s rookie year in 1988, when Rypien, then a third-year pro, took the kicker under his wing. The two became golf buddies and roommates on the road.
“I don’t remember what it cost, but we still did it, we kept our routine,” Lohmiller said. “We’d get there so early. Even at home, we’d take a cab. We’d throw the ball around, relax and get comfortable with the surroundings.”
Lohmiller, who managed to fulfill all 77 ticket requests he received from friends, family, coaches and acquaintances he hadn’t heard from in years, had an eventful game. After a botched hold spoiled Washington’s chance to take an early lead on a field goal in the first quarter, he kicked a 34-yarder less than two minutes into the second quarter to break a scoreless tie. Lohmiller was in on a tackle on the ensuing kickoff and the effort didn’t go unnoticed by Madden, who informed viewers that Lohmiller was one of the few kickers who lifted weights.
“I had a great special teams coach, Wayne Sevier,” Lohmiller said. “I think I had 14 tackles or assists that year, so I got into the mix. I enjoyed that.”
Lohmiller kicked a pair of fourth-quarter field goals to complete Washington’s scoring in a 37-24 win that was more lopsided than the final score indicated. The “million interviews” that followed were a blur, but after the locker room cleared out, Lohmiller walked out to the 50-yard line with Rypien, the game’s MVP, to take a photograph with the Super Bowl logo at the 50-yard line. Rypien and Lohmiller didn’t sleep much, if at all, that night. They had to catch an early-morning flight to Honolulu for the Pro Bowl with six of their teammates. The Bills’ eight Pro Bowl representatives were on the same flight. “They were pretty bummed, so that was interesting,” Lohmiller said.
Lohmiller spent three more seasons with the Redskins, making only 64 percent of his field goals in 1993 and 1994, before he was released during training camp in 1995. After single seasons in New Orleans and St. Louis, Lohmiller called it a career and retired to Crosslake in the Brainerd Lakes community of Minnesota, about two hours north of Minneapolis. He joined the 25-member Crosslake fire department in 1997.
“My father was a firefighter for a while,” explained Lohmiller, 51, who has been the Crosslake fire chief for the past seven years, serves on a couple of state fire committees and owns a fire training company. “I wanted to give back to the community and I enjoy the adrenaline. It’s been a good run.”
Football remains a major part of Lohmiller’s life in retirement. He’s been the head coach at Pequot Lakes High School since 2004, guiding the Patriots to the section championships in seven of the past nine years and to the state tournament twice. Last November, Pequot Lakes advanced to the state semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium, site of Sunday’s Super Bowl, for the first time.
“It’s great to work with the kids,” Lohmiller said. “Especially this last group I had, that’ll be a memory that will never be forgotten. It reminded me of our Super Bowl team. They got along and support each other and it was a great feeling. Just to bring some of the experiences that I had in college and the NFL to them, that’s what I enjoy.”
Lohmiller still makes it back to the Washington area at least once a year for Rypien’s charity golf tournament in the spring. While he grew up going to Vikings games - Lohmiller’s grandfather was the entertainment director for the team - he remains a Redskins fan through and through. That said, he’ll be pulling for Philadelphia on Sunday.
“Gotta root for the NFC, even though it’s the Eagles,” Lohmiller said. “Carson Wentz is a home-area guy and it’s too bad he got hurt. I just can’t stand the Patriots, and [an Eagles win] would show that our conference is tough. I was hoping the Redskins would be in it, because I would’ve loved to go.”