The Washington Redskins lost a football game on Sunday. This isn’t especially surprising, as they’ve lost five games in a row, and ten games total this season.
Since this is the Redskins that we’re talking about, they weren’t simply able to lose the game. They managed to play so poorly in the first half that most of the fans left at halftime. I realize that it was cold, and there was snow in the area, but this is what Fed Ex Field looked like at the start of the second half.
Normally, this is where’d I make a joke about the Redskins doing a great job of tanking so that they could draft Andrew Wiggins next season. But that joke doesn’t even work because they don’t have a first round pick in next year’s draft. (Like many of the jokes on this site that you might not understand, that was almost entirely for the benefit of one reader. So don’t feel too bad if you don’t quite understand what I’m talking about.)
I think back to last year at this time when the Redskins were headed towards an NFC East division title. The fans actually had hope. They had Mike Shanahan – a Super Bowl winning coach who seemed to be moving the team in the right direction. Most important of all, they had RG3.
In the modern NFL, the most precious commodity is a franchise quarterback. Just about every legitimate contender has a quarterback who is either among the very best in the league, or who could potentially play well enough to carry a team to a championship. While having a franchise QB doesn’t assure a team of a title, it’s a lot easier to build a winner if you already have that guy in place. It also gives fans hope that if things broke right in any given season, a Super Bowl victory isn’t that farfetched.
For an example, see the Donovan McNabb era in Philadelphia. While they never won a Super Bowl with him, they almost always made the playoffs, and were considered contenders just about every season he was on the team.
Last season, Robert Griffin III – aka RG3 – looked like he was going to be that type of player. After trading a slew of picks in order to draft the Heisman Trophy winner, (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: When has a team ever gone wrong by drafting a Heisman winner?) Griffin looked like he was going to be worth the investment. He was an instant success, and the Redskins looked poised to dominate the NFC East for years to come.
Nothing can derail a promising NFL career quite like injuries. It seems that the Redskins’ offensive system combined with Griffin’s reckless style has left him especially vulnerable to injury. While its true that every player in the NFL (Except maybe Peyton Manning) takes hits, Griffin seemed to be getting hit more often – and harder – than most. He missed one game last season with a knee injury, and midway through the team’s playoff game, he appeared to re-aggravate it.
Despite the field conditions being awful and Griffin looking hobbled, Shanahan chose to keep him in the game. That decision proved costly near the end of the game when Griffin’s knee buckled and he tore the lateral collateral ligament in his knee.
Redskins fans should have spent the offseason celebrating the arrival of their franchise’s savior. They should have been envisioning more NFC East titles – as well as Super Bowl titles – to come. Instead, they had to nervously listen to updates on Griffin’s rehab process. Even worse, there were public squabbles between Griffin and Shanahan as to just how well the rehab was coming along, and whether or not he’d be ready for the season.
Griffin ended up sitting out the entire preseason, and despite reports that he wasn’t quite ready, he started in week one. As you might expect from someone who was recovering from a major injury and hadn’t taken a preseason snap, he looked shaky in that game, contributing to a Redskins loss.
Unfortunately for Redskins fans, that pretty much set the tone for the season. As often happens on losing teams, there seems to be a bit of unhappiness in the Redskins locker room. Players don’t seem to like each other all that much, and a definite rift seems to have formed between the coach and his would-be star quarterback.
This week, in the latest bit of dysfunction from a franchise that knows almost nothing but, Shanahan has decided to bench Griffin for the remainder of the season. Shanahan claims that Griffin has endured too many hits, and with the season already lost, there’s no reason to risk further injury to the franchise cornerstone.
Many people disagree with the benching, but I think it’s the right move. The team can showcase backup quarterback Kirk Cousins, and perhaps entice some team into trading for him. It will also allow Griffin to get a head start on offseason training, something that he wasn’t able to do last year due to his injury. The move seems to be geared towards the long-term health of the franchise, which is extremely strange, because there’s a good chance that Shanahan is going to be fired after the season. (If not sooner!)
While I can’t say that firing Shanahan is unjustified, it probably isn’t the best thing for the team. Considering how much they have invested in him, the team’s only hope is that Griffin fulfills his destiny to become a star. Despite the difficulties the two men seem to be having, I think Shanahan provides the best chance of that happening.
Young quarterbacks most often thrive when they get to develop under one coach and one offensive system. Firing Shanahan would spark yet another rebuilding effort and would force Griffin to learn a brand new offensive system. He’s already lost one offseason of progress due to his injury. Do the Redskins really want to stunt his development further by making him start over?
It may seem strange that I am writing this since I am a notorious hater of the Redskins. As an Eagles fan who has spent most of the last 17 years in the DC are, there are few things in sports that bring me as much joy as the struggles of the local football team. Perhaps I’ve become a little too consumed by sports hate, since nothing seems to fuel me like the tears and anguish of Redskins fans.
I’ve found myself growing sympathetic for Redskins fans. (Note: I feel much more comfortable saying this now that the Redskins have been eliminated from the playoffs and won’t play the Eagles again.) They thought they had hope. They thought the future was bright. But all they got for that hope was another season of misery, and a future that doesn’t look much brighter than it did two years ago. And I know how bad hopelessness as a sports fan can be. You wish you could simply give up and not care, but you just can’t bring yourself to do it.
Then again, there are a few reasons why I don’t feel THAT bad for Redskins fans:
The whole team name thing
I am not a Native American. But it’s not difficult for me to see how the name could be deemed offensive to them. Yet that doesn’t stop Redskins fans from defending the name. “It’s our tradition!” they cry, as if somehow justifies it. A quick reminder of some other traditions we used to have in these parts: Slavery, lack of women’s suffrage, and of course, the majority of the population consisting of Native Americans.
The thing that really gets me is that Redskins fans are siding with the team owner on this issue. By this point, just about every Redskins fan has accepted that Dan Snyder is a horrible human being. So shouldn’t the fact that he is adamant about not changing the name indicate that they might not be on the right side of this particular debate?
The deification of Sean Taylor
Yes, it was a horrible tragedy when Taylor was killed six years ago. But in his death, Taylor has somehow become much more than he was in life. He was a good, young safety who could make some amazing plays (as well as some huge mistakes), but some Redskins fans now make him out to have been a combination of Ronnie Lott and Jesus on the football field.
Side note: As an Eagles fan, I have to admit that Eagles fans did something similar after Jerome Brown died in 1992. So here’s a quick pointer for all you young NFL stars out there: The quickest way to enhance your reputation is by dying.
I even heard a radio caller theorize that the past six years of mostly crappy football would have been avoided if Taylor had lived. This brings me to my next point…
The talk radio callers
In just about every city, the worst that the city has to offer in terms of sports fans can be uncovered by listening to talk radio. If you’d like to hear horribly biased opinions and whiplash inducing swings in public opinion, just tune into a sports talk radio show.
I don’t think that Washington’s fans are much worse than those from any other city, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t derive great pleasure from listening to them. There’s nothing quite like tuning into Sports Talk 980 on the Monday after a Redskins loss and just listening to the anguish. (Especially since many of those same fans were loudly proclaiming that they were destined for the Super Bowl before the season.)
So to all you Redskins fans out there: I know that this has been an awful season, and things look bad. But remember, things can turn around quickly in the NFL. (Considering the change from last year, you should already know this.) Who knows? Next season, Griffin could experience a revival, and the future might once again look bright.
But I’ll be honest with you: While I may be sympathetic to your plight, that doesn’t mean that I hope it ends any time soon.