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There was a point during the summer when the Washington Redskins dropped their name, their owner was making headlines for scandal, and after 50 years of following the team, I wondered if I could keep being a fan.
The notion was unthinkable if you’ve been around me very long. I fell in love with this team at a very young age after seeing Sonny Jurgensen throw touchdown passes to Charley Taylor, Bobby Mitchell and Jerry Smith while growing up in Norfolk, and it has defined who I am as a sports fan ever since. Sunday afternoons have been sacred ever since, and the people I worked with quickly learned if there was an emergency and the choice was to call me at 2 AM or during a Redskins game, the smart pick was to call me at 2 AM.
My family chuckles now at the story, but back in late 1999, a company with headquarters in Tysons Corner called and offered me the job of being president of one of its divisions. The deciding factor for me was the company’s willingness to let me live in Ashburn, have an office in Tysons Corner, and fly back and forth to Los Angeles (where the division was located). Why Ashburn, the company asked? Because that’s where the Redskins were headquartered.
I’ve lived here in Ashburn for the last 20 years because of that job.
The Dan Snyder years have been mostly bad with occasional rays of sunlight, but they were still the burgundy and gold, and they still had the history of Sonny, Joe Gibbs, the Super Bowl years, etc. that made me keep coming back. Not being a fan seemed like divorcing your spouse of 50 years. They were family and it was until death do us part.
I once even told a friend recently I didn't know if I could keep being a fan and his response was "are you being serious? I mean, you were in sales for most of your life so I can't tell when you're telling the truth."
As I've said many times, I need to make better friends.
But I’ll be honest, dropping the name made it tougher than I thought. Perhaps if they had actually picked another name, it would be different. But the whole “Washington Football Team” just seemed like more of Snyder’s nonsense. Plus he had his marketing minions push how wonderful and refreshing it was to do this in the same manner he has urinated on all of us while telling us it’s just rain as the team craters every year.
When I watched the team, they weren’t my team any more. They didn’t even look like the team I followed for over 50 years, with no logo on the helmet, no nickname, no “Hail To The Redskins”, not even the colors look the same. They look like the Kansas City Chiefs, with the KC logo replaced by gold block numbers they stole from Alabama.
Hope springs eternal, so I decided to give them one more shot this season. They had a new coach, a young QB with potential, and what looked like the makings of a very good defense. If they could just play decent, win a few games early, and show some excitement, I reasoned, maybe that would rekindle the old magic.
They won their opener despite not playing that great, and for a week we all had bragging rights for being in first place in the NFC East. But it has been downhill ever since. In the span of a week, the young QB went from being the QB of the future, to third string, to calling in sick, to being the subject of rumors he’ll be traded by the end of the month.
Yesterday’s game may have been rock bottom in this football chamber of horrors. The team was awful, and while there was an incredibly heart-warming story unfolding regarding the tremendous resolve of Alex Smith to overcome life threatening injuries to get back on the field, that situation was a rose among thorns. I was honestly scared for him to be playing in a game where it was pouring rain and the team around him seemed so disinterested. I even got down on a knee in my home and said a prayer that he would get through the afternoon without further injury.
For all this to go so far South only four games into the season is encouraging my head to tell my heart to shut up for good about liking this team. They’re a band of mostly strangers, playing in uniforms I don’t recognize, showing the emotions of a box of rocks. That tends to happen when the locker room is either confused or not sold on a clear direction for the future.
Which means it could get worse. When a first-year coach encounters this sort of thing this early in his first season, it’s a huge red flag. I think Ron Rivera is an excellent coach, but I also think this situation is far worse and far more complicated than he anticipated when he took the job. Yesterday the team wasn’t really competitive. More of that and the team – and its fans – will quit.
Barring a huge turnaround, this means there will probably be another long, slow rebuilding process, something I doubt many of us long-suffering fans have the patience for. Under the current owner, this team has been the champions of April when it signs pieces of the puzzle that could signal hope. But it always seems to turn out the puzzle when put together is one ugly picture.
For over 50 years, Sundays have been special in my house, with all centering around the play of the Washington Redskins. Now, after so many mistakes by ownership, they’ve finally done it for me.
Washington, as the name they've chosen so suggests, has indeed become just another “football team.”