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It’s the morning after. A good night’s sleep has not changed my memories of the Philadelphia-Washington game being one of the ugliest I’ve ever seen where Washington actually wins.
But it was like being young and having a blind date where the date wasn’t very attractive. Then you found out they were rich. And had a private jet. And said “let’s go make some trouble, no matter what it costs.”
Years from now, ugly fades. Great memories, however, last a lifetime, and winning a division title after the things this team has been through certainly qualifies as one heck of a recollection.
I mean, let’s go back to August. The first thing that pops into my mind is the fear the season would never be played. The NFL would start, COVID cases would ramp up, and the whistle would be blown on the rest of the season. Lest you forget, College Football was trying to start its season and games were being postponed every week because of such issues.
Then came a Thursday night in late August where Adam Schefter tweeted out some dreadful news: Head Coach Ron Rivera had been diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma. I have learned over my lifetime to not even think about how deadly cancer can be for fear of not being as positive as I could be while that person puts up the fight of their life.
But I have also learned over my lifetime that cancer turns every plan into “if.” I’ve celebrated many friends beating it. I’ve also been to the funerals of several friends who didn’t. If the season even got to a point where they were playing in December, my fear was Rivera might not be on the sidelines coaching. Everything became reduced to one day at a time.
Then there was the whole “we’re not the Redskins, we’re just a football team wearing a lighter version of the burgundy we wore for decades.” No longer the Redskins, I approached the opener against the Eagles for the first time in my 50 years of being a fan with no discernable excitement. They beat Philadelphia thanks to some timely turnovers by the Eagles, but then lost 7 of their next 8. At times they were unwatchable, going from primary focus to background noise in my den.
They were a bad football team, had few players on offense anyone would recognize, and while the defense was young and promising, you can’t win games if you don’t score. Top draft choice Dwayne Haskins showed he was capable of displaying great potential and being totally clueless – sometimes on the same offensive series – and when Kyle Allen got injured in an October game with the Los Angeles Rams, the unthinkable happened.
I love Alex Smith and his fight and determination to overcome an incredibly gruesome injury that almost cost him his life. If you live out here in Loudoun County, you probably have someone in your circle of friends of friends who were part of the medical team that worked with Alex through his recovery, and we all heard the same stories: At one point, there was doubt not only if he would ever walk again, but if he would see the next morning. It was that bad.
But I did not at that time (and to a degree still don’t) want to see Alex Smith play another football game. Ever. From what I’ve heard, he’s a great guy, has a wonderful family, and will do great things in life that have nothing to do with throwing a football. For him to risk that for the sake of a football team that was 2-7 and couldn’t seem to get out of its own way did not see logical.
But there he was in October, back on the field. Haskins had apparently made another in what would become a series of knucklehead moves during the week to the point Rivera made him inactive. With Allen injured, it was Alex Smith or moving tight end Logan Thomas back to QB.
So now I’m watching a team that’s 2-7, has no name, has no hope for doing anything right the rest of the season, holding my breath every time a defender gets anywhere near the quarterback, all coached by a man I pray every night will still be on this earth one year from now.
“Playoffs?” I think in my best Jim Mora voice. “Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game.”
So Sunday night, as people complained about the Eagles tanking it, or how mad the fans in New York were, I honestly didn’t care. I can’t explain to you why Doug Pederson made the coaching decisions he did, and if you ask me, a small part of me thinks Pederson decided if he couldn’t win the division, he’d do a few things to make sure it went to Rivera for how courageously he handled the season and all of its issues.
None of us will ever know for sure.
But the one thing I do know for sure is that some way, some how, a team with no right to even speak the word “playoffs” in the middle of November, much less dream about playing in them, is going to be taking the field at home this weekend against Tampa Bay. And two men, who have battled medical situations that many of us could probably not survive, will be among those on the sidelines for the opening kickoff.
Years from now, no one will remember who Nate Sudfield was. Or what decisions Doug Pederson made.
But I sure as heck will remember Ron Rivera slapping Alex Smith on the shoulder pads right before the offense takes the field and telling him “good to be here, isn’t it?”
Not good, coach. Great. In fact, the greatest story of the season.
One I’ll never forget.