Sunday, December 2, 2007

When It Becomes More Than Bad Luck

Off politics for a minute...let me talk about the one other thing that gets me going in emotional rollercoasters and fits of excitement and depression.

The Washington Redskins.

Sean Taylor's death was tragedy that goes beyond football, that is undeniable. I am ecstatic that they apparently have found the hoodlums responsible for the slaying of a man who was trying to do right in his life, and died protecting both his home and his family. The gesture of the Redskins to start today's game with only 10 men (instead of 11) was honorable and a moving symbol of the loss they are feeling.

However, in a strictly football sense, this tragedy is one in a long line of them for the Washington Redskins.

It's been 15 years since "Hail To The Redskins" meant "Hail To The Champions". Since then, heartbreak and tragedy has been all that this team has known.

Joe Gibbs retired after the 1992-93 season after taking a talented but extremely old and injured Redskins team to the playoffs, and nearly upending the 49ers in the divisional playoff...who had the league's best record that season. Richie Petitbon took over, and people thought that Gibbs' defensive guru would pick up where he left off, and the Skins were projected to still be one of the better teams in the NFC.

Not quite.

After a blowout 35-16 win over the defending champion Cowboys on Monday Night Football to start the 93 campaign, the Redskins went on to finish 4-12 to complete their worst season in 30 years. Petitbon was fired and replaced with Norv Turner, who would end up with an even worse season in 1994 with a record of 3-13. However, Turner had a core of younger players that were replacing the worn and aging starters of the past. The next year, the Skins went 6-10 and were poised for a return to greatness.

In 1996, the Skins started the season 7-1, then managed to lose 6 of their last 8 games to miss the playoffs at 9-7...the 37-10 stomping of the Cowboys to close out venerable RFK stadium was the season's highlight. 1997 was another playoff "near-miss", as boneheaded mistakes like Gus Frerotte's headbutting of the wall after a touchdown caused him to jam his neck and miss the rest of the season, and Michael Westbrook's slamming of his helmet after a blown call by a referee caused the Redskins to miss a chance at a game winning field goal in a must-win game...the Skins finished just out of the playoffs again at 8-7-1.

After injuries forced a 6-10 season in 1998, The Redskins fulfilled a dream that many fans craved for...they won the NFC East with a 10-6 record, and nearly made it to the NFC Championship game...except a botched snap of the game-winning chip-shot field goal cost the Skins the victory. Super Bowl hopes in 2000 and 2001 were destroyed by bad personnel decisions, bad coaching, and mediocre play...both times, the team went 8-8, once under Norv Turner and Terry Robiskie, and once under Marty Schottenheimer.

They went back to losing ways under Steve Spurrier, finishing 7-9 in 2002 and 5-11 in 2003. Spurrier was fired, and Gibbs was brought back.

2004 was a rebuilding and adjustment year, as the Skins went 6-10. However, the Skins made it back to the playoffs at 10-6, and once again lost out in the divisional playoffs.

Last year was an injury-marred season for Clinton Portis and a rebuilding year as Jason Campbell went through some growing pains after being given the starting job with 7 games left in the season. The 5-11 finish was disappointing, but we've kept hope.

This year...well, we should be better. However, this team has had a tradition of "giving" games away since Gibbs' first retirement. This year, they've handed victories to other teams in ways I can't even imagine. Just like today, where the Skins allowed the Buffalo Bills to remain in the game...and the Bills won 17-16...and all of their points came on 5 field goals and a safety. THE BILLS DIDN'T EVEN SCORE A TOUCHDOWN, AND WE STILL LOST! We're now 5-7, and we could be 10-2 or 11-1. The only game the Skins lost where they were never in it was against the Patriots.

I'm beginning to think this team is cursed. The incredibly bad timing of injuries, the way they've given games away, Sean Taylor's death, Norv Turner's inexplicable firing when the Skins had a chance at a playoff berth.

This team, including playoff games, is 102-137-1 (after today's loss) since Gibbs retired the first time. If you look back at the talent this team had, and all of the insane misfortunes this team has suffered over the past 15 years, you just have to scratch your head as a Skins fan and ask yourself...


But, I will go on. I will cheer my heart out every week for these Redskins, and every other Redskins team that comes afterwards. I will expect them to win, or at least put up a valiant fight. I will sing "Hail To The Redskins" as loud as possible whenever they score.

And when they lose, I will once again sink into a depression as we diehard fans do. No matter how inevitable the outcome was before the game started.

It's something I will do, and something I can never get used to. I grew up around a winning tradition and incredible pride in my hometown team. One day, I hope, they will return to a winning tradition...if nothing else, for the sake of my son, who (at the age of 2) is already exhibiting signs of becoming part of another generation of Skins fans.

He doesn't need this kind of exhilaration/depression's not healthy.


Anonymous said...

Excellent piece Phil. I have suffered a general malaise since the early nineties when my Redskins last won a Super Bowl. I have been a season ticket holder since the beginning and fondly recall the Minnesota Vikings championship game where Darrel Green swatted the ball away.

Even more cursed are the Washington Capitals who have blown several playoff leads. Do you recall the quadruple overtime 1986game when whe Caps lost at 1:46 a.m. Easter Sunday to the NY Islanders.

Phil Chroniger said...

I know exactly which game you're talking about.

Heck, the Redskins haven't won a championship since 91-92, the Caps have NEVER won a championship (Stanley Cup appearance in 98), and the Bullets/Wizards haven't won a championship since 1978 (they haven't even won a divsion championship since 1979). I can't say anything about the Nationals since they're new and haven't established anything yet.

Still, why are DC sports teams so cursed? It's not like the fans don't care, because it's obvious that we do!