It was a great run while it lasted, Washington Redskins. I know that all good things come to an end, so I am trying to be grateful for all the memories, rather than brooding on the dark new reality.
With a couple of short-lived blips, the team was a study in futility the past 20 years. It compiled losing records, fired a series of coaches, made a series of disastrous expensive free agent signings, and was as irrelevant as a snow lift in the Caribbean.
Those woeful days are a just a sweet memory right now. Led by two terrific rookies, the Redskins are back in the playoffs. They are riding a seven game winning streak. Not only that, they pummeled their hated rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, to win their division, and keep the ‘boys out of the playoffs. The Washington franchise will open the playoffs at home Sunday, against a good but not intimidating Seattle Seahawks. The Super Bowl is a very real possibility. It seems that the entire Washington region is thrilled.
I can’t stand it.
I hate the Redskins – and the worshipful attitude showered on them by the Washington region.
More oppressive than Washington humidity
In 1991, I wrote an article that was published in the Outlook section of The Washington Post (“Hogs, Hype and Humbug: The Redskins get my vote – for the world’s blandest team”) describing my antipathy for the team and its starry eyed fans. In the piece, I compared the adulation bestowed on the team to the oppressive Washington summer humidity. Now is the time to correct the record: I much prefer the humidity.
Now that the team is good again, there’s no escaping Redskinmania. It’s like being trapped in a locked room filled with tear gas. Every win now is on the front page of every local newspaper. On days the team plays, local news stations lead their shows with the Redskins. Every talk radio sports show in town is all Redskins all the time. Even TV and radio blackouts are futile. Whenever the team makes a big play near the end of a game, there are loud shouts throughout my Southeast Washington neighborhood.
So I savor the memories of the past 20 years, during which the team was usually bad to mediocre. After each gut-wrenching defeat, I’d turn on the local sports radio stations to listen as angry Redskins fans called in to vent their frustrations. The recriminations, the whining, the finger-pointing – it was all beautiful music to me. For a few years, I lived in a basement apartment, where I didn’t have good reception for a particular sports radio station. After a Redskins loss, I would get in my car, tune in to the station and go for a short drive, just to hear the team’s fans moan. Good times. No, great times.
A tradition of loathing
As long as I can remember following sports, I’ve loathed this franchise. Like most fans, my allegiances were formed when I was a youngster, in my case, during my boyhood in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I grew up in Los Angeles, and never developed an allegiance to the Rams. But I instantly disliked the Redskins. Why? Who knows? Maybe I didn’t like the helmet logo or the uniforms. That’s boy logic.
I did like the Oakland Raiders – the swaggering attitude, the outlaw image, the cool silver-and-black uniforms. That meant I had to root against the Denver Broncos, a Raiders rival. I was in a quandary when the Redskins played the Broncos in the 1988 Super Bowl. I couldn’t root for either team, but who should I root against? I rooted against the Redskins. That didn’t work out too well. I took solace in the fact that the victory (like the team’s 1983 championship) came during a strike-shortened season.
It was easy to avoid the Washington area’s unhealthy psychological attachment to the team from the safety of the West Coast. Then I got a job in Washington. I cruised into town on Sept. 17, 1989, that glorious day when the Philadelphia Eagles rallied from 20 points down to beat the Redskins at RFK Stadium, 42-37. I listened to the game, distraught, then hopeful, then happy as the Eagles won after a series of dramatic and unlikely plays.
I was unprepared for the emotional stranglehold the team holds over the region: Moment by moment coverage of summer camp practices. Fawning, over-the-top “coverage” of the team by TV and radio reporters who are clearly invested as fans. (There have been some shining moments. In November 2010, after the Eagles destroyed the team 59-28 on Monday Night Football, one local sports radio yakker unleashed an epic rant against the franchise. It was awesome. If there is a radio Hall of Fame, that harangue needs to be inducted, right now).
The team’s TV and radio broadcast team is a study in homerism. The announcer and his two analysts open root for the Redskins. Their voices fill with excitement when the Redskins do well, and are deflated when they lose. Though I have to admit, I like analyst Sonny Jurgensen, a former Redskins quarterback. Heck, everybody likes Sonny.
Multiple reasons to loathe the Redskins
It turned out there were many reasons to dislike the team besides the uniforms. I hate “Hail to the Redskins,” the team fight song. Come on, this isn’t college. A pro team with a fight song? Adults who know and sing all the words? Really?
Then there’s the team’s nickname. It’s racist and dumb. Imagine trying to name a team the “Blackskins” or the “Rednecks.”
In the 23 years since I moved to Washington, I’ve learned there are many more reasons to dislike the franchise. Right now, it seems that everyone in Washington is singing “Hail to the Redskins.” Well, hail this:
- The team has a racist history: The Redskins were the last team in the National Football League to integrate, in 1962. The team added black players only after the Kennedy administration applied pressure; the team was preparing to move into what is now RFK Stadium, on federally controlled land. The Kennedy administration basically forced the team to do the right thing. George Preston Marshall, who bought the team in 1932, acknowledged that having an all-white team was a marketing strategy. Adding black players would not appeal to Southern whites, who comprised the team’s fan base at the time, Marshall said.
- The franchise is greedy and engages in grubby business practices: Remember when team owner Dan Snyder charged fans $20 to attend summer practices ($10 to watch the workout, $10 to park)? In 2009, The Washington Post reported that the Redskins were suing fans who were trying to back out of expensive season ticket packages. Many of the fans said they could not afford the tickets because they had lost their jobs and were experiencing financial difficulties. One of the fans sued by the team was a 73-year-old grandmother, who said she could not afford the $50,000 contract (over 10 years) she had signed for club seats, the Post reported.
- The owner is a wealthy bully: In 2011, Snyder sued the Washington City Paper for publishing an article critical of him. The article: “The cranky Redskins fan’s guide to Dan Snyder,” cleverly recounted, in alphabetical order, various team debacles during the Snyder regime. After a barrage of criticism, Snyder quietly withdrew the lawsuit.
- The owner is a bad guy?: I don’t know if Snyder is a bad man. But in 2009, former Redskins great John “The Diesel” Riggins, hero of the 1983 Super Bowl win, said in an interview that Snyder’s a “bad guy” with a “dark heart.” If you can’t credit The Diesel, who can you trust?
There’s plenty more, but you get the gist. Ironically, this particular team has plenty of excellent, likeable players. Star rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III is a great talent who is mature beyond his years. Rookie running back Alfred Morris is a not only a great find (he was sixth-round draft pick), he is genuinely humble, and appears to be a great guy.
No matter. Come Sunday, I will be rooting as hard as anyone east of Seattle for the Seahawks.