Night Terrors and Day Drinking: The Self Inflicted Trauma of Being a DC Sports Fan Part 5
The Redskins are bad in a way that is both all encompassing and incomprehensible. They are bad on the field, off the field, in the media, and behind the scenes. Things have a way of coming out about the Redskins years later that shine a new light on already bad moments and somehow make them worse. If the failures of the Wizards, Nationals, and Capitals are about getting close but never finishing the job the Redskins is about never being close and getting even further away. The other three teams are seemingly never able to be as good as their advertised to be and the Redskins are somehow worse than they’re thought to be. If the other teams are Sisyphus never able to get the boulder up the hill then the Redskins are Prometheus chained to the mountains and eternally pecked to pieces.
The 1999 Redskins weren’t bad. They won their division, won a playoff game, and lost in the divisional round to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by one point. Things were actually looking good for the Washington Redskins. They had Champ Bailey, Stephen Davis, Brad Johnson, Darrell Green, Michael Westbrook, and the second and third overall pick in the upcoming draft that they would use to get Lavar Arrington and Chris Samuels. You want to know something funny at this point. There are some players who are better than you remember and then there are those that are worse. I remember thinking Lavar Arrington was one of the best linebackers in the sport, but looking at his stats I wonder what I was thinking, Maybe it was that he hit hard or that he ended Troy Aikman’s career, but for some reason I thought Lavar Arrington was a better player than one who only once had double digit sacks and never had over 100 tackles in a season. Compare Lavar Arrington to someone like London Fletcher and you wonder why anyone would have ever considered Arrington anything more than mediocre.
Heading towards the 2000 season things looked great and this is how we ended up with season tickets to the Redskins. Remember at this time the Redskins had an 86 year long waiting list for season tickets so they were impossible to get. The only way you could get them was if someone died but then the family would hold onto the tickets and that is how you got them. If you knew someone who had family that had recently died and they didn’t want to use the Redskins tickets themselves. That is how we got ours when the parents of my father’s barber passed away and he had no interest in using them himself.
This is when Dan Snyder made his presence felt. He brought in Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, and worst of all Jeff George. It’s long been said that when a team has two quarterbacks they have no quarterbacks, and Dan Snyder created his own quarterback controversy because for some unknown reason he was infatuated with Jeff George. Still there was excitement, but man imagine if Dan Snyder had spread the money around on more players to fill holes in the team instead of using it to bring in over the hill players that were still household names. The Deion Sanders experiment in Washington was a disaster and while Bruce Smith accumulated 10 sacks and was an overall productive players Marco Coleman got 12 sacks at a fraction of the cost. 2000 and the Dan Snyder era was set up to be the beginning of a dynasty and he mismanaged his way into turning the franchise into the laughing stock of laughing stocks.
We really don’t need to recap every terrible season that followed. So here’s a brief overview. Norv Turner was fired and Terry Robiskie finished out the season as interim head coach, the Marty Schottenheimer came in for one season, he finished 8-8 and was fired because he wouldn’t let Dan Snyder be Dan Snyder, then Steve Spurrier who went 7-9 in his first season and 5-11 not very good in his second, Then Joe Gibbs came back and that looked like a mistake but then they made the playoffs in his second season then it looked like a mistake again and then one final playoff appearance and Gibbs was gone. And while the second Gibbs era had two playoff appearances it also had a point where the team had three head coaches. Joe Gibbs was the head coach, Greg Williams was the head coach in charge of defense, and Al Saunders was the head coach in charge of offense.
If this number of coaches seems crazy then the number of quarterbacks would blow your mind. Brad Johnson left for Tampa Bay after the 2000 season and Tony Banks and Jeff George both started games during the 2001 season, 2002 brought us Shane Matthews, Patrick Ramsey, and Danny Wuerfful, 2003 was the year of Patrick Ramsey and Tim Hasselbeck, husband of Elizabeth Hasselbeck, 2004 was when Mark Brunell came in, he stuck around for 2005 with Patrick Ramsey as back-up, 2006 Brunell was backed up and eventually lost his job to rookie Jason Campbell, and by 2007 Jason Campbell was the starting quarterback with Todd Collins as his back-up.
Now that we’ve worked our way back to 2008 lets again recap. The Nationals defied expectations by not losing 100 games and had a new, young, and exciting manager, the Wizards were a perineal playoff team, and the Capitals had just won a division title with multiple young players under team control for a long time. Things were looking good for DC sports. Even the Redskins were on the upswing as Joe Gibbs was set to retire for a second time and Greg Williams was going to inherit a playoff team with a young starting quarterback in Jason Campbell. Boy were we wrong.
First of all the Redskins didn’t hire Greg Williams. The move everyone expected never happened and then they announced the hiring of Jim Zorn as offensive coordinator and Jim Fassel as head coach. The fans were uproarious, and Dan Snyder just has to please the fans and so he didn’t hire Fassel, but he couldn’t pivot back to Williams and admit his mistake. So he did the worst thing possible and made Jim Zorn the head coach. The Washington Nationals weren’t going to fair much better as Manny Acta turned from a calm tactician into what can only be described as passive to the point of being pointless. Umpires had their way with the Washington Nationals and every call went against them because they knew Manny Acta would never argue, and not only would he never argue he’d never move from the dugout to stand up to an umpire when one of his players argued. With that as the backdrop the Nationals limped along to the first of back to back 100 loss season. The Wizards seemingly fell apart out of nowhere. They started 1-10 before Eddie Jordan was fired and finished the season 19-63 after three straight playoff appearances. The Capitals were the lone bright spot winning their second division title in as many season but again falling in the playoffs. This time to the Penguins after getting past the Rangers in the first round. It was progress and the Penguins did go on to win the Stanley Cup that season. Couldn’t complain that much at the time.
At this point in the movie Daniel LaRusso is laying face down on the mat screaming in pain before Terry Silver walks over to him and says, “Now the real pain begins, Danny Boy.” If the Capitals Stanley Cup appearance in 1998 was the high water mark of Washington sports since the Redskins Super Bowl then 2008-2009 was the low point. It’s hard to recap everything that went wrong but two names sum it up better than anything else Albert Haynesworth and Javaris Crittenton. If Gilbert Arenas’ two missed three throws in 2006 were the first sign of things to come they were but a stinging jab and nothing compared to the series of hooks and body shots that were about to land.