Leaving a hole in our hearts and one along the line
And so it ends, ten year Redskin left tackle Chris Samuels is formally retiring today, the spinal stenosis that ended his 2009 season is simply too great a risk to his health, his mobility and his life to continue playing the violent game of professional football.
It was a no brainer of a decision and he has the full support of every Redskins fan in the world. His shoes would have been hard to fill by any player, after all he has been here a decade, the lack of an obvious successor at left tackle makes Chris' final departure all the more difficult for Redskins fans to accept.
Chris was the undisputed top tackle prospect in the 2000 draft coming out of the University of Alabama, Chris was the winner of the 1999 Outland Trophy as the nation's top interior lineman. The Redskins selected Chris with the number three overall pick in that draft, the Redskins having traded two other 2000 first round picks, their number 24 overall and the number twelve overall to San Francisco for the number three.
Curly R aside: As an historical note, the number 24 overall pick in the 2000 draft was the Redskins designated pick for having completed the 1999 season 10-6 and the number twelve was compensation from Carolina for the Panthers having signed defensive tackle Sean Gilbert to a free agent offer in 1998, that Sean worked out for us after all didn't he.
Chris challenged for the starting left tackle position immediately and won out over Tre' Johnson and that was all she wrote for a decade, he was the guy, it was his job to protect the blind side of whatever Redskins quarterback was back there, be it Brad Johnson, Jeff George, Todd Husak, Tony Banks, Kent Graham, Shane Matthews, Patrick Ramsey, Danny Wuerffel, Tim Hasselback, Gibran Hamdan, Mark Brunell, Todd Collins or Jason Campbell.
Chris also anchored the ground game, springing Stephen Davis (twice), Clinton Portis (four times) and Ladell Betts to thousand yard rushing seasons. There were a number of games in 2008, with an ineffective Stephon Heyer and Jon Jansen and Randy Thomas shells of their former selves on the right side, where the running game comically went over left tackle again and again and again, even when the opposing defense knew it was coming, Chris could still get Clinton to the second level.
It is often said that football is the ultimate team sport and as such, it can be difficult or impossible to assess an individual's performance because of all the moving parts around him; a great pass for example is a combination of blocking, quarterback play and receiver play.
With Chris Samuels though, we have the ability to isolate his performance as outstanding. Think of this, here are Chris' six Pro Bowl years, along with the Redskins record and other notes:
2001: 8-8 under Marty Schottenheimer, Tony Banks was sacked 29 times and Stephen Davis and Ki-Jana Carter combined for over 1700 rush yards.
2002: 7-9 under Steve Spurrier, two passers threw the ball over 220 times and neither had a 73 rating; it took three ball carriers to get to 1600 yards rushing.
2005: 10-6 under Joe Gibbs, Santana Moss and Clinton Portis both set still standing franchise records at their positions and the Redskins won a playoff game for the first time in six years.
2006: 5-11 under Joe Gibbs, Mark Brunell was benched midway through the season and Jason Campbell finished with a lower rating than Mark; with Clinton Portis' shoulder separated, Ladell Betts ran for over 1100 yards on nine starts.
2007: 9-7 under Joe Gibbs, Clinton Portis had a quote disappointing unquote 1200 yards rushing and Jason Campbell did not crack 78 passer rating; the Redskins returned to the playoffs; Chris and his Pro Bowl teammates tight end Chris Cooley and longsnapper Ethan Albright each wore jersey number 21 in honor of fallen teammate Sean Taylor.
2008: 8-8 under Jim Zorn, after a hot 6-2 start the team deflated with a 2-6 run at the end, the team finished the season without Chris after he tore a triceps tangling with linebacker Terrell Suggs in the game nine Monday Night Terrible Towel debacle against the Steelers, Chris missed the final seven games.
Success for the team and success for Chris were not inextricably linked. He played on and excelled every year no matter the change, this is a huge part of what makes Chris one of the greatest Redskins ever.
Overall Chris was an extremely durable football player, playing in 146 of a possible 165 games including playoffs, starting every one single one of them. Toward the end as they all do he battled lingering injuries, a knee that kept him out two games in 2007, the triceps tear in 2008 and the neck injury in 2009.
That neck injury, a stenosis narrowing of the spinal column at the base of the neck, is a condition Chris has known about since childhood, but has managed and was not considered a threat to his health or his ability to play football, it was in fact that condition that led him to play with that gigantic neck brace cowl on his shoulder pads.
All the years of abuse though took their toll, in a game five loss at the Panthers Chris took a shot to the head and shoulders that left him numb, and much more than the usual neck stinger, which is an offensive lineman's lot in football life. A long and patient examination revealed that his condition had worsened, another such hit to his head or neck could leave Chris paralyzed, or dead.
In the end it was the easiest decision of his life. He has had a great football career and accomplished everything an individual contributor possibly can.
We are better as football fans from ten years of Chris, the Redskins are better for having selected him, thank you Chris and Redskins fans and The Curly R wish you all the best as your life enters this new phase.
Chris Samuels is a sure fire Redskins Ring of Famer. The only thing between him and Canton is the rest of those Redskins teams.
Chris Samuels: Washington Post photo from here.