Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Guest Post: Cursed

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Sunday evening, after the epic defensive struggle that was the Redskins-Panthers game, I received an email from one of my oldest friends, Zuul, a lifelong Redskins fan trapped in Bronco country. Zuul has forgotten more about Redskins football than I know, and I am pleased he finally acceeded to my groveling pleas for a guest post.


Karma is a powerful force in sports. Is there any better explanation for what was wrong with Red Sox all those years than to simply blame it on the Curse of the Bambino? So why point the finger at Mark Brunell or The Dan for the continuing woes of the Redskins organization? Perhaps there is something a little simpler, if perhaps more esoteric than a stat sheet, to explain the annual exercise in mediocrity that we have come to accept as the Redskins. The Redskins are cursed like the Red Sox, even if the Skins never had a legend like the Babe to send packing.

But wait, you say, the Redskins did have The Babe and they did give him the royal shaft. The Curse of Babe Laufenberg! Was there ever a player that earned a spot on the roster and a chance to at least hold the clipboard the way Babe did? Those pre-season come-from-behind thrillers were often better than anything Joe Gibbs could squeeze out of the team during the regular season with the Diesel in traction Mondays through Saturdays and Joey T throwing the ball into the ground and to guys with the other colored jerseys. For a franchise that made a living out of developing 47th rounders with names like Humphries, Rypien, Schroeder – all of which either took a team to the Super Bowl or got traded for a guy who would get a team there (Jim Lachey), there was ample room on the injured reserve (a.k.a. Joe’s taxi squad) for a proven winner like The Babe. With a revolving door on the active roster for quarterbacks, if there was room for a guy like Cary Conklin during Joe Gibbs’ tenure, then, as Mr. Cooke would have said, there bloody well ought to been room for The Babe.

Sure enough, The Babe was discarded like an old sock and left to eventually become the Jess Atkinson of the Dallas news market. Save for the miraculous turnaround in Super Bowl XXII, teams under Joe Gibbs I never fared as well playing from behind the way they did when the Babe was under center. Just picture that deer-in-the-headlights look in Ryp’s eyes whenever he was asked to step out from his cannon-armed robot shell and make a play on his own. Forget it.

Not that the Skins’ handling of the Babe caused the same type of gash in the space-time continuum that the Red Sox opened up with their dealing away the Bambino. No, the Laufenberg affair was more symbolic of the hidden plague that has followed the Redskins around for years. Maybe it’s an identity crisis.

Save for the occasional exception, the Redskins of “old” were never the glamour boys, tough guys, Hollywood showboats, or any of the other characteristics that have always defined teams like the Cowboys, Steelers, Raiders, Niners, etc. George Allen got the Redskins to win by trading away a decade’s worth of draft picks from his old Rams team and milking the best possible play out of the old guys with his hip-hip-hooray attitude. Joe Gibbs I made a living off of relatively intelligent, moderately talented scheme players at most positions and the biggest and most agile monsters he could put on the O-line. During the same periods in the 70s and 80s, other teams were making their living off of big name superstars.

When free agency first hit under Plan A and Plan B, marquee players were not yet readily available and Charley Casserly did an admirable job of rounding out Bobby Beathard’s core team with as many no-name specialists as he could jam onto the roster. There will still be no superstars on Joe’s teams. But after Super Bowl XXVI, the impending doom of true free agency began to loom over the organization and set the stage for a Joe Gibbs flight to racing. While Joe was off tinkering under the hood, superstars showed up all over the open market, every team in the NFL got itself a 300-pound O-line, and the west coast offense became the prevailing offensive philosophy. This is not your father’s NFL. This isn’t the NFL from which Joe Gibbs fled after the 1992 season. But don’t blame Joe, he only came back for the – ehhemm -- love of the game.

So what about those supserstars? Al Davis collects them like trophies, but let’s just say that Heisman Trophy winners don’t mix with the Redskins. Desmond Howard (oddly enough, drafted under Joe Gibbs I) just signaled the beginning of the team’s identity crisis. Ethan Horton, Alvin Harper, Deion Sanders, Jeremiah Trotter, Adam Archuletta, and on and on…..it’s as if this organiztion has decided that, as much as it hates to bring in superstars, it is a necessary evil if the Skins are going to compete in the modern NFL. But here is one problem – just because a guy has a name like Marino doesn’t mean he can win big games. Moreover, just because a guy’s agent and the folks at Nike think a guy is a superstar doesn’t mean the guy really is. Dan Snyder has proven that a superstar salary does not a superstar make.

What happened to the hip-hip-hooray guys and intelligent players that used to define this organization? Remember, there are supposed to be just a handful of Dexter Manleys and Alvin Waltons thrown in on a team for extra fire. Santana Moss? Yes, he is faster than a gazelle and runs great routes, but come on, this guy is dumber than any player Joe Gibbs I ever had on his offense. Clinton Portis? Multiply Joe Thiesman’s ego by Gary Clark’s and you still don’t even come close, and not even Dexter himself was as much of a punk as Portis. Ok, we’ll designate Sean Taylor as the token bad boy and cut him a break. The players that have come to define the Redskins look a hell of a lot like all the other Ocho Cinco type pieces of trash out there.

We won’t even consider that Joe Gibbs himself has admitted to not putting in the kind of hours he used to. Joe Gibbs return to D.C. has proven to be no more inspiring than Heath Shuler’s is likely to be, and at least Heath is virtually assured a more successful second tour of duty inside the Beltway. Just as Heath is about to discover what it means to compromise yourself in order to get anything done, Joe Gibbs has obviously had to compromise his own principles in order to coach in the modern NFL, it’s starting to show, and it ain’t pretty.

Finally, there is a haunted house phenomenon in this organization. Jack Kent Cooke’s legacy is not the great success the organization enjoyed in his time, but rather, it’s that bloody stadium. It may be the biggest in the league, but it is a lifeless slab of concrete out in the middle of BFE. RFK was a living, breathing, moving home, but this colossus that Mr. Cooke never saw in use barely even qualifies as a house. It is a fitting legacy for an lonely old jillionaire that got his sweetest revenge from the grave by shafting his son and then watching Dan Snyder kill himself slowly with ulcerous frustration and agony.

Despite all these bugaboos, the Redskins organization could turn this around. This is not the Lions or even the Cardinals. This is a Redskins organization that has not totally lost itself and just needs a shock. Maybe The Dan will sell to someone better suited to handle football stewardship. Maybe Al Saunders and Gregg Williams will bring in the personnel they need for their schemes – either genuine superstars, or just guys who make plays. Whatever it is, I hope it comes soon, because I am starting to think that the Redskins are just the Wizards in disguise.


Noted without additional comment.

Kansas fencepost: Don Palmer