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The Washington Redskins: A Franchise’s Downward Spiral

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I know about losing teams. I root for a lot of them. In 49 years, I have seen the San Francisco Giants in the World Series twice (that I remember). The first was 1989, when they were swept by the Oakland A’s in the earthquake series. I watched every out. They never led.

And 2002, in Game 6, up by five and needing six outs and couldn’t do it.

Don’t even get me started on 1993, when they won 103 games and didn’t make the playoffs.

I was born in Massachusetts, so it all starts there with the Red Sox. In 1967, they wheeled the only TV in Mittineague School into one room and all the students came in and watched the World Series until school got out at 3:00. Then we went over to the appliance store and watched it in color through the front window. Red Sox cooked in seven. 1975- again done in seven.

I gave up on them after the 1986 series. I couldn’t take it anymore.

I then became an Orioles fan. When you root for a team like the Giants, it’s always necessary to have a local backup team so the season remains interesting past July.

Does anyone outside of Baltimore remember the Orioles' 1991 trade of Pete Harnisch, Curt Schilling (yes that Curt Schilling) and Steve Finley for Glenn Davis?

Harnisch retired in 2002 with a winning record, two 16 win seasons and a 3.88 ERA. Schilling just re-upped with Boston and Finley is still hanging on with the Rockies and has a .272 career batting average.

Glenn Davis retired in 1993, with 170 hits, 24 home runs and 85 RBI as an Oriole. A foul ball and a bar fight ended his major league career in 1993.

The dream died there when Peter Angelos bought the team and traded away the entire farm system.

So now I have the hometown Nationals… hope springs eternal.

There was always the Celtics. They had won so much, it became almost monotonous. Then, when they drafted Lenny Bias in the 1986 draft, the marriage of the local guy to my favorite basketball team seemed like a dream too good to be true.

It was. Two days later, Lenny Bias is dead and the Celtics still haven’t recovered.

Now we come to football. As a New England native, I started as a New York Giants fan, switching to the Patriots after the Giants 16th rebuilding season. I watched in complete despair as the Bears annihilated the Pats in Super Bowl XX, again in 1986.

So, now I am a home town Washington Redskins fan. Never in my life have I lived and died with a team as I do with the Washington Redskins. There are other teams in the Washington area, but this is a one-horse town – a Redskins town.

And we have gotten everything we could hope for in coaches. Norv Turner and Steve Spurrier were thought at the time to be the second coming, the cure, the fix for the next ten years. Marty Schottenheimer could have been the answer, but he ticked everybody off (as he does so often), so he was gone before he got a chance to turn it around.

And then the unimaginable happened: Joe Gibbs, a guy who brought home the glory ten years before, was coming back. Dan Snyder had finally done something right with his glorified, real-life fantasy football team.

I said in 2004 that if Joe Gibbs could not turn this club around, no one can, and that would be the time for Dan Snyder to sell this team to someone who in more interested in winning than making money.

Dan Snyder, Peter Angelos, George Steinbrenner… no matter where they are, they are arguably the smartest guys in the room. I don’t dispute that. But they are NOT the smartest baseball or football minds in the room. If Snyder would stick to the business end and let the football guys run the team, maybe they can win some games.

Get Vinny Cerrato out and hire a real football guy. I can imagine the exchanges between these two:

Deion Sanders is available. Let’s get him! (“Sure, Mr. Snyder, you’re wonderful. And Deion's initials are the same as yours.”)

Bruce Smith…I love that guy! (“Great choice, Mr. Snyder. Why didn’t I think of him? I am in the presence of greatness.”)

Players in the Daniel Snyder era come to Washington to get a big paycheck and ensure their financial future. Then they go elsewhere to win games and championships.

Snyder fired Charley Casserly and hired Vinny “can you freshen up my coffee and make sure my blue suit is pressed?” Cerrato. He fired Norv Turner because he didn’t like his choice of quarterback. Norv was partial to Brad Johnson, while Snyder favored – get this – Jeff George. Snyder also inherited Norv, a control thing that doomed Norv from the start.

Norv turned out to be Norv, but that’s another story. One could also argue that Norv has had a hard time shaking off his first head coaching experience in Washington. It’s hard to keep your eye on the field when you’re always looking over your shoulder.

Scottenheimer always gets fired for being Marty, but the main reason he was canned in DC – he fired Vinny Cerrato.

That one decision makes him a genius in my book. It also makes you an unemployed football coach here in Washington.

The dysfunction of this team is complete, and it was dramatically highlighted in the Buffalo game this past Sunday. Yes, Joe Gibbs called the second time out that made an iffy kick an NFL gimme, and that gave Buffalo the game. To me, though, it’s symptomatic of an organization in disarray.

I can just imagine the committee of people trying to decide to call the second timeout. I mean, the Redskins have about 300 coaches. I’m sure there is one guy there who makes $200K a year just to know that rule.

It’s like the guy who brings a parrot home as a present to his wife:

Did you like the parrot? he says.

Great, she replies; it’s in the oven now.

But that parrot spoke ten languages, said the husband.

Well, why didn’t it say something? replied the wife.

In my mind, there had to be someone on the sidelines who knew that rule. Unfortunately, it probably had to travel up the chain of command to the coach and there just wasn’t enough time, although it looks like the chain of command has broken down completely. 

Gregg Williams starts the defense with ten players to honor Sean Taylor and Buffalo gains 22 yards.

Great tribute – stupid football move.

Williams didn’t tell Gibbs and worse yet, he didn’t tell Buffalo. The Bills could have told them if they were willing to go along with it. If they said they would and exploited it, they would look like heartless bastards.

What they should have done is lined up with ten and jumped off sides. Buffalo gets a first and five in their own territory and the gesture is made. If Joe Gibbs had been informed, maybe he makes that suggestion.

Maybe not. We’ll never know.

And look at the offense. Joe Gibbs hired Al Saunders to run the offense, and it has been a constant battle between Saunders, a pass philosophy guy, and Gibbs, who is in the Hall of Fame running the ball.

If key people are not on the same page, it’s a recipe for disaster. If no one is on the same page, it’s the Washington Redskins.

It’s not Joe Gibbs’ fault. He is the favored son who returns to the dysfunctional family and is asked to right the ship. But he has been asked to perform with one hand behind his back.

That’s almost like playing defense with only ten players.

Dan Snyder – Please give us our Washington Redskins back. Fire Vinny and half of the coaching staff. Hire player personnel professionals and get out of their way. If you think you’re making money now, wait until the Redskins start winning.

Make the smart guy move. Steinbrenner did it (for awhile) and won. You can too. Let the smart football guys run the football organization.

Or sell it to someone who can.

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About The Insurance Guy

  • Matthew T. Sussman

    Please don’t ever root for any of my teams, Rick.

  • Rick Vassar


    My dad used to scout part-time for the Giants when they had a Single A farm team in Springfield, MA in the old Eastern League (1957-65). He was also a fill in umpire for the Eastern League. His claim to fame was that he threw Earl Weaver out of a game when he managed Elmira (1962-65).

    Some of the guys who came through there were quite impressive:

    Juan Marichal
    Felipe Alou
    Matty Alou
    Tom Haller
    Jim Ray Hart
    Jim Duffalo
    Bill Hands
    Frank Linzy
    Hal Lanier
    Manny Mota
    Jose Pagan

    The team moved to Amarillo in 1966 and old Pynchon Park burned down shortly after that. I spent my entire childhood trying to pick up bounced radio signals from Chicago and Philly. The next day, I would get the partial box scores from the West Coast games in the paper (no ESPN in the 1960’s).

    I thinking about give up on the Giants and rotting for the Diamondbacks. What do you think, Matt?

  • Mike

    “Please give us our Washington Redskins back”

    If you switch teams with the regularity you do then they’re not really yours are they. Real fans have grievance, fakes don’t.

  • Rick Vassar

    It depends on your perspective. The beauty of sports is you can root for whomever you want, whenever you want.

    If you are right (and I’m not saying you aren’t), then where would all the expansion teams get their fans?

    Not to justify myself, but most of these changes are geographic:

    Giants/Red Sox to Orioles and now Nationals (btw, not a lot of Montreal Expo fans around here…)

    NY Giants(NFL)/Pats(AFL) to Redskins

    Celtics to Wizards.

    I have lived in DC much longer than I lived in New England. I felt nothing when the Sox and the Pats won (finally).

    It still hurt bad with the Giants in ’02

    You may not agree, but that’s you.