I picked up the sports section of the Washington Post the other day only to notice that my hometown football team, the Washington Redskins, has managed to earn the distinction of being the worst team in either the American Football League or the National Football League. At 0-4 they have been labeled the disgrace of the franchise, and post-mortems and eulogies are already being said in a town that prides itself on knowing what is going to happen long before it ever does.
There was a time when I would have been very upset over the Redskins losing. In grade school I knew the names of every player on the squad, and if asked I could recite not only what positions they played, but also what their numbers were.
I followed Redskin progress avidly, and in the mornings I always beat my brother to the Washington Post sports page, eager to drink up whatever new story the reporters had seen fit to write that day. The paper never failed me--you can always count on the Redskins to have the most important billing on the sports page for weeks before the pre-season begins, until weeks after the season finally ends. It always takes several weeks to bury the Redskins; every game is rehashed, and every possible theory that can be advanced for either their success or failure is put forth, and no player is left uninterviewed. For a diehard Burgundy and Gold fan, it was nirvana.
Those were the days of flamboyant personalities--of Sonny Jurgenson and Billy Kilmer, of Larry Brown and Charley Taylor, of coach George "The Future is Now' Allen and owner--and Washington business heavyweight--Jack Kent Cooke. Everyone in Washington knew that the again Jurgenson and the slightly younger Kilmer were embroiled in an unending feud over who was to quarterback, and over who commanded more respect from the veterans on the team. Larry Brown was somewhat of a celebrity--the night he passed the 1,000 yard mark in rushing for the season was more widely known and toasted in Washington circles than former President Nixon's infamous "Saturday Night Massacre." And there was never a dearth of stories about how George Allen was creating a winning team out of the well-known "Over the Hill Gang," or how poorly he and Cooke were getting along. (Allen, as almost every football fan in the country knows, will not coach a team unless he has total control over the box office, the front office, and the playing field.)
I'll never forget the season that sent Washington into a tizzy. It was the 1972 season, and the Redskins did no wrong. I don't remember their exact record, but I do remember that they won a lot, and that pre-game shows, post-game shows, and post-post-game wrap-ups were the most widely watched and listened-to events in Washington. Our family--which has owned season tickets for more than twenty years--chose to attend all of the games rather than attending them only sporadically, or give the tickets away to people who almost never have the opportunity to go.
The Redskins made it to the Super Bowl amidst much hoopla, and on January 14, 1973, they faced the unbeaten Miami Dolphins--a team that had lost only one game in the pre-season, and to none other than the Washington Redskins. It made for great press and great excitement.
The outcome of the game is etched indelibly on my mind. The final score was Dolphins 14, Washington 7, and the Redskins' only score had come only after Dolphin kicker Garo Yepremian had tried to pass after a foiled kick, and the ball had bounced crazily off some helmets, and had somehow been maneuvered into the Redskin end zone for a touchdown.
I cried. My father found it difficult to swallow at dinner. Our dog--sensing our grief--didn't even circle the table waiting for an opportunity to filch our suppers. We all resolved that the Redskins would "have a date at Super Bowl VIII." Alas, it was never to be.
I attended my first Redskins game in years right before I returned to school this fall. The coach is new, the faces are new, and the game is new. The "Over the Hill Gang" has been purged by coaches who believe in young talent rather than hoary experience, and the coaches (I don't even know their names) keep a very low profile. It was one of the most boring afternoons of my life.
The Redskins lost again on Sunday--their record is now a dismal 0-5. My dispirited father tells me that the score at one point was 3-30, but that a punt returner is showing great promise. I have given up, and am searching about for new teams to which I can pledge my allegiance. Baltimore--a nearby city--has been rejected because the Colts and the Orioles rival the Redskins for sheer lack of talent and success.
Now, how did you say those Patriots did again?