Thursday, February 21, 2019
A Washington Institution Crumbles
As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.net)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
I have watched football with my dad for as long as I can remember. My earliest memories of Sundays include scanning the T.V. Guide to see what games would be covered and hoping the D.C. and Baltimore stations fed a strong signal into the funky, arrow-ish looking antenna on our roof.
Time has certainly improved the viewing experience. Cable television replaced the rusty antenna and birthed the ESPN era. High definition television followed. Now it’s the RedZone channel, a spectacular guided tour of live NFL games. Ben Franklin once said, “Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy.” The RedZone channel is too.
Despite the changes, my dad and I have remained steady football consumers. Our viewing location is different, the television is bigger and the picture is sharper, but it’s still father and son, barking at referees, cussing the Dallas Cowboys and rooting for our home team.
About that home team: Love of football aside, our deep affection for the ‘Skins of Washington is what has brought my dad and me together on Sundays through all those years. Our relationship with the burgundy and gold is understandable. When George Allen took over as head coach in 1971, my dad was just 23-years-old. I was eight when Joe Gibbs took the reins and 20 when he retired from coaching (the first time) in early 1993. During this 22-season run, Washington enjoyed 18 winning seasons, 13 playoff appearances, five trips to the Super Bowl, three championships and universal respect throughout the NFL. Those teams ended up sending 11 people to the Pro Football Hall of Fame – eight players, two coaches and one executive.
It was the best of times. The twenty-five-plus years since, a period with just eight winning seasons and two measly playoff wins, haven’t been. The losing is, in a strange way, tolerable. It’s the football incompetence, dismissing of the fan base and embarrassing social missteps – all hallmarks of owner Dan Snyder’s “leadership” - that have scarred the team’s faithful. And the world is watching – according to a recent Wall Street Journal poll, the Washington football team is the fifth most hated American company. Not just football team…company.
My dad and I often fill the losing vacuum by discussing the best organizations in the NFL; that’s what you do when yours is mostly inconsequential by Thanksgiving. We talk about the Steelers, the Seahawks, the Packers and, of course, the Patriots. But the team we might discuss the most is the New Orleans Saints.
The Saints signed QB Drew Brees before the 2006 season, an acquisition that altered the course of perennial loser and created a unique love affair between city, team and player. When you think of New Orleans, the Saints are very much in the discussion with jazz, the cuisine, voodoo and the French Quarter. And if you’ve ever had the pleasure of being in a jubilant and united Big Easy after a Saints victory, count yourself fortunate.
That how it used to be in D.C. The ‘Skins were once a binding force, one that dissolved the often stark differences in a diverse fan base. They were something to feel good about, something to take pride in. No more. Once the most elusive ticket in town, the team now struggles to sell out home games and FedEx Field is routinely overrun with fans from opposing teams. The team’s name, for anyone with an inkling toward American history, is at least awkward, if not completely unusable. The Washington pro football team, a former bedrock franchise of the NFL, is now arguably the league’s worst. The disintegration of a D.C. institution is complete.
It’s hard to type those words. At this point, with no indication better times are ahead, I feel fortunate to have experienced that incredible run under Coach Gibbs. And I suppose, in football and in life, the suggestion of this story is to enjoy the best of times and use the memories to sustain you when life deals a losing hand, even if that just means a father and son maintain their relationship by steadfastly watching a gloomy football team.