As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
Captain’s log star date July 2021. My wife and I had planned a vacation to a location with smaller latitudes, palm trees and, as much of a lock as the sun’s morning rise, plenty of adult beverages. In the weeks leading up to the trip, spiking airfare costs and the surging Delta variant of our ever-mutating, but ever-present nemesis COVID caused us to postpone “Plan A” to another day, another economic situation and another less sinister phase of our COVID dance.
The question then was, if not a tropical paradise, where would this adventure lead? While I prefer to characterize my wife and I as open-minded and flexible, indecisive is completely fair too. A coin flip is sometimes (or usually) how we choose a dinner location. As our scheduled departure date neared, the pressure was detectable. Several destinations were discussed with neither of us selling or buying any candidate. The waffling mercifully ended when my wife, while staring at a Google map on her computer screen, ended an awkward pause in our conversation with an unexpected question.
“Do you want to go to Buffalo?”
The suggestion was bizarre enough to be intriguing. It was an order off the menu; a play call draw up in the dirt, not off any rehearsed script. Buffalo bound we were. Two days after heading north, I was standing in front of Buffalo’s City Hall when a 30-year-old sports memory came rushing back: this was where Buffalo Bills fans gathered after a difficult Super Bowl XXV loss to the New York Giants to welcome their Bills home and comfort kicker Scott Norwood, who, after missing a game-winning 42-yard field goal on the game’s last play, would have been a scorned goat in any other NFL locale.
About a year later, Labor Day weekend 2022 to be exact, Norwood and the Bills’ moment at City Hall was on my television screen. A late-night channel surf discovered a documentary on the early-1990s Bills – teams that appeared in, and lost, four straight Super Bowls. In the season after that heart-breaking loss to the Giants, Washington defeated Buffalo in a much more definitive way in Super Bowl XXVI. Long-time Bill Steve Tasker, a 13-year NFL veteran who played in Super Bowls against Bill Parcels’s Giants and Jimmy Johnson’s Cowboys, called that 1991-92 Washington team his Bills lost to in Super Bowl XXVI the best he faced in his career.
I rewatched Tasker’s statement several times (sometimes technology is great). Washington’s football franchise used to be the very best; confirming artifacts – Sports Illustrated magazines, pennants, t-shirts and Wheaties boxes – have consumed a closet in my house. But after three decades of mostly misery on the field and embarrassment off of it, the joy of that far-off time has dulled. The sea of burgundy and gold that used to dominate at home games is now counterbalanced by the opposition’s colors and empty seats. It is a perfect – and sad and undeniable - metaphor for a franchise torn down to its foundation.
That I stumbled on this Bills documentary and Tasker’s homage to Washington’s 1991 championship crew just days before the 2022 team’s first game as the rebranded Washington Commanders, felt like something more than just coincidence. It was a reminder of what once was, how far the organization has fallen and what this reboot might make possible again. Of course, the promised culture changes and actual name and branding changes lacked what Washington needed most – a new owner; but last Sunday’s Commanders’ debut, a win no less, did feel like something more than just the start of a new season. Maybe the last few disgraceful years – the latent and awkward burial of the R-word, the disgraceful treatment of women in the organization, the league and Congressional inquiries – will provide the scorched football landscape that Washington needed for a meaningful rejuvenation. Difficult periods in life - divorce, unemployment, personal loss, etc. – sometimes work that way. The good news for the Commanders: the bar is incredibly low. Most fans, this one included, would settle for a competitive team, an ethically and morally grounded organization, and not a single peep from ownership.