Optimism: a history
So, okay, what everybody says is true. We’re a work in progress. It’s a rebuilding year. Choose your cliché. The point is, the future isn’t now. Cast blame where you will. The Redskins are not a very good football team, and have not been for some time. Despite occasional illusions – such as the way they played their hearts out for Joe Gibbs during his brief return – the Redskins are likely several years away from battling evenly against the league’s top squads. We just have too many holes.
Now, as it happens, this is the lament of the fans of every professional football team from time to time. (Excepting, always, Indianapolis and New England.) The difficult thing about being a Redskins fan is that it is almost always the case. Nor am I just referring to the Snyder years, during which the Skins have compiled one of the worst records in the National Football League. I began rooting for Washington as a child back in the sixties – and then, too, we always seemed to lose.
I was an optimist, as most true fans are. I always knew that next year would be better. Sometimes it was. In the seventies, we had the ray of hope with Vince Lombardi, and the joyful illusion of George Allen – illusion because his “future is now” philosophy crippled the team’s future. In the eighties we of course had those terrific teams assembled for Gibbs by Bobby Beathard, and won those three Super Bowls. But where on earth did we fans get the idea that success on that level is the Washington norm? From 1946 to 1970 the Redskins never made the playoffs. Not once, in a quarter century. As brilliant as Gibbs was, as incredible as his players were, the team collapsed after his departure, and, since that time, has never been very good. There has been so much hype over the years that we tend to forget how many of the players who were going to save the franchise didn’t. I can remember when the town was wild for Patrick Ramsey, after he won one game – one! – on the road in Tennessee. I can remember when Desmond Howard was going to save us from doom. Another year it was Michael Westbrook. Tom Carter. Rod Gardner. Andre Johnson. (No, the other one.) And those were just some of the absurdly hyped high-round draftees.
Other than in the Gibbs-Beathard years, the Redskins have drafted poorly. Before that, for many years, we hardly drafted at all. From 1969 to 1979, Washington had no first-round choices; indeed, from 1972 to 1979, only once did Washington have a choice as early the fourth round. In 1972, early in Allen’s future-is-now reign, the Redskins’ earliest draft choice was – drum roll – in round 8!
Why the constant hype? This rush to sign the big names, this insistence that the new corps of draftees will turn the tide, the certainty that if we change coaches we will immediately leap into the playoffs – all of this long predates the much-vilified Snyder regime. It’s not a Redskins phenomenon; it’s not even a football phenomenon. It’s a Washington phenomenon.
We keep looking for players or coaches to save the team in the same way that we keep looking for politicians to save the country. Put the Redskins aside. In the nation’s capital, we are always blowing up the government in order to make a better new one. It never works. Real change, effective change, takes a good deal of patience. It takes the postponement of gratification to the future. It may even require sacrifice. Whether in sports or politics, patience is difficult to come by in a city where the future is always now.
Stephen L. Carter
| December 1, 2010; 8:47 AM ET
Categories: Redskins, Stephen L. Carter | Tags: Redskins, Stephen L. Carter
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