I’m not really sure when it was, sometime in the mid to late 1990’s I suppose. The Redskins were playing the Steelers in Pittsburgh, and sitting in my family room with my dad, we were watching yet another meaningless game, at the end of a meaningless season, with any number of meaningless players. Players I don’t even remember, because frankly, no one remembers them. The details of the game, I don’t recall, other than the Redskins lost. What did stand out to me that afternoon was one particular play-the only thing I remember from the game-that encapsulated just how bad things were for the Redskins over the last 14 years. Quarterback Brad Johnson dropped back to pass, and in a moment of confusion, threw the ball towards tight end Stephen Alexander, where the ball promptly hit Alexander in the butt, and fell to the turf.
That play, at the time, was the worst I’d seen from this team in their years of futility which unbeknownst to me, would last another 11 years. The quarterback was confused, the receiver had no idea what the play was, the offensive line had collapsed, and for 12 years after, that one play would be the symbol to me of what it’s like being a fan of this team. Last weekend, that all changed.
When the Redskins made the trade for the chance to draft Robert Griffin III, I was ecstatic, but hesitant, even though I wouldn’t admit it. When he was drafted, I was again ecstatic, and again hesitant. Still afraid to admit it. I’d been down this road before. When he and the rest of the team took out the Saints in week one of the 2012 season, I was all but convinced the past was over. Then, last Sunday night happened. I stood on the top deck of FedEx Field with my wife, dad and brother, and looked down at the field as Robert Griffin III ran onto the field for warmups. As he he trotted out, the crowd’s chant grew to a crescendo, and as the noise grew, so did my willingness to let the years of frustration go. No more “same old Redskins” refrains, no more typical 4th quarter fumbles leading to a loss, no more assumptions that they would find a way to lose. This crowd and this fan base was eady to run towards optimism, not away from it. We were cleansing ourselves of the negativity that shrouded our Sundays for the last 13 years. Watching the Redskins that night allowed me to shake the names of Sanders, Haynesworth, Stubblefield, Carrier and Spurrier. I forgave quarterbacks like Shuler, Frerotte, Banks, Matthews, George, Campbell and Grossman.
With a home playoff game this weekend, the Redskins have-and I almost hold my breath when I say this-turned the corner. This is a team that matters. This is a team that people will consider in August, when they jot down the predictions that every football outlet in the world feels compelled to do. This is a team that will be in the A-block segments of NFL Live, ESPN Sunday Countdown, and all the other NFL shows. This is a team where coaching assistants are considered for head jobs around the league, a place where free agents will consider because there’s something going on here.
Alot has changed since that play in Pittsburgh. 12 years, hundreds of games, a handful of head coaches, and the roster has turned over at least 6 times. There was one thing that had to change: the culture. And even though it’s taken a while, and the road was long to get here, I looked around at the crowd last Sunday standing for hours in frigid winds, and realized that yes, it has. Is this team championship caliber? Possibly. Are Redskins fans afraid to embrace that? Nope. We’ve grown up.