A Peek Under The Scalps Of Redskins Fans
By Ronald Guy
Experts have logical, fact-based opinions — most of the time. Insiders will freely offer an edgy take from the alleged inner sanctum of a franchise. Talking heads, while on camera or with a live microphone near their spastic lips, will say anything to grab your attention, and then don a satisfied smirk after hooking you for a few ill-spent minutes of your life. Collectively, they (the press) provoke, inform, irritate and entertain. They tell you what you didn’t know, alter what you thought you knew and generally facilitate and advance the fan experience.
What the press often misses, though, are the burning questions lurking in the deepest, darkest recesses of the fan’s mind. And, really, how could they contemplate such things? Even if they could, they wouldn’t want to. This stuff is fear-based and resides where emotions roam; it’s virtually unchecked by fact or rational thought — but it’s real, and it matters. The view from the press box or the locker room produces one perspective on reality; the view from the cheap seats or over a grill in a stadium parking lot reveals another. To indulge the latter, here are the burning questions about the 2013 season that are keeping fans of the Washington Redskins up at night.
What To Make Of This Split Personality?
Racking up 10 wins in 2012, at least a couple more than the most rose-tinted predications, was a thrill ride. Whipping the Dallas Cowboys in D.C. in Week 17 to win the division justified a Monday “sick day”. In all, the 2012 season was enough for a weary fan-base to get chesty — to walk around like Foghorn Leghorn with chests swelled and beaks in the air.
Instead, the non-verbals of Redskins fans are neutral.
The sulk from prior seasons is gone, but there’s no visible bounce in their steps. Why? The 10-6 record wasn’t achieved in a traditional manner. The Redskins started 3-6 before ripping off seven straight wins: a streak that included an improbable overtime victory against the would-be Super Bowl champs, five divisional wins and a historic Thanksgiving Day triumph over the Cowboys. It was a great but not an unfamiliar experience for ‘Skins fans. In 2005 and 2007, the Redskins finished on 5-0 and 4-0 runs, respectively, to back into the playoffs. Both fantastic finishes proved to be isolated events and not springboards to recurring success (the team finished 5-11 in ’06 and 8-8 in ’08).
So the cautious lens through which the 2012 team’s 10-6 record is being viewed is completely justified. Redskins fans should be skeptical. They should be worried. They shouldn’t recall 2012’s 7-0 finish and forget its 3-6 start. Who are the real Washington Redskins? That’s the burning question in the minds of members of ‘Skins nation. It’s a question that’s begging an answer, sometimes fresh out of a nightmare in the wee hours of the morning.
Am I Still Hopeful?
Fans want to believe in Robert Griffin III, his recovery and all the fabulous things he makes possible. But, deep down, they have no reason to believe he’ll survive. They watched nearly every snap of every game last season: the knockout hit by Atlanta’s Sean Witherspoon, the knee-crunching blow by Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata and the final, climatic injury against Seattle in the first round of the playoffs were the obvious health-compromising incidents. The trained and dedicated eye knows there were many, many more near misses.
RGIII clearly has “it” from a performance perspective, but he presently lacks basic survival skills. He relies too much on his athleticism to bail him out and, while he’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, he looks much smaller. He apparently has never played baseball because a basic hook-slide — a go-to “play over” move for NFL quarterbacks — isn’t in his arsenal. More fundamentally, RGIII either doesn’t have a knack for discerning when enough is enough on a particular play, or he is too hard-headed to wave the flag and live to fight another down.
Whatever the answer, RGIII takes unnecessary hits every single week — the cumulative effect of which does not paint an optimistic mural over a 16-game season. Don’t believe the concern is warranted and that 2012’s injury problems will be mitigated over time? Watch tape of Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and RGIII. Only one consistently looks like a crash test dummy, and he’s the guy in burgundy and gold.
Are ‘Skins fans still hopeful? Sure, but more for RGIII’s health than Super Bowl titles.
Does Any Of This Even Matter?
The first and second questions may be moot. It depends on the outcome of this third and final therapy session. For the sake of a debate and further fan-anxiety, let’s say the 10-6 record wasn’t a mirage and that RGIII discovers on-field prudence and manages to remain relatively healthy for the next handful of years. In that best-case scenario, the temple-throbbing question Redskins fans can’t get out their heads is this: does it matter?
Mentally scan the NFC landscape. Done? Good. Is San Francisco going anywhere anytime soon? Not likely — not with a 28-year-old Patrick Willis on defense and a 25-year-old Kaepernick behind center. What about Green Bay? Nope, not as long as Aaron Rodgers (the new and I wish only A-Rod) is under center — and he’s only 29. And what about Seattle? There’s an awakening giant in the Pacific Northwest ladies and gentlemen. Harsh truth be told, I’d trade RGIII even up for Russell Wilson right now (see “hopeful” question above).
Continuing this thread, are the Falcons, Giants or Saints exiting the Super Bowl stage when Matt Ryan, Eli Manning and Drew Brees are 27, 32 and 34, respectively? Doubtful. Each is smart and smooth, and none rely on athleticism — a recipe for sustained production into one’s late 30s. And what if Arizona or Tampa Bay finds a quarterback, or if Detroit finally aligns its talent? What if?
The point is this: conquering the crazy-deep NFC might require more than a healthy RGIII and everything else the Redskins can offer. Such a scenario would relegate the burgundy and gold to merely conference contenders. That’s an attractive scenario given the last 20 years of mostly football futility in D.C. But at the end of the day, it’s about hoisting Lombardi trophies, and that’s a feat likely to be far more challenging for NFC hopefuls in the next five years than their counterparts in the aging (Denver, New England and Pittsburgh) or rebuilding (Baltimore) AFC.
So there you have it: the bleak, confidence-lacking but altogether legitimate questions searing into the collective conscience of ‘Skins nation. These are deep thoughts indeed for the otherwise simple man seated on a cooler and hovering over near-grilled meat. Appearances can be deceiving. If fandom suddenly seems less like a constructive hobby and more like an infection, that’s because it is — or at least can be.