Monday, October 31, 2005

From Beast to Least in the East

Great Theismann's Mousse, that was a hard game to stomach. 24 hours later, the questions still remain: What happened to Gibbs' great motivational tactics? Were they all wasted hyping up the rookie-led 49ers? Did former Redskins linebacker Antonio Pierce really tip off every offensive play for New York? Did Washington collectively decide to mail in their performance out of respect for Wellington Mara? Would a healthy Cornelius Griffin have made a difference? Will Portis still think it's cute to play dress-up for the media after a 9-yard game?

As I mentioned over at Football Outsiders, you know you're a Redskins die-hard fan when your team manages to collapse in such a brilliantly craptacular way--when it really counts--and yet you come back to cheer them on again seven days later.

My modus operandi this season has been to record the Redskins' 1PM games on my Comcastic DVR and catch up on the action a few hours later. Now usually I'm pretty good about not watching any 4PM games and accidentally seeing the early game's final score. In fact, I pride myself on the maturity and discipline it takes to avoid the Internet, sports radio, and conversations with friends
(which usually involves putting fingers in my ears and humming "Battle Hymn of the Republic") to preserve the games' suspense.

After two quarters and one play of gut-wrenchingly pitiful play, I had had enough. When Ladell Betts fumbled the second-half opening kickoff, I knew that this day would get no better, and for mental stability I should abandon all hope of a comeback. I stopped the recording and switched to the Eagles/Broncos contest, which conveniently was wrapping up the halftime show. And there, in the top ticker-tape, was the final Redskins score:

At that moment I was torn between two responses: dumbfounded paralysis or banging my fists on the floor in teary torment, yelling "I've done all you wanted me to do! Why?!?" like John Locke over the "Lost" hatch.

Actually, I picked a third response, to which any modern football fan would likely revert: I watched the Eagles and Broncos game, hoping my fantasy players would come through for me. And yes, Jake Plummer and Terrell Owens had fantastic days, so there was some measure of joy on Sunday.

(Oddly enough, it is in this baffling loss that I've noticed a serious spike in hits here and at Hog Heaven. Maybe people love to see how Redskins fans tap-dance their way out of support for their team. I dunno. But I'm going down with a fight, even if I have to eat a
cold plate o' crow after announcing at CBS Sportsline that Mara's death wouldn't mean a win for New York.)

So what does this loss mean? Well, my buddy Tony the Shark--a devoted Cowchip fan--believes that it virtually locks in New York for the NFC East playoff spot. Sabado Gigante's final games, however, include only two near-guarantee wins, San Fran and Minnesota, plus one probable win at Oakland. That'd take Big Blue to a healthy 8 wins, two losses. But ah, they still face this Murderer's Row: Philly (twice), at Dallas, Kansas City, Washington at FedEx, and at Seattle. That could very easily be six more L's for New York.

Cowchip fans, likely soaking up the "Giants and Dallas are the class of the NFC East" bottom-kissing, should note that their final games include only *one* near-guarantee win, Detroit. St. Louis is their probably win, and the remaining contests are actually tougher than the Giants': at the Egos, Denver, at the Giants, Kansas City, at Washington, and at Carolina.

Philadelphia's final schedule looks like so: near-guarantee wins over the sloppy Packers and Cardinals, probable win against St. Louis. After that, it's Washington twice, Dallas, twice versus the Giants, and home for Seattle. Ouch.

And so it is, then, that every team in this competitive NFC East will be in contention for both a division crown and wild card spot in the final weeks of the year. My prediction is that the losses or wins to the St. Louis Rams, of all people, that will make the difference. You read it here first.

Oh yeah, lots of love to the good people at, who were kind enough to spread the word about Hog Heaven and the Redskins Review. The Review has been online for exactly one year and Hog Heaven for just under nine months, and it's nice to get a "well done!" from your readers.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Random Rants

Things that have crossed my mind lately...

~ ~ If there’s a downside to the return of LaVar Arrington during Sunday’s smackdown of the witless 49ers, it was that, well, all the Arrington vs. Redskins talk comes to an end. Aside from the team’s 4-2 start and Mark Brunell’s resurrected career, the majority of the Redskins buzz has surrounded the benching of the team’s most popular player. Media types from radio to print to Internet weighed in, usually finding that Arrington deserved to play because of his raw ability to be a playmaker.

My two cents? It was fun seeing Arrington flying around the field, decapitating quarterback Alex Smith, and playing to the home crowd. But amid the put-him-in-on-reputation arguments was lost this simple truth (which some folks at don’t want to hear): the guy playing in front of him played and practiced better. Lemar Marshall replaced Arrington last season, and until Sunday led the team in tackles. He did exactly what he was asked to do, so the better question is: why bench Lemar? The week before the SanFran game, Arrington practiced well and—surprise!—he played on Sunday. I don’t doubt that there were some soft apologies exchanged during last week.

~ ~ What I really regret, seeing Arrington return to play, is the instantaneous vaporization of my Pulitzer-winning headline: LaVar: Putting the “Err” In Arrington. I had even formed a unique angle for Arrington’s demotion and eventual replacement, referencing Bobby Brown, Johnny Gill, and New Edition. Let’s just say that the article was writing itself.

~ ~ This week’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback notes the recent NBA-imposed player dress code and how the NFL requires coaches to wear Reebok-styled clothing on the sidelines. Gone are the days of Tom Landry and his fedora. TMQ posted a letter from a reader who suggested that since some coaches would prefer to wear more formal wear, “[L]et the NFL introduce a line of suits, sports jackets, dress slacks, ties and accessories, all with tasteful team logos.” TMQ said the idea was “ridiculous, no one could believe anyone would ever put down good money for it.”

Are you kidding me? It’s a brilliant idea! I work in law, and the dress code in my workplace is business, rarely entering the zone of Casual Friday because of the necessity of impromptu court appearances. So what do professional fans do to express their team loyalty? Place a flag on your sticky board? Drape a Darrell Green jersey over the back of your chair? How gauche. What D.C. day trader wouldn’t want to be seen around the office in an NFL-authorized black single-breasted suit with a fancy Redskins crest sewn into the breast pocket? Prince George’s County’s legal eagles would love little Circled R’s in the jacket sleeve buttons! How about the gold-plated Joe Gibbs “R” cufflinks to match the Redskins tie already in production? I’m serious. This is an untapped market and I just realized I should have copy written this idea.

~ ~ Are you like me? Are you completely annoyed by the lack of plot development in ABC’s Lost? We’re up to episode six—which airs in mid-November—and only four Lost days have passed since Walt, Sawyer, Michael and Jin set sail into Sharkticon-infested waters. Sure, we know that the Others walk softly and don’t bathe; and yeah, we’ve seen the Execute button sequence, and we know that Ana Lucia acts like Donald Trump but without the money, android assistants, and toupee. Want to learn anything of any use, like, I dunno, where are the rest of the tail section people? and the characters engage in egregiously vague fact-dodging conversations.

For instance, tail-section castaway Libby was walking in the jungle with front-section castaway Michael, who was just freed from a dirt prison by Libby’s other surviving passengers. Here’s their conversation (courtesy, and tell me if your final question would be the same as Michael’s:

LIBBY: Sorry, Michael.

MICHAEL: Sorry about what?

LIBBY: You know, about throwing you and your friends into the pit.

MICHAEL: Friends.

LIBBY: What?

MICHAEL: I guess I just never thought about it like that. I mean, I guess one of them is my friend.

LIBBY: I'm guessing not the redneck.

MICHAEL: Yeah, not the redneck.

LIBBY: I don't think I've ever seen someone so scared in my life. And I know about scared.

MICHAEL: That why you threw us in the pit -- because you're scared?

LIBBY: And we've got trust issues.

MICHAEL: Huh, how about that? Where the hell are all the fruit?

Fruit? You just learned that the Tailsectionists not only are deathly afraid of unnamed persons but also tragically distrustful of each other--and by the way, there are 18 of them missing, possibly eaten by the five remaining—and you’re asking about grapes ‘n mangos? Sigh. There’s a thin line between mystery and trifling with an audience’s patience, and Lost is sidlin’ closer to the latter by the hour.

~ ~ Living in Baltimore as a Redskins fan has some advantages. I may not be able to hear game broadcasts, but in turn I am insulated from the Monday through Saturday talk radio claptrap about my favorite team. Since I can’t get any Redskins-related radio, I’m free from the post-loss “our coach is an idiot”-“this team has no heart” knee-jerk reactions from Skins fans.

I listen, then, to “Ravens Radio” on ESPN’s AM station. (If you haven’t suffered through second-string has-beens giving their two cents while eating wings at Bill Bateman’s, make sure you tune in.) And this year, it’s been a sadistic treat to hear everyone from former players to show hosts and call-ins blasting offensive guru Brian Billick, Jamal Lewis, and even Pro-Drinkin’ Ray Lewis. If Robert Irsay hadn’t already stolen the idea, they’d probably pack up the team in trucks and drop it off in Indiana.

Just the other morning the hosts—I have no idea what their names are—griped at length about the impotent offense, the ridiculous penalties, and suspect winning percentage of Billick over his last 12 games. Not only did they paint the Ravens guilty of believing their own hype machine but unsolicited comments from former Raven Mike McCrary strongly suggested that felonious Jamal Lewis is intentionally not giving 100%. There’s talk of franchise favoritism because Todd Heap got a contract renewal while Ray, Jamal, and other big names have to wait.

Normally, I wouldn’t gloat, but after Baltimore’s third-stringers beat the Redskins’ wannabees in the final game of the preseason, I got more than an earful from the Ravens Nation. Now I tune in every week to hear what new way Billick’s ruining this team.

~ ~ Lastly, ain't it great when corporate sponsor underestimate the Redskins offense? A couple of years ago, Domino's Pizza had a gameday promotion that offered $1.00 off a pizza and a free 20oz. soda for every touchdown the team scored. That was the year the Redskins, under Norv Turner, went buckwild, never scoring less than 17 points per game, maxing out at 35, 38, 48 and 50 points some weeks. It was beautiful. I remember going to Domino's with my Pops, getting two pizzas, five sodas, and walking right out. That promotion mysteriously disappeared the next season.

Now comes Papa John's, the next official pizza of the Skins, offering one free topping for each touchdown, doubled if the team wins the game. Monday, Redskins fans across the D.C. area challenged their digestive systems with a maximum fourteen free toppings. Silly pizza people. When will you learn? If I ran a pizza joint, I'd offer a free medium one topping pizza for every interception returned for a touchdown or five cents off for every patently ridiculous comment by Tony "Put Portis In Spandex" Siragusa during a Redskins broadcast. Based on this season, the latter promotion would've put me out of business.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Great Moments in Television

I’ve been watching Redskins football for a more than two decades, and have had a variety of game-watching experiences. I remember injuring myself back in 1982 attempting a gleeful, awkward somersault while Mike Nelms returned a kickoff 76 yards against Dallas in the NFC Championship game. I didn’t care that it left a bruise. I remember rooting against my Redskins for the first and only time on January 10, 1988, as Washington bested the team of my childhood hero, Walter Payton. It was his final game, and I secretly held back tears as the rest of my family cheered the Redskins’ Super Bowl berth.

Nothing so memorable happened as I watched the Redskins versus Broncos ,but it sure was dramatic.

Every story worth repeating begins with the words “my mother-in-law,” and this one is no different. My mother-in-law’s birthday was this past Saturday, and on Sunday her family decided to celebrate her [censored]th birthday with dinner at a local restaurant. She and the family were traveling back from an early hiking trip and estimated their arrival at the restaurant at around 5PM. The Redskins game was scheduled to begin at 4:15PM. Apart from faking a serious illness (such as typhoid fever), there was no getting out of the birthday dinner.

My wife and I had spent the early afternoon traipsing around Bowie after church, waiting on when to meet her family. When we got word of the 5 o’clock estimate, I guessed I had just enough time to head home, hit Record on my DVR and prepare to leave for dinner. And that’s what I did. I was actually able to see Portis’ fumble before my wife pulled me out of the house.

Throughout dinner, of course, my mind wandered back to the Redskins game—how bad were the Broncos winning? Would we keep fumbling all day? Can Moss continue being clutch on third downs? Is my team for real this year? It was maddening. I nonetheless felt comfortable, knowing that the game was being recorded and that if I could deftly avoid any and all mentions of the game, it would be like watching it live. Sort of.

I wasn’t able to watch my recording until near 9PM. I sat down with pen and paper, ready to take in every aspect of the game and enjoy the freedom of rewinding plays and skipping commercials ad nauseum. The game was highly entertaining, and I’m proud to say I resisted the urge to fast forward through plays, then rewind if something interesting happened. Call me a disciplined Redskins fan.

Midway through the third quarter, when the game seemed destined to be a close finish, I realized that my DVR didn’t record the game, but CBS’ estimated three hour, fifteen minute block of time for the game. “Surely,” I assured myself, “this game will end on time. Not too many penalties, few injuries…”

Perhaps you see where this story is headed.

Midway through the fourth quarter, the Redskins were down by 11, but I was the one getting desperate. The Redskins kicked a field goal to pull within eight, the defense forced Denver into a three-and-out, and with four minutes left in regulation—and six minutes of recording—the Redskins began the potential tying drive on their six yard line.

Each play seemed to take forever (“Why aren’t we in hurry up?!?” I exclaimed to Washington, who still had four minutes to play), and when a referee was steamrolled by Robert Royal, I felt for him—I really did—but I sat aghast at the resulting mandatory television time out. Another 1:30 of commercials.

With fifteen seconds left of recording, the Redskins had used four game time minutes and managed to only reach their own 49 yard line. But that was okay, because Gibbs and company were facing a fourth and ten with just over two minutes remaining. “This is for the game,” the broadcast team reminded the uninformed viewer. I nodded my head in agreement.

Mark Brunell dropped back, and…was sacked for a nine-yard loss. My recording stopped on the image of Denver tackle Gerard Warren celebrating while Brunell peeled himself off the ground.

“Well, that was that,” I informed my very patient wife. “We fought hard, but it just wasn’t meant to happen tonight. Hey, 3-1 and first in the East ain’t so bad, huh? Those Cowchips did us a favor by beating the Eagles.” The Missus addressed my astute insight with a yawn. It was now near midnight and I started to summarize my game notes and evaluate the Redskins’ performance.

At this point, I’m singing “Just Once” by James Ingram: “I did my best, but I guess my best wasn’t good enough…”

Before I decided to retire, I decided to watch my recording of the 7:30 PM NFL Primetime. The benevolent wife agreed with the continuing of the late football smorgasbord…if I’d rub her feet. Using my internal Husband Calculator (which computes two birds, one stone into 5000 different situations), I agreed to the offer.

Chris Berman and Tom Jackson ran through the scores and highlights, and in my increasing drowsiness and foot rubbing I’d missed the Redskins game results on the sports ticker. The Skins/Broncos game highlight began, and eventually Brunell was sacked for a nine yard loss. “But wait! Ooh, Tom, there was a defensive holding call!” bellowed Berman.

I jumped up, throwing my wife’s feet off my lap, and paused the recording. “Did you see that?” I asked my wife’s direction. “The game wasn’t over then! Great Scott, we could have still won!” In an instant, I was teleported back twenty minutes, and I resumed sweating. Never before had I cared so much about an ESPN highlight show.

Berman continued “Now with 1:15 left, Brunell from the Denver 11…touchdown to Chris Cooley!” I paused the show and went bonkers, proclaiming the genius of Gibbs, Brunell, and, for good measure, George Allen. “I don’t believe it! We have a team! Undefeated!” I explained to the spot on the couch where my wife used to be.

We all know what happened next. The next play showed Brunell’s errant two-point conversion to David Patten that effectively ended the game.

And there I silently sat, hoarse, dejected, and ten seconds from marital discord.

It’s obviously my mother-in-law’s fault.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Seahawks vs. Redskins Postgame Pics

Seahawks vs. Redskins 10/2/05
Postgame Pics
Here are the Intro and Pregame pages.
Patrick Ramsey and I. (Or is it me?) He was one of the first players out of the stadium, for obvious reasons. I was very, very tempted to ask him to autograph my shirt "Pharaoh." I doubt he would have found that funny. It was awesome to finally meet, especially after a win. But I sensed a bit of disappointment while in his presence. Um, with the team, not me.
Center Corey Raymer emeged next and signed hats. I wanted to confirm what I'd always suspected: that he once starred on the sitcom "Parker Lewis Can't Lose." Mission accomplished.

There was quite an uproar when Mark Brunell emerged from the tunnel. One month ago, he would have received polite applause, like the Oscar winner for "Best Documentary Short."

I obtained an exclusive interview with Brunell. Me: Seems like every week you're making the play of the game with your scrambling, huh? Mark: Yep. Remember, this is an exclusive.

The fans were divided on whether running back Rock Cartwright's stature was impressive.

There was no doubt that tackle Ray Brown is a man of great girth. By the way, I'm not sure which Hogettes are legit and which are mere posers. Can anyone tell me?

Assistant coach Joe Bugel gave some love to the gathered. I can only imagine standing in the Player's Lot when Darrell Green, John Riggins, and Art Monk played for the Skins.

I wish I'd thrown up my gang sign with star running back Clinton Portis. I don't regret that as much as forgetting to ask how much he paid for the basement stripper's pole he showed off on "MTV Cribs."

Man, kickoff returner and wide receiver James Thrash has one purposeful stride.

Superstar LaVar Arrington didn't endear himself to the cheering fans when we refused to sign any autographs, acknowledging everyone only with a mumbled "I gotta go."

Arrington rolls out in his sharp GTO. Suffice to say, few were cheering.
Wide receiver Santana Moss was also in a rush (to his limo, no less), but took the time to sign off on lots of fan items. The NFL has him listed at 5'10". If he's 5'10", then I'm Mrs. Buttersworth.

The tent for the players and famlies had great food, televisions, and tight security. That's Ray Brown's family and friends at the table behind us. My only regret is that His Joeness didn't come through. Hard to complain with free food in your mouth.

Seahawks vs. Redskins Pregame & Game Pics

Seahawks vs. Redskins 10-6-05
Pregame/Game Photos (click for larger)
Postgame photos are here. The Intro is here.

The Redskins Marching Band warms up. Yes, Mr. Announcer, we know they're more than sixty years old. Thanks for telling us for the fifth time.

A full hour before gametime, Seahawk punter Leo Araquz (#2) practiced giving the Redskins an easy safety.

Seahawks guard Chris Gray and tackle Sean Locklear model their team colors. After a little research, I've learned that it's not turqoise, it's not green, it's not even mauve. It's "Seahawk Blue."

Early in the first quarter, the Redskins offense huddles up and decides how much time to leave for Seattle. The concensus was about 1:49.

Seahawk cornerback Marcus Trufant, four seconds from being beaten in the end zone by Santana Moss.

Santana celebrates a touchdown that was overruled by replay. I haven't watched game tape, but I'm fairly certain you can see me and Pops in the stands. I wish I'd taken a pic of his footwork.

Who is this guy? How does he have carte blanche to wander anywere in the stands? Is he on the payroll? If so, can we get him some dental benefits? I'm losing sleep over this.

Tight end Robert Royal (#88) celebrates his touchdown with fullback Mike Sellers. Royal's bizarre gyrations, an exercise in the loss of motor skills, are even more odd to see in person.

Speaking of dancing...cheerleader Brittany leads the crowd in, well, nothing. Is it me or have NFL cheerleaders become little more than in-game flesh exhibition commercials? Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Up Close & Personal: Seahawks vs. Redskins

There are good days, there are great days, and then there was October 2, 2005.

Ever have one of those days where every moment continues to ascend to greatness, eventually ending in an amazing, surreal experience?
You ever have a day when, for six hours, you think "there's no way this can get better." And then it does?

(The last time it almost happened to me, I was sitting at a concert, slack-jawed, glowing from the manifold radiance of She Who Is Fine, Sade. I elbowed my wife, who for some reason wasn't watching the stage, and rhetorically asked "Isn't she dreeeeamy?" Let's just say that the evening didn't end well.)

Well, Sunday was one of those days. Not only did I get to partake of great football on a gorgeous afternoon, but I witnessed the Redskins win in overtime, scoring all of their touchdowns right in front of me. I'm fairly certain that if you put your TiVo on slow-mo, you'll see me hollering like a banshee. I've said it before, I'll say it again: there's no substitute for being at a Redskins game. If that wasn't enough, my Pops and I happened to see an old friend of his in the parking lot pre-game, and he offered us passes to the Player's Lot to see if we could meet some of the Skins.

At the risk of sounding like a naive, hero-worshipping groupie, let me say that meeting some of the Redskins was one of the highlights of my life as a Redskins fan. I appreciated that most were cordial, even friendly, and t
ook the time to sign hats, tickets, and shirts. That is, except for LaVar Arrington. More on him later.

With no further ado, allow me to present my Gameday Photo Essay: Pregame/Gametime and Postgame.

Dished Revenge Leaves Dallas Cold & Bitter

I have a bone to pick with Dallas fans. Before I delve into sophomoric name-calling, let me state that most Cowchip fans are law-abiding, tax-paying persons of common sensibilities. They just root for the wrong team. And I pity you.

But some of the other fans don't know what in the world they're talking about. Even when they're down, they have to find a way to pick on the Redskins. To wit: I've been reading some Dallas fan sites, scanning to see their analysis of their suddenly-.500 team. What do I inevitably see? Skins-bashing. They say that we've been lucky for two straight weeks, that our offense is dismal. My MVN colleague Will Parchman runs the Cowboy Roundup site, and dared say that the Redskins were the "worst 3-0 team in recent memory."


I couldn't help myself. I logged in and posted the following:

I’m certain that Cowchip fans were searching for Quaaludes or something when the Redskins/Seahawks stats were shown. The Skins dominated the game for much of the contest, controlling the clock and dictating the tempo. Apart from a blocked figgie and a tipped interception, our game wasn’t all that close. (Of course Dallas fans remember the MNF debacle when you owned Washington statistically but laid up late at night wondering how you lost.) The ‘Hawks and Cowchips are playoff-caliber teams, right?

If winning three close games makes us the worst team ever, so be it. We’d rather be bad and undefeated than America’s Team and .500!

In all seriousness, if scoring points made your team great, then the Indianapolis Colts would be the '72 Dolphins and the Kansas City Chiefs would have three fantastic seasons of success. But neither is true because, well, there's more to football than buckets of points. You think that the 2005 New England Patriots wouldn't love to be undefeated? Think they'd excuse their victories if they weren't all against Indy and the Steelers? Of course not. Nor shall Washington verbally forfeit their wins.

What I love about Washington's two recent victories is that the naysayer's dire predictions (they can't win because of the quarterback position) have been safely detonated offshore via the play of Mark Brunell. Indeed, it's been because of his scrambling and accurate throwing--two abilities few thought he still possessed--that we are undefeated. His legs may give out before season's end, but my hat's off to him. Watching him on Sunday and on Monday Night Football was pure magic.

And not to put too fine a point on this, but how bad can Washington be if they beat Dallas? Is it our fault if your safeties and corners get beaten twice on the same play by the same player? Did we tell Patrick Crayton to run a three yard route on fourth and four?

Well, now I and my fellow Redskins fans are past such post hoc reasoning. In fact, up here in the Undefeated Atmosphere, your pitiful ramblings are nothing more than angry, gentle murmurings that give us peaceful rest. Kind of like soft rain. See, when you take the moral high ground, there's no need to stoop to poking fun and calling names.

But y'all are ugly and your mother dresses you funny.