Being a Washington Redskins fan is a torture unlike any other in the National Football League. To root for the burgundy and gold, in the last decade or more, is to wish upon a dream that has long since passed. It is to visit weekly with a childhood friend with whom you now have little in common, except the wonderful memories of sunny days, smiles, and simpler times.
For the fortunate fans who witnessed the Redskins of the 1980s and early 1990s, they saw a franchise that grew from its inconsistent but exciting 1970s into a continual contender. All the Super Bowls, NFC Championships, and playoff appearances produced a pride based in the trust that Jack Kent Cooke, Joe Gibbs, Bobby Beathard, and the front office knew what they were doing. Players like Darrell Green, John Riggins, Russ Grimm, and Doug Williams may not have been the most talented to play the game, but fans could trust that they gave their all on Sunday. And they found ways to give a little more against a division foe. That franchise of those Glory Days earned and kept the respect of the league.
In the last eleven seasons, this franchise has descended below mediocrity, below embarrassment, way down into the once-unimaginable depths of national joke. The mocking barbs once leveled at the Cincinnati Bengals and Detroit Lions now aim toward Washington. It seems that nearly every national sports publication snickers at the Redskins.
And why shouldn't they? Daniel Snyder's ownership has produced seven coaches and two playoff wins. None of those coaches ended their tenure with better than a .500 winning percentage. The team has spent millions on the retreading of veterans like Jason Taylor, Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, and, yes, Donovan McNabb. Young talent like Ryan Clark, Brandon Lloyd, and, yes, Jason Campbell were cut by the Redskins and miraculously play better elsewhere. Offseason after offseason the franchise brings in new saviors who either aren't given enough opportunity to shine or never shine at all: Steve Spurrier, Marty Schottenheimer, and, yes, Mike Shanahan. For every Sean Taylor or Brian Orakpo, there are draft choices traded away into nothingness.
Monday night's disaster was further notice that Redskins fans have been duped. While fleecing fans for more money, they have been spoon fed Glory Day nostalgia to believe the next high-priced defensive end is Dexter Manley. Or that Joey Galloway is really Downtown Charlie Brown. The marketing machine creates new anniversary jerseys, runs jumbotron montages, and produces DVDs of days long, long gone.
Then the franchise puts a team on the field that is a mere shadow of those men of respect and ability. And has the nerve to remind the bewildered to vote their favorite player for the Pro Bowl. Maybe fans will get to that when they finish considering where this loss falls in the pantheon of embarrassing Redskins losses. That is, if they can drown out the national chorus of laughter, the charges of aimlessness, and the second-guessing of leadership.
Ah, but the joke is on you too, Daniel Snyder and Washington Redskins. ESPN, ABC and the NFL Network don't continually schedule your team for nationally-televised games because they might win or potentially play well. You're there because your franchise is considered a bumbling circus sideshow whose inevitable failure makes for good ratings and easy, mean-spirited ridicule. Emperor Snyder has no clothes, and the media is laughing all the way to the bank.
As always with this team, there remains a glimmer of hope. Perhaps Mike Shanahan is just rusty in his ability to give plausible reasoning at press conferences. And maybe Bruce Allen really has a plan to build the team with quality young players, not just old ones. It might be that Daniel Snyder isn't sticking his nose in player issues and announcing contracts for maximum media buzz.
At this point, it's doubtful.