The Future is Now

Washington Redskins logo - Fair use

I’ve been a fan of the Washington Redskins as long as I can remember. Growing up in a suburb of Washington D.C. in the seventies, the Redskins of my youth were the “Over-the-Hill Gang,” a motley collection of grizzled veterans assembled by head coach George Allen who together ended the Redskins decades-long playoff drought and became perennial contenders. His motto was “The Future is Now” and he traded every first round pick for the rest of the decade to assemble an instant playoff-caliber team.

My favorite player was the hard-hitting, mud-spattered, bruised-but-never-beaten running back Larry Brown. I wore a number 43 Redskins jersey or t-shirt in various sizes from about 1971 to 1977, even after repeated injuries brought Brown’s career to an early end.

Wearing as Redskins Larry Brown Jersey

Wearing #43 in 1976

I remember the other players from those early days too. Sonny Jurgensen, who was already old, but everyone said he was still the best pure passer in the league. Billy Kilmer, who most certainly wasn’t the best passer—not even close—but scrapped hard and won games. Charley Taylor, future Hall-of-Fame wide receiver who held the career reception record from 1975 to 1984. Ken Houston, a perennial Pro Bowler who was one of greatest safeties ever to play the game. Chris Hanburger, the indestructible linebacker who started 135 straight games between 1968 and 1977. Pat Fisher, who at 5’9″ shut down receivers half-a-foot taller than he was. Mike Bass,  who provided the one highlight—and the only points—in the 14-7 loss to the undefeated Dolphins in Superbowl VII when he intercepted kicker Garo Yepremian’s errant “pass” and returned it for a touchdown. These players, and many others, combined to bring the Redskins five playoff berths in seven years.

A brief lull followed Allen’s departure in 1977. Jack Pardee, former linebacker, assistant coach, and now head coach, almost got the Redskins a division title in 1979 (if it weren’t for the Dallas &%$#@ Cowboys!) but he was fired after a losing season in 1980. Pardee’s successor was the offensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers: Joe Gibbs.

By the time Gibbs was hired, I had lived in San Diego for three years and had adopted the Chargers as my AFC team. I knew what Don Coryell had done with the Chargers’ offense and now my favorite team was getting the guy who built that offense. This was going to be good.

And it was. The Redskins won their first NFL Championship (Superbowl XVII) in forty years and would win two more (Superbowls XXII and XXVI) within a ten-year span. Three championships with three different quarterbacks: Joe Theismann, Doug Williams, and Mark Rypien. This was the decade of Art Monk, John Riggins, Darrell Green, Dexter Manley, Gary Clark, The Hogs, and The Smurfs. So many players contributed to those teams, but the one constant was Joe Gibbs.

The Redskins won their last Superbowl twenty years ago. I was 26 and I was spoiled by two decades of all-but-uninterupted success. I didn’t know what it was like to lose.

After twenty years of futility, I  know. It feels like this:

Redskins facepalm logo - Fair use.

Gibbs gave the Redskins one more year and one more playoff berth before he retired. The next year—under former-Redskins-safety turned defensive-mastermind Richie Petitbon—was a disaster. Their record in 1993: 4-12. I’d never witnessed a season that bad. Petitbon was fired and replaced by Norv Turner. Their record in 1994: 3-13.

Unlike Pettibon, Turner was given a chance. The Redskins were rebuilding. In 1995 they finished 6-10, doubling their win total and sweeping the Cowboys. In 1996, they opened the season 7-1. Used to the Redskins winning, I expected the success to continue. This was it: a three-year miraculous turnaround from 3-13, to 6-10, to—dare to dream—12-4! Doubling wins each year. They were ahead of that pace; even splitting their last eight games would leave them at 11-5 and earn at least a  playoff spot if not a division title.

Instead, they lost six of eight, finishing 9-7  and a game short of the playoffs. Crushing, but at least it was a winning record.

1997: 8-7-1. Only difference was a tie with the Giants.

1998: 6-10. What happened? Well, losing their first seven games didn’t help.

1999. The first year with a new owner: Dan Snyder, high-tech billionaire and life-long fan. 10-6 and an NFC Eastern Division Title! As George Allen would say, “the future is now.”

Maybe Snyder took that quote too seriously. He bought every player he could afford, and built a “dream team.”

Their record in 2000: 8-8, and Turner was out before the end of the season.

Thus began the lost decade. Coach after coach, quarterback after quarterback: each time was going to be the time that it would finally work. It never did. Snyder even brought Joe Gibbs back, and the Redskins made it to the playoffs a couple of times, but there was no consistency and thus no consistent success.

Instead, it was year after year of overpaid underachievers.

But maybe, just maybe, after two decades of futility, now that I have experienced as much failure as success in my years as an ever-hopeful Redskins fan, I finally have a reason to hope—and just in time.

Anna in a Redskins onesie

Anna in a Redskins toddler outfit (2007)

Anna is six, only a year older than I was when George Allen came to D.C.  And just like me forty-one years ago, Anna is old enough to know that the Redskins are Dad’s team, but she’s too young to know how bad they’ve been during most of her short life.

She also thinks all football teams are called the blankskins, depending on their uniform color. So if a team in home blue hosts a  team in visitor’s white they’re the “Blueskins” and the “Whiteskins.”

She is six.

Soon, though, she’ll understand that only one red team is the real Redskins. I hope that her earliest memories of the Redskins are mostly good ones, like mine were, and that maybe she’ll enjoy a couple of decades of successes and even a championship or two.

If she does, it will be thanks to two letters and one number that together form the nickname of the soon-to-be-favorite player of every young Redskins fan: RG3

Robert Griffin III: Heisman Trophy winner, former quarterback  of the Baylor Bears, and first-round draft pick of the Washington Redskins. After starting over twenty quarterbacks in the last twenty years, the Redskins may finally have their guy. A name to follow Baugh, Jurgensen, and Theismann in the all-too-short list of genuine franchise quarterbacks.

We won’t know until the fall, and even then it may take a few seasons for him to reach his full potential as the leader of a young, stable, consistently winning team. But he has the potential, and he could be great.

Robert Griffin III, aka RG3, quarterback of the Washington Redskins.

Robert Griffin III Hope Poster

The future is now.

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