1. We are a resilient bunch. I've said it before and I'll say it again: a lesser fanbase would have never gotten off the mat so many times just to get knocked back down. The hope we all felt at the end of Marty Schottenheimer's first year was dashed when Snyder and Cerrato took the reins away from him. Spurrier's failure to protect the quarterback left us all on our backs. When Joe Gibbs returned for a second tour of duty, we realized how desperate we had become. Despite the fact that Gibbs II was not as legendary as Gibbs I, we still had a figure on the sidelines that we loved and trusted. When he gave way for Jim Zorn, the franchise was on slightly firmer ground, but our collective psyche was immediately as fragile as it had been before Gibbs returned. And by the time Jim Zorn was jerked around for the world to see before being replaced by Shanahan, our fanbase was as distressed as today's housing market. Poor placekicking punched us in the gut. Inadequate quarterback play drained us of all confidence. The untimely and tragic death of Sean Taylor pierced our hearts. We have been through a lot over what seems like a very long decade. We stuck together through it all. There is NO REASON that I can see why we shouldn't consider ourselves a fortunate, unified bunch going into the 2011 campaign. We have a lot to be thankful for and we have plenty to remain upbeat about...even if that means turning a bit of a blind eye to things we can't change.
2. It doesn't matter what we think about Dan Snyder. We don't wear Snyder jerseys. We don't cheer for the owner on Sundays. We have zero control over who owns this team. The guys in helmets and shoulder pads are the ones we support. Snyder was a major topic on this site over the last three or four years, but has been less so since Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen rode into town. That is both a good sign as well as a great development for our morale--beating up the Snyder horse brings us all down.
3. They say hope springs eternal in September in the NFL. Every fanbase in the league has a team that is alive and kicking today--including us. The days of us feeling foolish for suggesting that we "have a chance" at the outset of the season are behind us thanks to Shanahan and Allen. Believe this: we do have a chance.
4. Our coaching staff is as good as we have had it under Snyder. Did you guys notice how few penalties our team committed this preseason? I don't have the exact stat handy, but especially when our starters were on the field, we did not see an abundance of yellow hankies on the field. I think we all got the sense that not only have players bought into Mike Shanahan, they have bought into their position coaches. Discipline and efficiency were the biggest stars in August for the Redskins.
5. With all respect to Joe Gibbs, the job done by Shanahan in turning over this roster before his second season began represents the best front office/head coaching job we have seen since the days when we were winning Super Bowls. Only 15 guys remain from when he took over. The players that have been brought in have been brought in with a purpose. The players that have been brought in have been identified as hard working, high character individuals that put the team and their teammates first. The group that takes the field on Sunday will be one that we can take a great deal of pride in.
6. In past years, I have suggested that a team like ours was capable of being "that team" that comes out of nowhere to stun the league and challenge for a playoff spot. My logic was: "Somebody has to be that team...why not us?" Pretty sound reasoning, right? This year, I look at this squad and think that just closing our eyes and hoping for a miracle is unnecessary. I maintain that we are not on the same level--today--as the top dogs in the NFL: Pittsburgh, Green Bay, New England, etc. We need another couple drafts to really start to approach that class of franchise. That said, we ARE in a place where we can compete week in and week out for wins against good teams. The difference between the Redskins and these other powerhouse teams in recent years has been talent, coaching, youth, experience and discipline...to name but a few of the major points. We are bridging these gaps even as we speak. The major difference between the Redskins and the upper echelon of the NFL at this stage of our development comes down to the mistakes and inuries we can and can not afford to have. Green Bay proved last year how they were built to handle losing key players and even how they were sound enough to recover from losses to teams like...well, us. The 2011 Washington Redskins are not built to withstand a rash of injuries or a bout of undisciplined football. And to be sure...we will need every win within our grasp to have even a chance to make noise in December or January.
7. Part of the benefit of Shanny's roster upheaval stems from having the institutional memory of our team being wiped clean to some extent. We had FIRMLY established a culture of losing and mediocrity. We were bringing in the wrong kind of players, and the situation really snowballed. This current group is far less tied to that culture. In fact, it would be fair to point out that Shanahan has succeeded in establishing an environment to breed a new culture. No, he has not single-handedly changed our fortunes. No, a new culture of winning has not been created. But he has made it possible for this organization to shake loose from the craptacular bonds of our recent past.
8. I need to be careful not to draw too many parallels to our Super Bowl teams...but Doug Williams was no savior out of training camp. Neither was Mark Rypien. When they were given their chance, they excelled at a ridiculously high level, but you could say it was because they were surrounded by other players who really made it possible for them to succeed. Nobody is preparing a bust in Canton for Rex Grossman, but he is capable of operating efficiently in this system and paving the way for others to shine. You could argue that Rex Grossman fits the mold of our past Super Bowl heroes in that he is unheralded, has not been handed anything and enjoys the confidence of the coaches and his teammates.
9. Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman, Jason Campbell, Todd Collins, Patrick Ramsey, Mark Brunell, Tim "The Dream" Hasselbeck, Shane Matthews, Danny Wuerffel, Jeff George, Tony Banks, Brad Johnson, Gus Frerotte, Trent Green...all of our starting quarterbacks since 1998. This roller coaster is not over yet, but when you look at this list, you see a lot of names that were not part of any good plan. In fact, you could say that most of these guys were part of extremely ill-conceived, asinine and idiotic plans. Rex Grossman is not the future of this team. But he is part of what appears to be a good plan. He knows the system, the coaches are confident in his abilities and he figures to not only carry the water until our "quarterback of the future" is ready to go, but he could very well be a natural mentor in this system when that time comes. We could definitely mishandle it from here, but there appears to be a longview that has been missing in years past.
10. We have had very good reason to be negative and pessimistic in Septembers over the last decade. Smart folks could poke holes in this ship today, but the fact is we are sailing on much calmer seas. There appears to be some continuity and stability in place in the front office and on the sidelines. Personnel decisions are looking more sound than they have in the past and the owner appears to be letting his guys do their job. What we have seen on the field so far is an honest-to-God PROFESSIONAL football team. We are closer to being a contender today than we have been in YEARS. We are closer to winning meaningful games late in the winter than we have been in years. We have a roster full of players that we will thoroughly enjoy rooting for this year and for years to come. As for our chances this season, I look at this team and the way they have come together and I am reminded of the words of George Allen.
To update his quote to fit 2011: "Fifty-three men working together CAN'T LOSE!" It's time to get excited. We'll put back on our pessimist hats in February. Today, we are contenders.