Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
For better or worse, the statement the Washington Redskins make this Sunday will color a remarkable turnaround year in the history of the franchise.
The Redskins looked an awful lot like the Redskins on January 1st, 2012.
Starting at quarterback for our Week 17 trip to Philadelphia was a doughy veteran, finishing an up and down year during which he had been benched for an unproven commodity who proved not to be much of a commodity. His name, I'm fairly sure, was Rex Grossman, but it might as well have been Jason Campbell or Patrick Ramsey for all Redskins faithful cared - he an was another QB not getting the job done for the Burgundy and Gold, and at the same time making everyone who expressed belief in him at the start of the season appear loud wrong.
The result of the game: not surprising. A 10 to 34 road blowout (that didn't even seem that close) which lifted the Eagles to their 4th straight win and helped Andy Reid avoid adding a second losing season in his 13 year tenure with the team. Even after a disappointing campaign, Philly seemed to be on the uptick.
Washington meanwhile remained in a holding pattern.
The players went home, the coaches flicked on tapes of NCAA football, and the fans and media chalked it up to business as usual. Another failing Redskins regime was now halfway underway.
Fast forward to April 2nd, 2012, in Middle-Of-Nowhere Florida. Ex-Coach, Jon Gruden sat down with the most recent Heisman winner to talk football.
"We'll run this play, and we'll block that end," Robert Griffin III described to Gruden as they watched film of read-option plays he ran during his senior season at Baylor. "And we'll read the backer. Block that end out and if the backer overflows you keep it, and if he stays you hand it to the running back -- It's something that defenses really can't shut down."
"It's not so much this play I'm worried about," said a prophetic Gruden. "It's the play-action out of it that scares the hell out of me."
Both men cracked up.
"People say you can't run the option in the NFL," Gruden recalled. "I say: if you get the right guy you can."
More truth, more laughter. Gruden could see the tidal wave massing on the shores of the NFL. There was going to be a new offense to stop "up here", and it was going to be headlined in no small way by the young man sitting to his right.
That summer thousands came out to Ashburn, Virginia to see him live. Scores of men, women and especially hopeful children bellowed his initials with all their lungs before even ever having seen him throw a pass. They knew as well as Gruden did. Election cycle after election cycle had come and gone, and finally the right guy had come to Washington.
Fast forward eight months, 5,000+ yards and 350+ points - to December, to a misty, rainy Sunday in Landover, Maryland.
Eighty thousand screaming voices hushed for a beat, only to rise a moment later into a chilling chorus of murmurs. Robert Griffin III had been hurt, bad.
Stunned, I turned away from the field. I panned across my corner of FedEx. Even Ravens fans looked dumbstruck. A kid in a London Fletcher jersey leaned back against his chair, completely motionless, his mouth agape. Everyone stared ahead at the Burgundy and Gold #10, slumped over, waiting for his trainers.
The instant replay showed on the big screen.
"Ooh!". Griffin's knee curved around the back of a Ravens defensive lineman as he was pinning him to the choppy turf.
I knew this feeling. This was Chicago, April, 2012. This was Derrick Rose. This was an ACL. His season - our season - was over.
The offense went back into the huddle, all ten of them. With no one wearing a headset, the offense looked over to the sideline, waiting for a crucial missing piece.
"Um, don't we need a quarterback?" someone in my section shouted.
Belatedly, being pushed ahead by several staff, Kirk Cousins stammered on to the field, clumsily fixing his chin-strap. He wasn't ready. He wasn't Griffin.
He threw to no one in particular, bringing up 4th down. However, pass-interference was called and we were awarded the 1st. Great, our season will go on another agonizing set of downs.
Then - like out of a movie - Griffin waved to his coach, his feet toeing the sideline ready to run back in.
Wait a minute: he wasn't broken. He was playing. We still had a shot!
After completing a pass to Moss in the flat and a strike down field to Garcon, Griffin gingerly hopped on one leg down to the Ravens 15.
"Everybody do the hop!" someone yelled, rousing bittersweet laughter. Like many of those around me, I'm sure, I ran my hand down my thigh, massaging my phantom bone-bruise.
After another play, Griffin could go no more. He fell to his knees again, and again was helped off the field.
Now Kirk Cousins ran onto the field with conviction, helmet already strapped.
"Team!" he called in the huddle, before spitting out the 2nd and 20 play.
Cousins fired to Leonard Hankerson. Caught! 3rd and 5 upcoming. He took the snap. He looked, he pumped, he rolled to his right and lobbed the ball right above the outstretched glove of a Raven into the breadbasket of Pierre Garcon standing open in the shallow corner of the end-zone. Touchdown!
The crowd roared for exactly one second, then shut up. Garcon did not spin the ball nor pound his chest, but instead held up two fingers and ran toward Cousins. Nothing had been accomplished yet.
Y'all know the rest of the story. We scored. We held. We won, and all the while the sight of Griffin slapping hands, standing and walked unassisted, and talking up his teammates on the sidelines soothed all our million souls.
To date that was the greatest moment in sports I have ever seen live: the mythological Cousins/Griffin final game-tying drive narrowly eclipsing Griffin's 76 yard gallop to ice the game against the Vikings in October.
Statisticians and those who follow the NFL closely might tell you that the Redskins didn't need to win either of those games; that if either of those wins were loses, the Redskins would be in exactly the same position, playing for the NFC East title against Dallas on Sunday night. To them, I say great teams don't wait for their breaks. They don't get their losses out of the way. They win - game after game, season after season.
Those two moments alone made 2012 a special year for me personally. Each second of that ‘electrifying' run, and each play of that dramatic comeback drive will live with me and always underlie the way I think about sports. I'll always remember that rush when I realized, no one is going to catch him; and that inspiration when I realized, naively or not, no one is going to stop us.
If the Redskins win Sunday, history will remember these moments as integral steps towards the Redskins improbable run to the franchise's first NFC East Championship of the new millennium. If not, not. Although you cannot change the past, this next game will forever alter the way we remember these past 360 or so crazy days of fanaticism.
On the eve of this defining tomorrow, then, let me take a moment to appreciate how much fun it has been to be a Redskins fan this year; in no small part because of my good fortune in being able to joining this community, and the countless conversations I've had here that have expanded by perspective about this team and about this sport. Without further ado, here is just a partial list of my favorite moments and achievements from the Burgundy and Gold during the 2012 season. Thank you all for the back and forth and let's all have a happy New Year!
September (* = season long achievement)
- The 88 yard catch and run heard ‘round the world:
- Robert Griffin's strike to Logan Paulsen off of a play-action to all but salt away a 40-32 win on opening day, the first win for a visiting team in the Super Dome in over a year.
- Griffin's first post-game presser: "You can win a high school state championship; you can win a bowl game in college; but to go against a hall of famer in Drew Brees and win your first game - that's at the top.
- A nasty plant-and-go along with a nastier stiff-arm to simultaneously dismiss safety Mark Barron and break the ankles of veteran corner Ronde Barber on the way to a 39 yard touchdown run by Alfred Morris:
- A 3rd down and 9, Brandon Banks to Griffin to Niles Paul double-pass to convert the ‘Skins' first 3rd down in seven tries, keeping the hard-charging Bucs offense of the field for a few critical minutes at the beginning of an intense 4th quarter:
- Griffin III rallying the team from the disappointment of three missed field goals, charging 70 yards for the game-winning score in the final minute - (without the use of his malfunctioning headset). Especially, Griffin's 19-yard dash, absorbing a huge hit by Mason Foster, to put the team into field goal range:
- *541 second-half rushing yards by Robert Griffin III, averaging 7.7 per carry. 300 rushing yards in 4th quarters alone.
- *Two clutch fumble recoveries and two tough tackles by Garcon.
- The aforementioned "electrifying" third and six, 76-yard game-sealing touchdown run to send FedEx Field into raptures.
- The 4th and 10 conversion that proved to the world that even if RGIII wears the glove to look like Michael Jackson, he straps on the pads to play like Michael Jordan.
- *The emergence of 4th year vet, former 7th round pick, Rob Jackson, filling in for Brian Orakpo incredibly well: racking up 3 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 5 sacks and a touchdown in his first year getting significant snaps.
- 2 pinpoint Griffin bombs (45 yards+) for 2 back-breaking touchdowns to lift the ‘Skins to a dominating 31-6 victory over the Eagles, effectively ending their season and jump starting ours.
- For the first time in seven tries, the Redskins win in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day, skewering Dallas's vaunted defense for 437 total yards and handing Tony Romo his first Turkey Day loss.
- *8 touchdown catches by the ageless, Santana Moss: 5 of which came on 3rd or 4th down; 5 of which came against NFC East rivals; 3 of which required expert toe-tapping in the end-zone; and 2 of which went for over 60 yards.
- *The continued leadership of the little man that plays big:
- *25 first down catches by Moss, the majority of which, I would guess, came on crucial 3rd or 4th downs.
- Griffin's sublime pitch to Josh Morgan for a touchdown.
- The four minute drill executed to perfection to keep the Giants off the field and preserve a 1 point victory, meanwhile racking up over 200 yards rushing for the second straight game against the G-men.
- *599 yards after contact by low-key rookie, Alfred Morris.
- *71 first down carries by Alfred Morris; plus 46 runs of 10 yards or more.
- The aforementioned overtime victory over the Ravens.
- 304 yards after the catch by firebrand, 5th year wide-out, Pierre Garcon.
- Countless Garcon world-class ball spins. (Seriously, does anybody spin a tighter spiral in the NFL?)
- Endless Pierre Garcon jawing in the face of opposing DBs.
- 5 more DeAngelo Hall takeaways.
- 5 more London Fletcher interceptions.
- 9 more Redskins victories - and counting!
The Washing Post
Bonus Video, via Black Boo: