Out of respect for my fellow fans, I will make sure to note here at the top that I don't presume to speak for everyone out there. Having said that, I think most of you know that when I break out the italics, I am trying my hardest to capture the sentiment that resides in most of our hearts and minds. In my own rambling way, this is...Boldly Hoping.
It has been suggested by certain folks over the last ten years that the Washington Redskins franchise has achieved "laughingstock" status. I have heard it on national sports shows, both radio and television. I have heard it on local sports radio shows, and I have heard it said by Redskins fans among us. It is the easiest way to get a rise out of me, because I believe you can choose to focus on those things that would lend themselves to mockery or you can choose to recognize those things that rise above mockery.
For me, watching a guy like Marcus Washington play at 110% in the fourth quarter of a meaningless game late in a lost season was an example of what kept our team from being a laughingstock. For others, watching Sherman Lewis call plays down to the sideline and then on to Jason Campbell in a very public usurping of play-calling duties from Jim Zorn was an easy target to use as evidence of the circus that many feel has become firmly entrenched in Washington.
I single out Marcus Washington, but there are plenty of examples of players over the years putting in maximum effort when playoffs were not even close to a realistic possibility for the Redskins. On one hand, that's their job--they SHOULD be out there trying, if for no other reason than to perhaps help them get their next job with a team who might be watching. On the other hand, there have been guys who have come through D.C. who have done the minimum to keep their jobs--missed blocks, tackles and assignments have been Telestrated by Jaws for the world to see.
I readily admit to a base refusal to view my team in the manner some would insist is undeniable. Records, stats, scores, etc. all paint a picture that is easily defensible. Still, I can't help but take it personally. That is saying something, too, because:
The Monday Night Massacre against the Eagles? I was there.
The Pittsburgh invasion of FedEx? I was there.
The two timeouts called by Joe Gibbs? I was there.
The Pete Kendall fumble that led to a touchdown at the end of the first half that probably cost us that game? I was there.
Swinging Gate-gate? I was there.
Spurrier's criminal intent behind his pass protection schemes? I was there.
This list could go on for quite a while, but you get the picture. I have more than enough cause to join the laughingstock ranks. But...
The blocked kick and ensuing return by Sean Taylor that led to a last-second win over the Dallas Cowgirls? I was there.
Art Monk and Darrell Green's Hall of Fame induction ceremony? I was there.
Russ Grimm's HOF induction? I vaguely recall being there.
The parking lot at FedEx for just about every single game over the last 12-15 years? I am told that I was there, too.
I simply have too many fond memories of being a Redskins fan to allow a down period to color my optimistic and positive outlook. I am just barely old enough (mid-30's) to remember watching all of the Super Bowls we won, but many are not, so I will pick and choose from the positives that can be plucked from our "down period." The fact that there are those of us who continue to muster the energy and emotion to participate in this debate on the side we choose to stand on is a testament to the kind of fanbase we are. We do believe our best days are ahead of us. We do believe that we are on the right track. The national perception of the Redskins is what it is--it has been shaped by losses, bizarre incidents and a sometimes overzealous owner that cast himself as a polar opposite of some of the more traditional owners that have enjoyed a great deal of success. For those of us closer to the situation, it has been tough to weather, but weathering it is what you do when you love something. To suggest we have a perception problem is not an admission of laughingstock status.There is a way for optimism and realism to coexist.
Let's not spend too much time comparing the Nats and the Redskins, but just look at what playoff relevance has done for the Nationals fanbase and organization. Even if they don't win the World Series, couldn't we all agree that the mere fact that our team is recognized as a legit playoff contender has been extremely therapeutic? There are no "good losses," whether they occur in the regular season or postseason, but becoming a contender is an important step on the road to credibility--both on and off the field. The Nats have taken that step. (The Wizards, on the other hand, have NOT taken that step.)
The payoff is coming guys. Your reward for standing up to rather indisputable facts (haha, serenity now!) over the years will come--not in the form of a Lombardi Trophy, but in the form of playoff relevance. Too much has to go our way in 2012 for this team to actually play in postseason games. But we can reasonably hope to be playing for the right to shake the negative perception of our team. (We can Boldly Hope to overcome all of those things that stand in our way of playing in the playoffs in 2012!)
There are many of you reading this who wonder what the hell I am talking about because all you have ever known as a Redskins fan is shenanigans and lunacy. I remember when opposing teams and their fans viewed our team in a far different way. It matters. It is a crucial step to take for a team and fanbase desperate to return to relevance. It is an important step to take for a sports town largely defined in recent years as a loser. I am not suggesting that my boldest hope is for the Redskins to simply be competitive, but I am suggesting that a competitive Redskins team in 2012 can--and will--make an incredible impact (it might even feel like a championship to some of us). It matters.