With only one week, and one game, left in the 2013-14 NFL season, and the free agency period not beginning until March 13th, there isn't a ton going on at Redskins Park for the next month or so, aside from a few more coach signings to complete Jay Gruden's retooled staff.
Most fans are excited about the next chapter in the Redskins saga, and to get the positive vibes flowing even more than they already are, I want to tell a story about the happiest I've ever been as a Redskins fan.
Now, I'm only 19, which I'm guessing is significantly younger than most of you all reading this, so my memory is not climaxed with a Super Bowl victory. Instead, it takes place on Wild Card weekend of the ‘05-'06 season.
That was a strange year overall for the team. Starting off 3-0, including an overtime win over Seattle and the "Santana Moss Coming Out Party" in week 2 against Dallas, the ‘Skins then lost 6 of their next 8 games and found themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. They would need to win out the rest of the way to have a shot at the postseason.
And wouldn't you know it, they did.
RB Clinton Portis led the charge, rushing for over 100 yards in each of the team's final 5 games, with 6 touchdowns in that span as well. The defense, stout all season, kept up their play as well, never allowing more than 20 points in the final 5 games.
This was certainly not one of the more talented Redskins teams of recent years, at least on offense (The third leading receiver was David Patten, with 217 yards), even though Coach Joe Gibbs always got the most out of what he had to work with. But they generally took care of the ball and leaned on the defense to make big plays when need be. That strategy got them farther than it probably should have.
After winning out and securing a Wild Card spot, the Redskins had to travel down to Tampa Bay and take on Jay's brother John Gruden and the Buccaneers, the 11-5 champions of the NFC South.
11-year-old me was SO EXCITED. It was going to be the first Redskins playoff game I was old enough to understand and care about. Nothing was going to put a damper on my mood that week.
Except that, in my ecstasy after the regular season finale against Philadelphia, I had forgotten that my family had bought tickets months ago to see Les Miserables, which apparently took precedent over the game (I still vehemently disagree to this day, but I digress). The performance started at 2:00 (it was 3 hours long), and the game began at 4:30, so we would for sure miss the first quarter, probably the entire first half with traffic on the way home. Worse yet, my brother-in-law, who was coming along, is a die-hard Cowboys fan, so he was constantly throwing (lighthearted) jabs at me for missing the game.
We made a plan to go back to my sister and the Cowboys' fan's house afterwards to watch the end of the game, since it was closer to the performance venue. My other sister also said she would be getting text updates from a friend watching the game, so she'd keep me informed.
And so it went. A few minutes after the intermission, I checked my watch. 4:30. Game time. If I ever cared about what was happening on the stage in front of me, I stopped right then and there (no offense to any Les Mis lovers out there). I tried to play the game out in my head, wondering who won the coin toss, how the offense would look against a good defense, etc.
Then, suddenly, my sister's phone was alight. The first text update. Chris Simms had thrown an interception to Lavar Arrington at their 6 yard line. The Redskins were in business. A minute later, the next alert arrived. Portis. TOUCHDOWN. I may or may not have squealed.
Now I really couldn't contain my racing thoughts. Not that I wanted to. The Washington Redskins have a lead in a playoff game. Nothing new in the grand scheme of things, but to me, this was insane to think about. I prayed that the defense could keep it up. I had faith.
A third flash in the darkness brought me back to reality. The third text message. Another interception thrown by Simms, this time by my favorite player on the team, a guy by the name of Sean Taylor.
51 yards, to the house. 14-0 Redskins.
Pure, unbridled joy.
As we were leaving the theatre, we got one last update. Tampa Bay had kicked a field goal. Not a huge deal. Still a two possession game. In the car, we heard the call of John Hall's 47 yard field goal, giving the Redskins back their 14-point lead and me an immovable smile.
And then we hit typical DC traffic. We weren't moving, and after that field goal, the Redskins offense wasn't either. After doing so much at the end of the season, Portis could only muster 53 yards on 16 carries against Tampa. Mark Brunell would struggle all game. And to make matters worse, Tampa Bay scored on their first possession of the second half, a Simms bootleg from 2 yards out. It was a one possession game, and for the first time all day, I was nervous.
After spending seemingly an eternity on the road, we finally made it back to their house. We all sprinted in to catch the end of the game, but not before stripping off our dress clothes to reveal a parade of Burgundy and Gold apparel taking over a Cowboys household on gameday. It was divine.
The fourth quarter of the game was ugly, for both teams. Tampa Bay went for it on 4th down from the WAS 19 early in the quarter, and failed. The Redskins did nothing, Gibbs choosing to play conservatively and put the trust in his defense. It looked like this strategy would backfire when Brunell made a bad decision and got picked by Brian Kelly on the ‘Skins own 35 yard line with just under 4:00 to go.
First down, a Cadillac Williams run for 5 yards. Then, an incomplete Simms pass to Joey Galloway. A delay of game penalty set up 3rd down and 10, and then this happened:
That close. The Bucs should have tied it up on that play. Instead, it became 4th and 10, and another incompletion would give the ball back to Washington. Tampa Bay would get it back one more time, but a Marcus Washington interception locked up the victory for his namesake.
I quite literally jumped for joy. We all did. The lone Cowboy just shook his head, because what else could he do? It was our moment.
Of course, Washington's season would come to an end the following week, in a rematch with Seattle. But that doesn't take away from the elation I felt on January 6th, 2006. I'm not totally sure why I was THAT excited, but who cares. In that moment, I sure as hell didn't.
What's the happiest Redskins-related story of your life? I'd love to read them in the comments. Let's get the memories flowing.