It's easy to get pumped up about playing the Cowgirls, the Iggles, or the Giaint's because scheduling places us at their venue once a year, them at ours once a year, and thus we have relevant recent mutual hate on which to build loathing for them. We examined the rivalry issue briefly some time back, though it should be repeated here that our rivalry with the Cowboys is especially vicious given the heated history between our franchises. Cowboys owner Clint Murchison bought the rights to our fight song, Hail Redskins, to use as leverage over former Redskins owner George Preston Marshall who had no interest in allowing a Texas franchise to compete with his Redskins.
These spats provide a nice historic context for the rivalry, but really it is the annual battle between franchises that provides the most ammo for fan-on-fan violence. You are never as exposed to another fan base as you are when the two teams play. No moment of 2006 was more melancholic for me than walking out of Texas Stadium with my head down to the cheers and jeers of Cowboys fans after a decisive victory over my beloved 'Skins. No victory was sweeter than our improbable field goal blocking win against the Cowboys weeks later.
In any event, rivalries make football worthwhile and I wouldn't give up the tough NFC East for anything. Question to readers though: Can rivalries be generated outside of one's division? If so, what possible candidates are there for the Redskins?
I mentioned a possibility earlier this month and want to reiterate that point now. I nominate the Tampa Bay Bucs for a potential rival candidate.
From above, the most important qualification is that we actually have to play them with some frequency in order for us, or them, or both of us, to generate a bubbling dislike for the opponent that could blossom into a full out red-eyed hatred for them and their mothers and the horse their mothers (Hogs Haven aside: Oh yea Tampa Bay? Well your mom is so fat she puts mayonnaise on aspirin) rode in on.
So have we played the Bucs enough? You betcha:
- In 2003 Tampa Bay put us in the proverbial hurt locker with a 35-13 shellacking -- at home. Simeon Rice and Warren Sapp combined for 6 sacks on a helpless Patrick Ramsey who ended up throwing a touchdown pass to Derrick Brooks for good measure (and was promptly replaced by Rob Johnson). It also marked the last moment of 2003 where we had a winning record, as this game put us at 3-3 and we never looked back. Or forwards, depending on how you much you hate yourself.
- Sweet revenge week one of 2004. Coach Gibbs said of the game (his first one in 12 years) "Good gosh! I don't know when I've ever wanted one like this." In front of a huge FedEx crowd we slinked by with a defense won 16-10 battle. Clinton Portis opened the game with a 64 yard touchdown run (his first regular season rush as a Redskin). Defensive stars were "core Redskins" like Antonio Pierce (7 tackles and an interception), Matt Bowen (9 tackles, 2 sacks, and a forced fumble), and Lavar Arrington (6 tackles and a sack). Average rewarded tenure for those three: 1.3 years.
- We finally visit Tampa Bay in 2005 only to lose a close fought game 36-35 on an unanswerable late game Chris Simms' touchdown with less than a minute remaining. Mark Brunell had two picks on the game, one converted 7 points by Mike Alstott. Ultimately we'll still make the playoffs so the game turned out to be less consequential than I feared at the time.
- Speaking of those playoffs. The Bucs won the South and had us in the first round of the postseason. In one of the most miserable playoff games in NFL history, the Redskins willed a 17-10 victory despite only gaining 25 passing yards. Defense won this game as Sean Taylor picked up a 51 yard fumble recovery touchdown and a Lavar Arrington interception resulted in a Portis touchdown run. I should mention our efforts to lose this game with a Brunell pick and three team fumbles (which we miraculously recovered). But what's important is that this was a playoff win, on the road, against an opponent that had snuck by us earlier in the year. It added an interesting anectode to history (our 120 total yards were the fewest by a winning postseason team ever) and was watched by millions -- probably wondering how the hell two teams this bad could make the playoffs.
- Here we go again in 2006. Jason Campbell's first start was against the Tampa Bay Bucs this November. Despite an efficient 19 of 34 for 196 yards 2 touchdowns and no picks, JC couldn't win with this defense as we gave up another close game 20-17 at Tampa. A 3+ minute time consuming touchdown drive ultimately killed our chances at a victory as our onside kick attempt (while down by 3 with half a minute remaining) failed. Ladell Betts did his part with a fumble that gave them 7 points. Really? Bruce Gradkowski had a 104 QB rating against us that game. Maaaaagnificent.
- On all this -- wins and losses at home on the road, postseason heartbreak (for them!), probability defying repeated annual matchups, defensive showdowns, mostly close games -- can a mini-rivalry be built? The Tampa Bay Bucs finished dead last in the South this year, joining the dead last Redskins in the East. Pile it on: we play the Bucs at Tampa Bay in 2007.