1. I wrote most of what follows first and then felt compelled to write a new #1 because of how it started to look to me. I am NOT suggesting that fans of a losing team are worse fans than fans of a winning team. The truth is that fanbases that support perennial...up-and-comers...probably should be considered among the BEST fans. The main point I am sniffing around is that at different points in time, we as a fanbase are shaped to some degree by the recent history of our teams. This recent history doesn't necessarily change how much we love our team, or the degree to which some will center their lives around their team, but it does affect the tenor of a fanbase. At some point, it becomes noticeable when a prolonged period of winning or losing has had an effect. I liken it to losing weight. If you see someone every single day for years, it is harder to discern when they have lost five or even ten pounds. Once they hit 15-20 pounds though, it becomes rather apparent, and you might even wonder how you missed the changes previously. This is the kind of phenomenon I am getting at. I think that the Washington fanbase has reached a point where the prolonged period of...not winning a lot...has had at least some effect. Again, it hasn't created a worse fanbase. Far from it. Instead, it has reared its head in the leadup to yet another season that has promise. So many seasons for us have had promise over the last decade or two. The unrealized promise weighs on our hearts just enough to define the kind of fans we are today. Part of my point below is that this can and will change, but I find it fascinating given I do have memories of RFK during the glory years of the modern era. I do have memories of the Redskins being champions, and the rest of the league holding an expectation that Washington would be relevant each and every January. Hopefully, this will help you digest what I have laid out below, but most importantly, I hope this will help shape the debate in the comments section. It is time for us to pull together for the season! It is time for us to get after it each week, holding in our hearts the belief that the Redskins will emerge victorious...even if we are alone in that belief. Instead of a definitive piece on all of this, this is no more than a first crack at it...a conversation-starter.
2. From 1981 to 1992, Joe Gibbs compiled a 124-60 record in the regular season and a 16-5 record in the playoffs, including three Super Bowl championships for the Washington Redskins. It would be hard to point to a different era in the history of the Washington franchise as more "Golden" than this one. It would be hard to find diehard Redskins fans who can remember a better time. The heavy concentration of winning in that period, along with the playoff success and the Lombardi Trophies shaped a certain kind of fan in the district. Fans were used to winning. The world was used to the Redskins being a winner.
3. It wasn't always that way. Prior to Joe's arrival, the team had enjoyed some success under George Allen, who is credited with a "revival" of sorts while he was the head man in D.C. Well, the fact that any reviving was necessary at all tells a good part of the tale. From 1946-1970, the Skins experienced...a down period. The team did not do a ton of winning, the front office fell into disarray as George Preston Marshall--the owner at the time--went through what has been described as "mental decline" and we churned through head coaches (did you know that Marshall fired Earl "Curly" Lambeau--yes, THAT Lambeau--after an exhibition game in 1953?).
4. During this period, it would be very fair to suggest that the franchise was leaning heavily on its pre-1946 success. The franchise qualified for the postseason six times between 1936 and 1945, and won two NFL Championships (in 1937 and 1942). Despite leading the way with innovations in the passing game and getting the Redskins on television, Marshall was unable to get his team back on the winning side of things. In 1969, a handful of years after Marshall had died, the team brought in the legendary Vince Lombardi, who single-handedly righted the ship and led us to a 7-5-2 record--the best one since 1955. Tragically, Lombardi died of cancer just before the 1970 season.
5. No, today's Ten Yard Fight is not meant to bum you out. I've just been thinking a lot about the current state of the fanbase and how to explain some of the questions that have been coming my way lately. Specifically, I have been asked (most recently by JP Finlay from CSN) why it seems like the fanbase is so tranquil for this time of year (relatively speaking of course). Most people reading this--along with me--are insanely geared up for the season this year, but I do notice a difference the last few seasons with regard to the manner in which "Redskins Fever" has hit us each summer.
6. Since Joe Gibbs left after his first stint, it would be fair to suggest the team leaned on the success the franchise enjoyed while he was here. Despite an extended period of mediocrity under Norv Turner, the team just could not make the leap from mediocre to good. After Dan Snyder purchased the team, our experience was largely marked by splashy headlines--but no significant winning.
7. For those of you out there who can remember the 80's and early 90's, you remember how it felt to be the fan of a team that everyone viewed as a winner. For those of you who can remember the years since then, you have felt what it means to be a fan of a team that most people view as...not a winner. It is a much different feeling. I attribute any sense of muted passion in our fanbase to this phenomenon. Lombardi said that both winning and losing are habits. Similarly, rooting for a habitual winner is inherently a different experience than rooting for a habitual...mediocre team.
8. (I won't call us losers. Ever.)
9. As we brace for the beginning of yet another season that has the Redskins fighting to break away from recent struggles, I think it makes sense to recognize that part of us that we try our hardest to ignore. You all know what I mean...that little voice that has been trained to say, "It don't look too good for us today, y'all." It is part of the psychology of being a Redskins fan today. And yet, are any of us less passionate about our team? Of course not. There is an entire generation of Redskins fans that has NEVER experienced our team being the feared monster of the NFL. They have never seen our team go to back-to-back Super Bowls, or win multiple championships in a span of four seasons. I find it amazing that these fans can muster the same energy and excitement year after year as those of us who have--even hazy--memories of tailgating at RFK and championship parades in the city. Like every other fanbase, at various times we have been trained to expect greatness and at various times we have been trained to expect mediocrity. The latter has been the case for a while.
10. I liken being a fan of the Washington Redskins to an exercise in practicing unconditional love. Through this practice, I fully believe I have become a better person over the years (relatively speaking, of course...there is widespread disagreement on my "starting point"). I have learned what it means to embrace that which so many others fans would throw away. I feel like we are straight out of a bible lesson. We love unconditionally that which much of society has deemed unlovable. This can and will change. Our team won't be held down forever. I think I am most encouraged by the cyclical nature of the timeline I laid out above (yep, I had a point to that after all). The truth is we're due for a run of success. Like the changing of the seasons, the Redskins are due for a period of prolonged success that will invigorate the fanbase. Think about it...we pour our heart and soul into this team in its current condition. Imagine how it will feel to apply that same fervor to a team that EVERYONE (not just us) believes in? Our best days are in front of us. It's okay to harbor a teeny bit of doubt with this franchise at this point, but please continue to not let that stop us from believing--sometimes foolishly--that we are at the cusp of greatness. Truly ours will be the greatest sense of euphoria when the tide changes. We've kept the faith. The Promised Land HAS to be just over the crest of the next hill.
Let the Season of Kool-Aid commence!