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The 5 O’Clock Club: Playing meaningful football in December

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

Washington Redskins v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The 5 o’clock club is published Wednesday to Saturday during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

Fair warning: like much of what I write, this is a long article — in the neighborhood of 5,000 words. It’ll probably demand 20 minutes of your time. If you can’t spare the time, or simply don’t have the interest or patience to read that much, now would be the time to close the article and go elsewhere in search of sports news, reporting and analysis in 700 words or less. There’s plenty of that to be had.

The good, the bad and the ugly

For years, fans of the Washington Redskins lived through horrible football experiences.

We had a pretty brutal stretch that started with Jim Zorn and included Mike Shanahan, as well as Jay Gruden’s first season:

2008 8-8, last in NFCE

2009 4-12. last in NFCE

2010 6-10, last in NFCE

2011 5-11, last in NFCE

2012 10-6, first in NFCE

2013 3-13, last in NFCE

2014 4-12, last in NFCE

Only once (2012) in those seven seasons did the Redskins have relevance in the division, except, possibly, as a spoiler if they could derail a division rival’s playoff hopes.

One thing that fans on this board said again and again during that time was that it would be nice to be playing meaningful football in December. In five of those seven seasons, the games played in December didn’t really matter because the team had no hope of the playoffs. In most of those five seasons, games didn’t matter much by late October.

In a lot of those years, “success” was defined by many fans by simply beating the Dallas Cowboys because... well... that was about the best one could hope for. The talent on the field simply wasn’t good enough for anything else.

But, as I said, a constant theme from Redskins fans during those years was that they would just like to be playing meaningful football in December.

All I want for Christmas...

There was a roadmap that the fans often talked about: Snyder needed to get his fingers out of the football decisions and just sign the checks; the front office needed to have ‘football people’ in it; the front office had to have patience with the coaching staff — enough to let some consistency develop; the franchise needed to invest draft capital into ‘the trenches’ (meaning the offensive and defensive lines); and the organization had to stop signing aging, over-the-hill marquee-name veterans to fat contracts after they had passed their primes.

The fans demanded a lot.

And got damned near everything they asked for in that list.

After all, Snyder is barely seen or heard from anymore; he’s more like Jacob Marley — a figure half-remembered who has been gone from the public eye for many years and exists more as an unpleasant memory than anything else.

The front office is staffed by the likes of Doug Williams, Kyle Smith, Eric Schaffer, and Brian Lafemina in executive positions.

The head coach has had five years to implement his program, and a look at the starters on OL and DL shows a lot of Redskins draft capital invested and sometimes paying off.

And the free agent signings since 2012 have shown some level of professional analysis, as opposed to mere splashy signings aimed at bringing ‘name value’ to the roster.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the fans have gotten everything they’ve wanted. There are still some empty spaces under the Christmas tree and unfilled stockings above the fireplace. Cerrato is gone, but we got Bruce Allen in his place. The franchise seems unable to get through a 12-month period without at least one major public relations gaffe. While the coaching staff has brought stability, it has been linked hand-in-glove with mediocrity. And while free agency may be handled better now, there are still head-scratching moves (like the McTwins) and moves that make a lot of fans uncomfortable (like the trade & extension for Alex Smith).

Business and sports

Football is a sport, but the NFL is a business.

I get that. I really do.

I have kind of a “Chinese wall” in my mind that separates the two. During the off-season, I’m fascinated by the business of football. I love salary cap and free agency especially. As teams jockey for position, the business side is paramount and salary cap restrictions act as the great equalizer. In April, my focus shifts to the ‘game’ side of football. The draft is a time to look forward, to renew hope, to make plans for the future. Then, once the regular season begins, we get to my favorite part. I enjoy being a fan. The season that kicks off annually around the 1st of September is the payoff that I’ve been enjoying for about a half-century now.

To me, following a sports team is a weekly exercise in hope and nervous expectation. In the NFL, every week there’s a chance to give meaning to the oft-repeated phrase, “on any given Sunday”.

I think that what makes “American football” the best sports entertainment anywhere is that the NFL is a sport and a business that is built on parity... you know, worst-to-first, any given Sunday, that’s why they play the game... all that.

It’s rare for any team to walk into the stadium in any given week knowing absolutely that they will walk out winners — or losers.

Just think back to Monday night’s game. How many people predicted that Nick Foles and the Eagles would emerge with the victory over the Rams?

Hell, how many people thought Josh Johnson could play in his first winning regular season effort as an NFL football player with the Redskins on Sunday in Jacksonville? The Redskins opened as 7 point underdogs, and Hogs Haven readers — among the most fervent Redskins fans in the world — predicted a Jaguars victory in the FanPulse poll.

Last week we saw the Raiders jump up and punch the Steelers in the nose; we saw the Rams offense held to 6 points, and the ‘rebuilding’ Seahawks dominate the preseason-darling Vikings. The Colts home win against the Cowboys may not have been a true upset, but did anyone anywhere expect Dallas to get shut out for the first time in 15 years?

History said that the Patriots, who hadn’t lost two December games since 2002, and who had beaten the Steelers 7 out of 9 times with Brady at quarterback, would win again this week. History was wrong.

The point is, NFL football is not predictable. A week without a surprising upset is rare, and most pre-season pedictions are made of the stuff that we use to fertilize plants. It’s telling that a good week for most prognosticators is to get 10 out of 16 right — not against a point spread, but simply picking winners head-to-head!

The success of the Patriots aside, NFL football is not a dynasty game. Even those Patriots, the most successful ‘dynasty’ in the history of the league, went nine years without a super bowl appearance, and have only won back-to-back championships one time (2003-04).

Winning consistently in the NFL is hard; that’s what makes it a great game to watch, and that’s what feeds the business side of the sport.

Any. Given. Sunday.

Rodney Dangerfield

As a fan who is old enough to have watched the Redskins play in 5 super bowls and win three of them, it’s still jarring to see the lack of respect that the current version of the team gets. It’s often blatant, often subtle, sometimes nearly unnoticeable. But as a Redskins fan, you feel it.

Prior to the Jacksonville game on Sunday, I saw an advertisement on NFL Network for the upcoming Saturday matchup between the Redskins and Titans. The ad said something like, “Adrian Peterson and the Redskins try to stop the Tennessee Titans’ march to the playoffs.”


I mean, the Titans weren’t really any closer to qualifying for the playoffs in the AFC than the Redskins were in the NFC. Shouldn’t that ad have said, “Tune in to watch two teams fighting for wildcard playoff spots in the AFC and NFC square off in a late-season battle”?

Whoever wrote the promo just assumed the Redskins wouldn’t be in the playoff hunt by the time Saturday rolled around, or, perhaps, that presenting a Titans-Redskins game as a contest of equals wouldn’t appeal to the national audience that the ad targeted.

From lack of coverage on network shows to snide remarks from media analysts, the Redskins suffer from a lack of respect around the league.

But that kind of disrespect from non-Redskins fans is understandable... deserved, even. After all, there is that history of ineptitude blemished by only a single playoff victory in this century. It’s hard to blame the NFL Network, the media in general or non-Redskins fans for the disrespect. It’s hard-earned. For the past quarter-century, the team has done little enough on the field or off of it to deserve much better.

The owner and executives have fumbled and stumbled their way through a series of mismanaged events for the past two decades. We have, probably, the most reviled owner-chief executive duo in the NFL. And, while fans understand that nothing short of a premature demise is likely to wrest ownership from Dan Snyder, they point to Bruce Allen and say, “something can be done there” and “something should be done there” or, I guess, “something must be done there.”

At least Dan has stopped obviously meddling in the football decisions, fans say, so if we can replace the toady, Allen, with a football man, the franchise can be great again.

Until that happens, the franchise can’t move forward.

Until that happens, the Redskins will continue to be Rodney Dangerfield.

Dear Santa,

There’s one thing above all else that Redskins fans want under the tree this Christmas.

After all, Santa has been pretty good to them in recent years: Snyder’s fingers (mostly) out of the pie; football people in the building; a level of on-field respectability in terms of player talent, effort, and development, and a middling degree of success in the W-L column — a lot of good things have come our way.

Sure, some of the packages under the tree didn’t come with batteries or broke too quickly and easily (Griffin, McCloughan), but the past 7 years have brought more good things than bad, including two division titles to go with ‘only’ two last place division finishes in 7 years.

But the kids are growing up. They want better presents. Repeated .500 seasons aren’t good enough (and they shouldn’t be).

Above all, the fans want ONE THING from Santa this year.

They want Bruce Allen gone.

Bruce. Allen.


Whatever it takes

And, a lot of those fans don’t care what it takes to make that happen, as long as it happens.

In fact, a common theme for much of this season here on Hogs Haven from many readers has been that the best thing that could happen in 2018 would be for the Redskins to crash & burn, since a disaster would force Dan Snyder to dump Bruce Allen and/or Jay Gruden.

Ahead of the Jacksonville game, many readers (one non-scientific poll suggests 30%) were actively hoping for a Redskins loss.

Even more, a lot of fans feel as though it’s useless to qualify for the playoffs since the team doesn’t have enough healthy talent available to win a game if they reach the post-season. It’s pointless.

With the team in the midst of a 4-game losing streak, and coming off the embarrassing performance against the Giants, it was easy to understand this point of view, even if one didn’t agree with it.

When worlds collide

This is where the two sides of football — the business and the game — collide for me.

I understand wanting to change the leadership. I understand saying it out loud, calling talk radio shows and sounding off, and tweeting messages of hate for Bruce or Jay. That’s cool. Fans have opinions and want those opinions to be heard.

But I, personally, don’t advocate giving up on the team or rooting for the players to lose the game. Not for the sake of Bruce Allen’s job, and absolutely not for the sake of draft position.

I am of the mindset that one gritty, hard-fought victory like the one on Sunday does more for the team than moving up 5 or 8 spots in the draft ever will. Finding quality players in any round of the draft is easy compared to securing a come-from-behind victory in the NFL. When you do it with Josh Johnson at quarterback and Luke Bowanko and Zac Kerin both playing snaps at right guard, it’s special — even if it comes against a struggling Jaguars team.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Jacksonville Jaguars Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

A significant point — to me — is that football is a game. It’s a contest of ability, strategy, teamwork and will.

For players, winning and losing are habits that are cultivated. When players start to accept losing as inevitable or ‘okay’ then it takes a lot to change that mindset back to a winning one.

But, almost equally importantly, as a fan, I want to enjoy the game. It should be fun to watch. I wanna cheer my team on towards victory without hesitation or reservation.

NFL: New York Giants at Washington Redskins Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

It’s entertainment. It should add enjoyment to my life. I want to be happy when the Redskins win a game, and I want to celebrate that achievement.

Pride, in all things

In victory and defeat, I want to feel pride in the team that I root for, since their identity is my identity. That’s why I feel a bit crappy when we get games like the infamous 2016 meltdown against the Giants in Week 17.

For me to feel pride, the team doesn’t have to win. They don’t even have to play well. But they’ve got to play with heart.

People who have paid close attention to what I’ve written in the past might be aware that I graduated from VCU. I was a student there when the team made its first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament. There’s only a short entry for that game on Wikipedia:

VCU received their first bid to the NCAA Tournament in the 1979–1980 season with an 18–12 overall record and Sun Belt Conference Tournament Championship led by then first-year VCU Head Coach J.D. Barnett in VCU’s first season in the Sun Belt. They entered the tournament as a #12 seed in the East Region and were eliminated in the first round by #5 Iowa.

I was at that game. I traveled from Richmond down to Charlotte, NC to watch it. I was one of perhaps 200 VCU fans in a sea of Iowa Hawkeye fans. There was a lot of black & yellow in the stands that day.

The Rams got whipped, 86-72. The game was never close.

With the clock winding down the final few seconds of the game, the ball was loose and bouncing toward the boundary, about to go out of bounds. Danny Kottak, the VCU small forward, dived for the ball in a desperate attempt to keep possession for his team. It was a hustling, hard-driving play by a guy who was playing his heart out to the final buzzer in a game that was already lost.

Thirty-eight years later, I remember the effort. The entire VCU team was a bunch of over-achievers who went into a game against a team that was much more talented, but that VCU Rams team played as hard as they could, even in defeat.

After the game, gracious Iowa fans were walking up to VCU fans, shaking our hands and congratulating us on the way our team had played. Classy fans. I wish Iowa had gone on to win the National Championship that year.

Oddly, my ‘other’ most memorable moment in VCU basketball history was another loss; this time, a February home game against Old Dominion in 1979. The way I remember it (which isn’t necessarily the way it happened), VCU was down by nine points with about 49 seconds left on the clock. Rams fans were streaming out of the Richmond Coliseum to get into their cars and beat the traffic out of the parking lot.

I didn’t leave.

I never leave a game early.

In an amazing sequence of play, the Rams tied the game and sent it into overtime. Fans just reaching their cars turned on the radio to hear the post-game analysis, only to find out that the two teams were playing an extra period.

The OT period ended with both teams still tied. We went to double overtime. Fans started returning to the Coliseum from their cars.

At the end of double overtime, the game was still tied, and we went to triple overtime.

An ODU player, Tommy Branch, hit a shot at the buzzer of that third overtime period to give the Monarchs the win in the most emotionally and physically draining sports fan experience of my life. My voice was gone from shouting. My hands were red and sore, and my arms were hanging limp from the clapping. I can’t imagine what the players must have felt like.

The next day, a poster appeared outside the school cafeteria proclaiming that one of the VCU students who was named “Tommy” was planning to change his name, since he didn’t want to be associated with Tommy Branch from ODU. The poster quickly turned into a petition of sorts, with other students adding hand-written notes to proclaim that they would follow suit, either by changing their own names or suggesting to brothers, fathers or uncles that they change theirs.

I googled the game to see if I could find an independent account from another person who was there to verify my story. This is all I came across:

The [VCU-ODU] rivalry can survive our not being in the same conference; it existed to some extent before each school joined the Sun Belt, and then before VCU was in the CAA. The two schools share a lot of similarities, including our W&M heritage. I haven’t lived in VA since 1987, so I remember the earlier years.

A classic [game] I’ve seen mentioned on the board here was a 1979 game at the Coliseum. Ren Watson was on that team. VCU was down by a several points in the last minute so my friend and I left. We went to eat at a Holly Farms near campus on Grace St. Well, about a half hour or so later, all this traffic comes along from downtown. We looked at each other and wondered .... it turned out that VCU had tied it up and the game went into OT. ODU won the game, but it was a classic.

Mike, who wrote that comment, remembers the game and he wasn’t even there to see the end of it! Man, he has no idea what he missed.

That was a great game.

I lived in Sydney, Australia when we hosted the Summer Olympics in 2000. I went to about nine events, including fencing, volleyball, gymnastics, diving and track & field, as well as the opening ceremony.

I only remember one thing with any real clarity from all those events 18 years ago.

There was a middle-distance running event — I can’t remember the specific event. The pack of runners had to go round the running track inside the Olympic Stadium several times.

In any event, an African runner, I believe it was, injured himself early in the race — probably a pulled hamstring or something similar. As the other competitors ran round the track, he fell behind. Way behind.

The other runners nearly lapped him, as he was hobbled and slow.

Every other runner crossed the finish line, and the African runner still had almost an entire lap to run if he wanted to complete the race. He kept on with his jerky, hobbling gait as he came round for his last, painful lap.

The Olympic Stadium at Homebush was built to hold about 100,000 people for the Olympics, and this was a premium event so the stand were full. As that runner came round for his final lap the people in the stands above him went to their feet, clapping. As he rounded the turn in the track, it was like a wave in the stadium stands, with people coming to their feet as he passed them in his slow, limping effort. Around the stadium he went, and as he went, the people stood.

As he crossed the finish line, he did so to the thunderous applause, whistles and shouts of encouragement of 100,000 spectators.

Eighteen years have passed since those Olympics. I don’t know the names of any of the winners of any of the events I watched. I saw dozens of hours of top-flight Olympic competition across a range of sports in those two weeks, but the only real memory that stuck with me is that runner limping his way around the Olympic track in a gutty effort to finish what he’d trained for all his life — ultimately a losing effort, but an inspiring one. I guess if I wanted to know his name, I could figure it out with enough time and patience, but, really, I don’t need to know the guy’s name to be inspired by his effort. It’s one of the great sports memories of my life.

It’s December and the Redskins are in the hunt for a division title or a wildcard spot

In all those 3, 4, 5 and 6-win seasons, Redskins fans longed for games that would be relevant in December — a reason to cheer on their team as the playoffs approached.

For years, they didn’t get their wish, but this week, for the fourth time in Jay Gruden’s tenure, they do. The Redskins are traveling to Tennessee to take on the Titans with the teams’ playoff hopes hinging on coming away with a victory.

The Redskins have to do two things to get into the playoffs.

They need to beat the Titans this Saturday, and then they have to beat the Eagles on the 30th.

Since they can only play one game at a time, they should have a very narrow world view right now: they need to win one game against Tennessee. Until and unless they do that, nothing else matters.

There are 4 teams in the Redskins’ playoff universe right now. The Redskins have some opportunities to reach the playoffs, but every reasonable (as opposed to mathematical) scenario depends on the Redskins beating Tennessee this Saturday and then beating Philly at home to close the regular season.

So, once again, there should be no focus for Jay Gruden and his players except beating Tennessee this week. If they fail to do that, nothing else matters.

If the Redskins finish 9-7, they can take the division title if the Cowboys finish 8-8, which means that Dallas, a team who was shut out by the Colts on Sunday, needs to lose to both the Buccaneers and the Giants. A win by Dallas in either game gives the Cowboys the division title, as they hold the tie-breaker advantage over both Philly and Washington.

If the Redskins finish 9-7, they can get a wildcard seeding over Seattle if the Seahawks finish 8-8, which means that Seattle, a team that lost to the 49ers on Sunday, needs to lose to both the Chiefs and the Cardinals. A win by Seattle in either game gives Seattle the advantage for the wildcard because they hold the tie-breaker advantage over Washington.

If the Redskins finish 9-7, they can get a wildcard seeding over Minnesota if the Vikings finish 8-7-1, which means that the Vikings, who are 2-3 in their past 5 games, need to lose to either the Lions or the Bears.

If the Redskins finish 9-7, they will finish ahead of the Eagles in any playoff scenario, since that record would necessitate beating Philly in Week 17, meaning that the Eagles could not finish above 8-8.

Three paths to the playoffs for Washington

Again, you can insert your own caveats about ties or mathematical possibilities. There are three practical (not necessarily likely) paths to the playoffs for the Redskins. The third seems the most realistic.

  1. Dallas loses both of their remaining games vs. Tampa Bay & NY Giants.
  2. Seattle loses both of their remaining games vs. KC Chiefs & Arizona
  3. Minnesota loses ONE of their remaining games vs. Detroit or Chicago

But all three of these paths require the Redskins to win out.

Winning out starts with beating Tennessee this week — Week 16 of the season.

I’ll be rooting for the Redskins on Saturday

I love NFL football.

I have enjoyed playing and watching sports all my life.

I have been a Redskins fan since I was a boy in Virginia, as far back as when I was 7 years old, and our coach was Vince Lombardi — maybe even earlier.

I want the Redskins to win every time they play, and that doesn’t change because of Bruce Allen, draft picks or any other reason.

But my sense of self isn’t damaged if the Redskins lose.

I also don’t feel as though I need to lower my expectations prior to the season or any particular game in order to ‘avoid disappointment’ later. I’m a grown man; I can deal with the disappointment of seeing the Redskins lose a football game.

I go into every new season with optimism; I go into every game filled with hope and nervous expectation. Any given Sunday.

I do want to feel proud of the effort I see from the team that I choose to follow. I was proud of the Redskins this past Sunday — not because they won (though that was nice), and not because they played great football (they didn’t, really) — I was proud because they played hard, they played together, and they never quit.

Thirty nine years ago, I watched my college team battle through three overtime periods and come up short. A season later, I saw many of those same players go to the NCAA tournament and get blown out by a superior team. Eighteen years ago I stood and cheered for an anonymous athlete as he ran to a last place finish in a footrace. Three different times I cheered on athletes that lost. Three different times I saw gutty performances that I remember decades later — performances that I admire because the athletes didn’t quit. None of them gave less than their best effort. Despite not being good enough to win, every one of them was good enough to inspire.

I really enjoyed watching the Redskins play to the whistle and get the win against the Jaguars on Sunday. I enjoyed rooting for underdog Josh Johnson, who attacked every offensive snap as if it might be his last. I enjoyed seeing the team overcome gaffes — especially several on special teams — and fight, as a team, all the way through 4 quarters to get their first come-from-behind victory of the season.

I enjoyed cheering for the Redskins, as I have for fifty years, and I enjoyed seeing so many comments here on Hogs Haven, following the victory, from so many fellow fans who enjoyed the win as well.

Are the Redskins a “legitimate” playoff contender?

The answer to this question, at this point in the season, with the terrible toll of injuries that have cut into the roster, is, “almost certainly not”.

Does that mean that I don’t want them to get into the playoffs?

No, it doesn’t mean that.

Sports is about striving for achievement. In football — aside from those very rare ties — there is a loser on the scoreboard every week. By definition, teams fail to secure victory half the time. Thirty-one teams will finish this season without a championship, which means that only one team will ultimately achieve its goal.

It’s much more fun to win, but losing a football game doesn’t have to be the end of the pride I feel in the players or in the team.

We play the game to find out who will win the game. Winning is important, but losing isn’t the end of the world. Players, coaches and fans survive losing every week.

And, while I recognize that this injured and underpowered Redskins roster is likely overmatched at this late point in the season, I refuse to surrender hope prematurely. I plan to cheer for the Redskins this week against the Titans and next week against the Eagles. I will cheer for a victory and accept any outcome as long as the team plays hard and strives together because, for me, that’s what sports is all about.

When the VCU Rams were down by 9 with 49 ticks on the clock, I stayed, and watched, and cheered.

When the Iowa Hawkeyes were putting a beating on those same Rams during the first round of March Madness, I stayed, and watched, and cheered.

While an anonymous, injured runner limped around the track in Sydney, Australia in the 2000 Olympics, fighting to finish what he’d started, I stood, and watched, and cheered.

This past Sunday, as an under-manned Redskins team, with Josh Johnson at quarterback and replacements for the replacements at offensive guard, took on the Jaguars in Jacksonville, I sat on my sofa in the middle of the night, and watched, and cheered.

On Saturday, when that same under-manned Redskins team takes on the Titans in Nashville, I plan to sit on my sofa in the middle of the night, and watch, and cheer.

I will hope that they win. I will be rooting for another week. Another chance. Another unlikely victory.

And — if the team falls short — I hope now that I’ll be able to say that I’m still proud to be a Redskins fan because the players gave it their best shot.

From what I saw this past Sunday, I feel pretty confident that they will show up ready to fight.

Regardless of the outcome (irregardless, even), I’ll be back in Week 17, cheering the team on.

If they can fight their way into the post season, I’ll be on my sofa in the middle of the night, cheering them on for as long as they last.

And, no matter what, God willing and the Creek don’t rise, I’ll be here in 2019, still watching, still cheering.

I support the Redskins colors. I support the Redskins logo. I support the Redskins players.

Bruce Allen is temporary. Bruce Allen doesn’t change my support for my team.

Bruce Allen doesn’t matter to me when the Redskins are playing meaningful football in December.


How did you feel about the victory over the Jaguars?

This poll is closed

  • 86%
    I was happy and excited to see the Redskins get the win
    (140 votes)
  • 9%
    meh... it was a pointless win against a bad team by a Redskins squad that have no hope of winning a playoff game
    (15 votes)
  • 4%
    I would rather they had lost. Dan Snyder needs every possible reason to #FireBruceAllen
    (7 votes)
162 votes total Vote Now