- Despite the quiet nature of the NFL this time of year (except for Clay Matthews and his softball schedule), there is plenty going on in the sports world that can help direct our Redskins thoughts at the beginning of June. Instead of recounting everyone saying how “great [insert player’s name] looks this spring,” or how “well [insert player’s name] is picking up the playbook,” I figured I would take a few big stories from the wide world of sports and relate them to our Redskins memories and history (with your help of course).
- I will be going back to this series multiple times, but in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the last minute saw one hell of sequence of events that sent me IMMEDIATELY into a fairly terrible Redskins memory. With 4.7 seconds to go in the game, George Hill had one more free throw to take the lead for his Cleveland Cavaliers team. After he missed it, his teammate, J.R. Smith got the rebound and proceeded to do his best Jim Marshall impression by running away from his own goal. On one hand, he was staring at Kevin Durant underneath the basket which may have kept him from taking the ball right back up, but on the other hand, Smith showed no real sense of urgency in trying to shoot at all. The general lack of awareness is enough to draw Redskins comparisons (Kirk taking a knee instead of spiking...to name but one.) To me, the real disaster was the failure to use the timeout the Cavs still had. THIS is what took me back to FedEx Field on December 2, 2007. In a game that was marked by a starting ten-man defensive formation to honor Sean Taylor, head coach Joe Gibbs made a different timeout mistake at the end. Figuring if one timeout can ice a kicker, two timeouts can glacierize a kicker, Joe called the fateful—and illegal—second timeout to move Rian Lindell just a little closer for his game-winning field goal as the Buffalo Bills edged the burgundy and gold 17-16 in a gut-punching loss. For me, I will always remember Danny Smith, the special teams coordinator, racing towards Gibbs to try and prevent him from making the error of calling two consecutive timeouts. In this case, Smith’s reaction was the Lebron reaction: disappointment, combined with disbelief, combined with exasperation. I have never been a Cavaliers or Lebron fan, but in that moment, I feel like I knew how he felt (you know, aside from having just poured in 50 points in a Finals game to give my team a chance to win).
- Knuckle-headed mistakes are not exclusive to the city of Cleveland—or any sports town for that matter. When trying to think of a moment when a Redskins player inexplicably lost all sense of awareness and cost D.C. a win, more than a few come to mind. It would be best if the example came in a playoff performance, but my mind went straight to an episode that also occurred in a noteworthy game. In fact, you might choose between two such instances in this same game, although my mind is made up. It was a cold and rainy Sunday night at FedEx on November 23, 1997, and the Redskins were hosting the Giants. I was there (with my back to the wall of the top of the stadium). The game was a puntfest, and featured the infamous attack on the wall behind the end zone by Gus Frerotte’s head. After scoring our only touchdown late in the first half, Gus decided to headbutt a wall, and sprained his neck. This would be a fine candidate for the bonehead move of the game, but I could argue it didn’t cost us the win. Instead, later in the game, after approximately 176 punts, the Redskins had a chance—in overtime—to win it with a Scott Blanton field goal. It was from 54 yards out, but could have been considerably closer had Michael Westbrook not removed his helmet on the field of play which was an automatic 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. From the stands, one of the loudest groans I have ever heard followed the referee’s call. The kick was missed, and the drive home that night was simply miserable.
- Let’s go another way here, as we have the NHL Finals also taking place at the moment. Watching the last couple games as a proud Capitals fan, I have been most impressed by the manner in which the star of the show has been leading the way each and every night. Alexander Ovechkin has been a beast on the ice. His hitting has been tremendous, and his scoring has given the Caps both confidence and breathing room. We have all watched teams get carried at times by the depth players on the roster—and the Caps have benefited from those kinds of players as well—but these Capitals are currently getting big-time production out of their star players at precisely the right moment. I think the Redskins have a history there as well. For me, it begins and ends with #44 in the Super Bowl, but I know you guys have other ideas as well. Against the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl 17, the Redskins faced 4th-and-1, down 17-13 with ten minutes to go in the game. They called The Hogs number, and handed the ball off to the Diesel. John Riggins was met by a Miami defensive back Don McNeal, but famously shed his tackle and outran the rest of the Dolphins’ defense for a 43-yard touchdown. Riggo had 166 yards on 38 rushing attempts to lead the way to a championship. To me, there is no greater example of the best player on our team leading us to a trophy.
- What about record-setting championship performances? Last night, I watched Steph Curry pour in nine amazing three-point shots (seriously, how does he make some of those shots), and it got me wondering what would be the Redskins equivalent? Though many reading this aren’t old enough to remember either of the Super Bowls I will reference in this Sixpack, the Redskins DO have an amazing championship performance that blew some records out of the water. I am having a hard time deciding between two, but I will give Doug Williams the nod over Timmy Smith. Despite Smith’s 204-yard performance, which set a Super Bowl record, Doug Williams is my guy. His 340 yards passing set a record, and he tied a record with four touchdown passes in the game, as well as a record-tying 80-yard touchdown. The records set in the second quarter of that championship win over the Denver Broncos had—to me—more to do with Doug than Timmy (though The Hogs get credit for all of it). The 35 points scored was a first half AND individual quarter record. They established records in first half scoring margin (25 points), most touchdowns in a quarter (5) and game (6), most net offensive yards in a game (602) and total offensive yards in a quarter (356). Oh yeah—they also overcame the largest deficit to win a Super Bowl (10 points). I got nothing but love for Timmy Smith, but as Steph rained those long balls last night, I was thinking it was rather Doug Williams-esque!
- I understand why the storylines in this NBA Finals are focused on players like Lebron James, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant (to name a few). That said, to me, we are missing a huge story, which is the young and growing legacy of head coach Steve Kerr. The guy has only made the Finals every single year as a head coach, and of course he has had great players, but I think we are sleeping on the coaching prowess of Kerr. For example, as a rookie head coach in the playoffs facing the Memphis Grizzlies, Kerr’s Warriors team was down two games to one. Kerr told Andrew Bogut to stay low, leaving Tony Allen to take as many wide open jumpers as the Grizzlies wanted to give him. The result of that coaching move was the benching of Tony Allen after he missed too many open shots and Golden State’s victory. I think we are seeing him helm this Golden State ship through occasionally choppy waters. (I want to be sure everyone understands I know he has a crazy-good team, but so have many of the all-time great coaches.) I was trying to think of a parallel to this for the Redskins and I did come up with yet another Joe Gibbs gem, though I am hoping you guys can come up with another example or two. I think when Joe Gibbs went to Doug Williams and asked him to be the quarterback for the playoffs, it was a bit of a shock to some. Jay Schroeder was considered by many to be the “guy,” but Gibbs had a hunch and went with his gut. I have already laid out what happened at the end of that playoff run, so no need to rehash. It was quintessential Gibbs in that he knew his team. Even after he returned for second tour of duty, he remained able to extract the maximum from his guys, and in return, his guys responded by playing their guts out for the legendary coach. Hopefully not too much of a stretch to compare Kerr and Gibbs this morning...
Stealing storylines from other sports to draw Redskins parallels is as good as it gets this time of year for us at the Sixpack.