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Editorial: A sense of inevitability

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

I’m 59 years old. I was born in 1960.

My father was in the Navy, joining when he was 17 so he could go join the fight near the start of WWII. He had been born in Chicago, but raised in New York. He loved sports, playing baseball and hockey as he grew up, and fighting a bit of Golden Gloves as a young sailor.

When I was a kid, he took me to sporting events.

We went to the Tidewater Tides baseball games — sometimes just the two of us, but more often with my mom and one or both of my older sisters along. Dad taught me to score games with a pencil inside the paper programs, and I would carefully track every batter.

We spent sunny autumn afternoons getting splinters in our asses and watching the Norfolk Neptunes play football at Foreman Field.

Both of my sisters went to Granby High School, so Friday nights for more than half a decade were spent cheering on the blue & gold and then stopping at Shakey’s Pizza Parlour on the way home for a bit of family revelry.

Dad took me to the ABA games, watching the Squires with Julius Erving, and — once a year — we would all go see the Harlem Globetrotters at Norfolk Scope.

When ice hockey came to Norfolk, dad took me to learn about his favorite sport.

We went a few times to watch nights of boxing, which my father also loved, but mom & my sisters never came along for that, and, in truth, I was never a boxing fan, and dad only tried a few times before realizing that I wasn’t enjoying myself.

But, we didn’t just watch sports; my parents encouraged me to play as well. From the time I was 8 years old, I played football, baseball and basketball. I still have team photos from those years, and I can still point to most of the kids in each picture and recite their names. It’s kind of cool to see how many of them played in all three sports with me, and to see the same faces mature over a number of years from little kids to teenagers.

Of course, professional sports were always on the TV in my house. Back in the 70’s, big console TVs were popular as a piece of furniture and the centerpiece of most living rooms — at least in my neighborhood. My father also had a smaller black & white portable TV, and on weekends he would bring it in and put it on top of the console model so he could watch two games at once — a mid-20th century version of picture-in-picture. Dad would sit and yell at the tv - a habit that I carry with me to this day, much to the chagrin of my Thai girlfriend who seems to think it’s a sign of being a little bit crazy.

Since my father didn’t always enjoy the TV play-by-play, he kept a radio next to his spot on the sofa, and would listen to that rather than the TV analysts. It wasn’t unusual for the radio to be be giving the play call on one baseball game while we watched a different game on the portable TV and a Notre Dame or Grambling College game, or an NFL game, on the “big” screen.

Perhaps because he had been born in Chicago, my dad was a lifelong Cubs fan, which was a long-suffering type of penance that shouldn’t be wished on anyone. He didn’t live long enough to see them get a World Series win in his lifetime.

He was also a huge hockey fan, and — though I always got the sense that ice hockey was his favorite sport — I’m not sure which team was his favorite, but his family moved to New York when he was just a toddler, and I think he was a Rangers fan. When ice hockey came to Virginia, I bought a hockey stick and wrapped it with tape, but never learned to use it.

I might’ve expected my father to follow the Bears or Giants in the NFL, but that wasn’t what I grew up with. Being in the navy, my family relocated a lot, but, as things turned out, the last move of my dad’s military career settled us back in Norfolk Virginia in 1966, when I was 6 years old. My parents were still living there when dad died in 1996.

Perhaps because we lived in Virginia, my family followed the Redskins. TV viewing options in the mid-60s were, after all, pretty limited. In any event, from 1966 onward, Sunday games in my house usually focused on the Redskins.

I remember the Vince Lombardi Redskins of 1969, when I was 9 years old, but at that time I’d say I was still really just following whatever my dad was following, so, I watched the Redskins, but probably hadn’t really developed a sense of fandom apart from his.

My sense of being a Redskins fan on my own really developed while George Allen was the coach, so, while I might push it and say that I’ve been a Redskins fan for 50 years or more, the truth is that it’s probably been about 47 or 48 years.

I graduated from high school in 1977, and at that time, it was easy to be a Steelers fan, but I hated them. By the time I graduated from university in ‘81, a changing of the guard was in the air, but we didn’t really know it yet. The NFC was about to win 15 of the next 16 championships, with 8 of those coming from the NFC East, and 3 of them being led by Joe Gibbs.

The Redskins under Joe Gibbs were good. They were well-coached and typically had a talented roster. As a Redskins fan, you had a sense of pride just about every time they walked onto the field from 1982 onward (the start of his rookies season as head coach in ‘81 was pretty shaky).

By the time the 1991 season rolled around — a season that ended with a 14-2 record — there was a sense of inevitability with the Redskins. As a fan, every week felt like it would be a win, and it usually was. If the team fell behind early, you felt that it was inevitable that they would come back. If the ‘Skins needed a big play, you felt it was inevitable that they would make it. If they lined up for a clutch field goal, you felt that it was inevitable that the three points would end up on the scoreboard.

I was reminded of this when I visited the Pats Pulpit, the SB Nation site for the New England Patriots, this week. The fans there don’t really bluster or brag or talk shit. They speak with quiet confidence about the team. They have the same sense of the inevitable that I had in 1991 — the sense that the team has better players and superior coaching, and that the only way they will lose is if the opposition plays a nearly flawless game, which doesn’t happen often.

I realized that, as a Redskins fan, I now live with a pervasive sense of inevitability again.

Watching games weekly, I have the sense that, if the Redskins get out to an early lead, they won’t be able to hang onto it. I feel like, if they make a big play, there will be a yellow flag to negate it. I feel like, whenever we line up for a key third down play, it’s our opponents who are likely to ‘win’ the down.

My sense of inevitability has been flipped on its head.

One of the things I love about the NFL is its “any given Sunday” parity. Sure, the better teams win more often than not, but there’s not a big difference between a 10-6 team and a 6-10 team. The margin is thin enough that the success of many teams’ seasons comes down to just a handful of plays. There are very few matchups that are so one-sided that you can say with certainty who will win before the game is played. For example, early in the 2018 season, I took the Vikings in Survivor for their game against the Bills in a game that seemed to be a slam-dunk mismatch victory for Minnesota. It was 27-0 at the half, and the Bills ended up winning 27-6. Similarly, though I didn’t take them in Survivor, last week, the Rams fell to Tampa Bay in a stunning upset victory for the Buccaneers.

So, it was with a great deal of surprise that I realized on Monday this week that I don’t believe the Redskins have a chance to win this week. I have a sense of the inevitable loss that is coming at the hands of the Patriots. I’ve written once already on this website that this is a first for me. I’ve never before written off the team’s chances before the game was played, but I have this week.

Still, that’s not the reason for the title of this editorial.

There are things that we, as Redskins fans, are collectively witness to at the moment that go beyond the game of the week.

We’ve all known for a while now (at least since Monday or Tuesday, but for many people, for far longer) that it was inevitable that Colt McCoy was going to start at quarterback as soon as he was healthy, and that this is the week that it was finally coming to pass.

It’s also been inevitable for a while now that Jay Gruden is coaching his last season in Washington. Sunday may, in fact, be his last game; hence the reason some people interpret his decision to start McCoy as some sort of “Thelma and Louise” ride off the edge of the cliff for Jay and Colt — a two-fingered salute to Bruce & Dan on the way out.

But even those things aren’t the reason for the title of today’s opinion piece.

I’ve come to realize that a Redskins fan’s sense of the inevitable these days transcends all of that.

In 2019, 20 years after Dan Snyder took over as the owner of the franchise, and 28 years after that magical 1991 season, as a Redskins fan I now have the sense that — no matter what decision the organization makes — it will inevitably turn out bad.

Whoever starts at quarterback, it won’t work out. If the Redskins fire Jay Gruden or decide to continue with him won’t make a difference. If the team hires or promotes someone to take over as GM in the coming months, it won’t matter. If Bruce Allen is fired and replaced, then — like with the dismissal(s) of Vinny Cerrato, before him, things will simply get worse.

Drafting Trent Williams and Ryan Kerrigan hasn’t paid off. The trade for RG3 was a disaster. Mike Shanahan’s tenure ended in tears. Scot McCloughan couldn’t make a difference. Brian Lafemina was here and gone in less than a year. Trying to buy talent hasn’t worked. Trying to draft talent hasn’t worked. Trying to build a winning culture hasn’t worked. The closest the team has come to approximating success in the past 20 years came when Snyder coaxed Joe GIbbs out of retirement for a time, and even that didn’t really work.

No matter what Dan Snyder has done in the past twenty years, it hasn’t worked, and I now understand the facts. Nothing he ever does with the Redskins is going to work, because Dan Snyder doesn’t know how to get out of the way.

The sense of inevitability that pervades Redskins fandom right now is the smell of rotting fish that doesn’t go away. It’s the odor of an owner who, no matter what his intentions are, is incapable of creating an atmosphere where capable people can capably go about their jobs in a professional and competent way. It’s the knowledge born of two decades that, no matter how it feels right now, it can and will always get worse.