Who’s up for a Christmas redemption story? Gather round the Hogs Haven fireplace, grab a cup of hot chocolate, and make yourself comfortable, for a uniquely Washingtonian tale.
On the Sunday before Christmas, an energized, ebullient Dwayne Haskins, fresh off a narrow loss to the visiting Seahawks of Seattle, donned his golden skull cap as he prepared to venture into the chilly Washington air to celebrate in the midst of a global plague. Throwing caution to the wind, Haskins cast out thoughts that his actions - and exposure to the virulent contagion - could jeopardize the readiness of his brothers-in-arms, and potentially, the life of his head coach, whose immune system was compromised by a fight with cancer. After all, this was no mere case of the grippe, it was something much more insidious.
Eventually, young Haskins and his paramour set off for an evening of boisterousness, enjoying a decadent feast, and the gyrations of a company of burlesque dancers, fitted in the finest burgundy threads. After returning his ladylove home and arriving back to his own abode, from an indulgence of bawdiness and merriment, Haskins settled in to his oversized papasan chair, for one last scan of his iPhone. Insta and Twitter, TikTok, and Snap, all were alive with reports of the evening’s festivities from around the globe. Even young Haskins’ actions were recorded in their electronic depths by a star-struck companion. He smirked, amused.
But his browsing was interrupted. First the lights flickered, then the wifi cut loose. After a few moments of darkness, an apparition appeared. A dreadlock bedecked figure, draped in gold chains, and inspirational quote-themed gear materialized at his bedroom door.
“I am the ghost of Robert Griffin the third, circa 2012,” moaned the tortured soul. “I am here to keep you from treading the same path I did. It’s too late for me, but maybe, not for you.”
“But isn’t RG3 still alive?” Haskins responded.
“His doppelganger remains, but alas, it is just a husk, a cheap facsimile of me at the height of my powers. I am his essence, and for my hubris, I have been cast into this purgatory.”
“Alright, I’m down,” declared Haskins.
“You will be visited by three spirits before the morning’s sun rises. You can either heed their wisdom or befall a fate even worse than mine: Serving as Dan Snyder’s gameday companion.....for the rest of eternity, consigned to watch a Jim Zorn-coached squad perfect the “swinging gate” for a million, billion consecutive Sundays.”
After briefly blacking out, Haskins was awakened by the cajoling of a kindly - but completely translucent - older gentleman. “You need to get up, young chap. We have much to see, and not much time to see it. I’m the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Squire, and I’ll be showing you the grand dynasty we’ve built here in Washington, DC. The culmination of a unique blend of selflessness, humility, and genius, spun together by Coach Gibbs, Bobby, and some of the fiercest maulers you may never have heard of.”
The two went on a whirlwind tour, dropping into Pasadena, CA and catching the Diesel steamroll Dolphin cornerback Don McNeal for a 43-yard romp to put Washington up 20-17 in Super Bowl XVII. They then phased over to San Diego, staying long enough to see a virtually unknown rookie running back, named Timmy Smith, amass 204 yards on the ground and two touchdowns, while his teammate, journeyman Doug Williams, became the first African American quarterback to win a Super Bowl. This time, it was against the favored Denver Broncos, led by golden boy John Elway. Eventually, they would make their way to Minneapolis to see Mark Rypien and company dismantle the high-powered Buffalo Bills, but not before visiting RFK Stadium.
“My young friend, do you feel those tremors?” the Squire asked. It was January 4th, 1992. “Yes sir, I do. Is it an earthquake?” Haskins inquired. “No son, that is the actualization of the dreams of nearly 50,000 Washingtonians preparing to see their gladiators grind that bloviating Jerry Glanville and his “dirty birds” into dust for the second time this season. That, my friend, is football. Imposing your will on another man so effectively and thoroughly he can’t do a damn thing about it. And doing it as a team.”
“Whoa,” offered Haskins.
“Whether it was Theismann, or Williams, or Rypien, or Bostic, or Jacoby, or Lachey, it didn’t matter. Each was a titan in his own right. Riggins, Smith, or Byner, each was great when he needed to be. Some were great enough to end up in the Hall. Some were never great after, but dammit, those guys knew how to keep their heads down and do what needed to be done for the team.”
“Eventually though, all good things must come to an end, as, regretfully, did my tenure on this earthly plane, in the spring of 1997, just about the same time you were born. I feel confident, however, that even in my absence, our winning ways must have persisted. But alas, it’s getting late, and I must be going.”
“Uh, Mr. Squire, about that...” Haskins stammered, and just then, the kind gentleman disappeared into the ether and the young quarterback’s vision faded to black.
Haskins was shaken from his slumber by a well-built, athletic wraith who grabbed him by the shoulders and implored him to “wake the F@*k up.”
“Malc, what the hell? When did you die?”
“Dwayne, don’t play a fool. I’m not dead. My security clearance just comes with a pass to the netherworld, for when I really need to get my message across. This is one of those times.”
The hovering semblance of Washington Senior Director of Player Development (and Ghost of Christmas Present), Malcolm Blacken, urged Haskins to follow him. Haskins approached closely behind as Blacken slowly cracked open a hefty set of double doors. An unnatural light blinded Haskins briefly as the smell of cleaning supplies hit his nostrils.
“Do you know where we are?” Blacken asked.
“I dunno, looks kind of like a hospital,” Haskins replied.
“Bingo. We’re at GW University Hospital, in the intensive care ward. See all these folks hooked up to tubes and wires, struggling to hang on? These are the elderly, the diabetics, the cancer survivors, who’ve been exposed to coronavirus because young heads like you decided you couldn’t be bothered with trying to stem the tide.”
“But I...” Haskins started before Blacken interrupted, “You were thinking about yourself. Just like when you ran into the stands last year before the game was over, and when you broke protocols the first time, and when you threw your teammates under the bus after the Browns game. It’s all about you, Dwayne. You’re a man now. Grow the hell up.”
“Your actions have consequences, for your teammates, for other people, for you. Arrogance and hubris have not served you well. Will you continue to serve them?” Blacken asked, just before vanishing into a cloud of dust as Haskins blinkered out.
A cold, clammy draft rousted Haskins from his sleep. He looked up to see the third spirit, a hulking, menacing figure, and presumably the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, adorned in Las Vegas Raiders paraphernalia and covered in layers of rubber skulls.
The silent phantom glided slowly down the hall, and Haskins reluctantly followed. As they entered a timber-paneled room, smelling vaguely of moth balls, Haskins overheard a conversation.
“He had so much promise. The world was his oyster, and he pissed it all away,” a tuxedo-clad man whispered to a veiled woman beside him.
Two younger women, in spandex and Haskins’ jerseys, and draped in cheap extensions, chattered in the corner: “How much do you think he left us in the will?” queried one. The other quickly replied, “I’m not sure he had anything left.”
Two older gentleman, one bearing several National Championship rings, exchanged thoughts under their breath. The most heavily jeweled of the two commented, “He could have been the next Ben Roethlisberger - without the CSI SVU stuff - and instead he became the next Jamarcus Russell. A damn shame, if you ask me.” Both men shook their heads in silence.
Finally, the specter guided young Dwayne outside, to an overgrown cemetery, where a cracked and ivy-covered headstone bearing the “Haskins” name was gradually being reclaimed by the earth around it.
“Stop,” Haskins demanded. “I want to make this right. I want one more shot. I promise, I can do better than this. I can be better than this!”
On Monday morning, as the sunlight broke through the window, Haskins shot up out of bed. He texted his coach to come clean about what he had done the night before, grabbed his playbook and his keys, and drove to Ashburn, where he was the first player to arrive at the practice facilities.
He immediately deleted his social media accounts, and traded his iPhone 12 in for a Jitterbug, to be free of distractions, and he committed to putting his teammates, and others, first, dedicating himself to a life of service. Even financing a wing at the GW University Hospital in his family’s name.
The following Sunday, he proceeded to lead the Washington Football Team to a thrashing of the Carolina Panthers - masterfully reading the defense - on way to the team’s first playoff birth in years. Though it would be Alex Smith who would lead them in the playoffs, Haskin’s dedication and patience would pay off, earning Coach Rivera’s trust, and the role as Smith’s successor, when the time arrived.