This time last year the Washington Redskins were in the midst of a seven-game winning streak on their way to the NFC East title. Mike Shanahan was being hailed as the perfect football presence the franchise had sorely needed for so long. Quarterback Robert Griffin III in the sprint option was being hailed as the single greatest invention since the wheel, and beleaguered Daniel Snyder, the little owner who couldn’t, was being hailed for not even trying as he allowed his two-time Super Bowl winning coach and lord of all things football to pull the strings on all things football.
Snyder had finally gotten it, just as Orioles owner Peter Angelos had seemingly gotten it. Shanahan knew what it took to craft the successful organizational template. And Griffin, oh, that RG3, was the darling of any and all who have ever typed HTTR!
Life was beyond good. Citizens of Redskins Nation saw sunshine on a cloudy day. When it was cold outside they had the month of May. But on Sunday, Dec. 9, a year ago last Monday, there came a bump in the road that has continued to loom over the Redskins franchise as enormously and ominously as the very bump itself — Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
During a 31-28 Redskins victory over the Ravens, Griffin did what he does best and scrambled out of a collapsing pocket to pick up roughly 13 yards for a first down. But along the way he met up with the 6-foot-4 Ngata, who caught the Redskins quarterback from behind and landed most of the force of his 340 pounds on RG3’s right knee.
We all know the series of events that would soon domino from that play, beginning with the suddenly evil Coach Shanahan either insisting or allowing the injured RG3 to play in the playoff loss to Seattle. One surgery and one year later, the 3-10 Redskins ride a five-game losing streak into Sunday’s game in Atlanta, and Griffin, who has been nowhere near the player he was last year, has been shut down for the season for his own protection, which is kind of rich when you consider the circumstances of last year’s playoff game.
“What I’m trying to do is be as honest as I can,” Shanahan insisted in making this priceless Freudian. “And I don’t normally do that ...”
The Nation is in crisis. Shanahan wants out of Dodge faster than Andy Dufresne wanted out of Shawshank and, one way or another, he will get his wish. And Snyder, who insists upon publicly bromancing with his trophy players, is again being viewed as the meddling imbecile (if it’s possible for a self-made billionaire to be an imbecile) who has reeked havoc and destruction on a franchise that, despite being in the pall of its owner’s darkness, continues to make more money than all but a few of the sports franchises in the world.
Putting this entire mess at Snyder’s feet is understandable and acceptable since he has been the one constant of the past 14 years of Redskins misery. There is no Norv Turner to humiliate in the midst of a still viable playoff run the season after winning the NFC East. There is no Vinny Cerrato to serve as the punch line for ineptitude. There is no Marty Schottenheimer to fire just because you don’t like him or his sons and there is no Jim Zorn to have to inform that the team colors are actually burgundy and gold, not burgundy and black. It’s just Snyder and Shanahan and, frankly, Shanahan seems to be behind most of the dreadful slapstick currently flowing from Redskins Park.
There is nobody who works for the Redskins organization or who covers the team who doesn’t believe the ESPN story that broke prior to Sunday’s disaster against Kansas City was not planted and produced by the Shanahan camp. And certainly, the smug and evasive manner in which Shanahan fielded questions about its validity does nothing to convince even the casual fan otherwise.
Shanahan and the future well-being of his son, offensive coordinator Kyle, may be at the root of this particular evil, but there is plenty of room for blame for Snyder and, yes, for the golden boy quarterback Griffin.
Snyder likes to sport his palship with Griffin the way his other buddy Tom Cruise liked to show off his child bride and, thus, the planted Shanahan complaint of favoritism would appear to have merit. Griffin, in turn, and his father, RG2 (Do they both have decoder rings?) are said to loathe Kyle Shanahan’s play-calling, not to mention his mere presence on planet earth. Mike Shanahan, in the meantime, burns a slow death everytime he turns around and sees RG2 in the team facility, including in the dressing room, and wouldn’t be paranoid if the Griffins weren’t out to get him. All of which brings to mind the Three Stooges image of the Griffins, the Shanahans and Snyder running from room to room in the halls of Redskins Park, slamming doors behind them, so they won’t be seen or have to make eye contact with one another.
Through his shifty dot eyes, Shanahan has come to see the Redskins picture for what it really is — a finger painting, despite his having full control over everything from player personnel decisions, the location of training camp, the construction of indoor practice bubbles to the quality of the cuisine served at Redskins Park. Everything he has wanted, Snyder has given to him, yet the Redskins have retaken their place as the butt of their own joke.
Fourteen seasons. Norv Turner, Terry Robiskie, Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs, Jim Zorn, Mike Shanahan, round up the usual suspects.
Everything at Redskins Park has changed, and nothing has changed at all.
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org