The natural balance of being has been restored. It’s four days past Labor Day and football season is in full swing — high school, college and pro. No wonder everybody around here is walking around as though they just had their first significant date with a new significant other. Everybody’s pumped. Everybody has a glow on. And why not? It’s football season.
With the NFL now under way, attention spans here zoom into the Steelers, the Ravens and the Redskins, all of whom have had noteworthy offseasons. Of course, during the unfortunate rule of Daniel Snyder the Redskins have built a dynasty of offseason championships. It’s that pesky regular season that always seems to get them in the end.
This, of course, is likely to change as control of the football operation has been turned over to new head coach Mike Shanahan and make no mistake about it, Shanahan is spelled C-O-N-T-R-O-L, which is not to say “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” when it comes to new general manager Bruce Allen. Allen is a major upgrade over Snyder’s boy Vinny, but don’t for one second be fooled into believing he will orchestrate any football moves without the blessing (or the permission) of Shanahan.
Other than Snyder, Shanahan is the boss and he has been filling that role accordingly, even if his authority has been tested all summer by what Redskins fans can only pray is the last vestige of the Dan Snyder Fantasy Owner run. That’s right. Albert Haynesworth, the uniquely skilled defensive lineman, who has put himself smack dab into a battle of wills with Shanahan that he cannot win. And because everybody knows Shanahan is going to be the winner, I find myself wondering more and more if the ongoing Good Albert-Bad Albert back-and-forth hasn’t been orchestrated by Shanahan himself as a means to punish Haynesworth in full view of the rest of the team for being the only Redskin not to fall in line and obey the dictator’s every command.
One day Albert practices, and Shanahan says he practiced well. The next day Albert practices and, at the mere mention of the tackle’s name, Shanahan’s expression stiffens in the manner of an agitated Don Knotts.
One game Albert plays, and Shanahan says he’s learning the new 3-4 alignment and did pretty well. The next game Albert plays 53 plays, but most of them with the second and third units in the final preseason game of the year. The next day “sources” on the coaching staff say that after reviewing game film Haynesworth’s play graded out as “awful.”
The following day, the sources say the Redskins are trying to unload Haynesworth on his old team in Tennessee. The following day Shanahan cryptically says, “Albert will be with our team this weekend.”
It’s a head game both Haynesworth and Shanahan are playing, and it is a head game Shanahan, in his first season, is destined to win, whether it’s by being able to trade Haynesworth or by using humiliation to motivate him to play with a rage that will either make him All-Pro again or build some significant trade value.
Donovan McNabb, for one, says the Redskins “can’t win without” Haynesworth. And you no doubt remember Donovan McNabb. He’s the guy who upstaged Opening Day at Nationals Park all the way back in April as the Nats had the PR misfortune of opening their baseball season the day after the Redskins had acquired McNabb from Philadelphia.
D.C. gleefully braced for The Summer of Donovan but instead wound up with The War of the Roses, which likely won’t be a bad thing at all.
New and proven quarterback traded to a new city starving to recapture past NFL glory? Being under that kind of a microscope day-in and day-out can be taxing, even for an established pro like McNabb. But from being the center of attention, McNabb quickly went to the center of the group, even though he will be counted on to lead the Redskins in every conceivable fashion and put them back in the playoffs.
While McNabb will be the unquestioned leader of the Redskins once he takes the field Sunday night against Dallas, look no further than the headset and the perpetual scowl along the Redskins sideline to find the face of the franchise.
Mike Shanahan worked the entire summer to make that distinction perfectly clear.
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org