SUNDAY, OCTOBER 14, 1990 -- WASHINGTON, DC
19 Years ago, nearly to the day, the Washington Redskins lost a hard-fought battle to the hated New York Giants at RFK Stadium. It was a see-saw affair whose final result hinged on a special teams gaffe. Down 21-20 in the fourth quarter, the 'Skins defense forced a punt from their own 35. The Sean Landeta pooch punt should have bounced into the end zone, giving the Washington offense a chance to march down the field and kick a game-winning field goal. Didn't go down that way.
Instead, the punt bounded off the leg of special-teams blocker Johnny Thomas. It was recovered by the G-Men at the Redskins' 1. Though the 'Skins were able to limit NY to a field goal, they then needed a touchdown to win. Didn't go down that way.
I remember this game because I was there -- really there. One of our fraternity brothers' stepdad was the general manager of RFK at the time, so Rob and I joined him and our friend Cliff for an afternoon of all-access pass action at the old ballyard. I seem to recall Rob spending most of the day hanging in the press box near Madden & Summerall (ah, remember when we got to enjoy A-list announcers?) and Sonny & Sam, while I spent the game roaming the sidelines in childlike awe. When Jeff Hostetler got tackled on the sideline and lost his wind, Cliff and I were standing directly over him. ("Bummer, dude." He appreciated that.)
And we were precisely where we wanted to be as the Redskins were about to take receipt of the football for their inevitable game-winning drive. We were camped out deep in Giants territory. We'd be ringside when Stan Humphries led the team to victory. It was all set up for our viewing pleasure.
So when that punt came down and there was a bit of a skirmish, we couldn't tell what the hell was happening. I'm sure Rob and his bird's-eye-view got a clear and painful look at the Redskins Johnny Thomas-ing the game away, as it became known. But Cliff and I were left to wait for details, then to wonder what might have been.
As quoted in the New York Times recap: "That was the big play,'' Parcells said. ''It wasn't luck. You've got to make those plays.''
Indeed you do.
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 11, 2009 -- CHARLOTTE, NC
Yeah, you already know what happened. The 'Skins blew a 17-2 lead, and the critical swing came when special-teams blocker Byron Westbrook Johnny Thomas-ed a punt, giving the Panthers the ball back deep in Washington territory.
And while there is certainly unpleasant similarity between these two games -- it immediately dredged up the memories of that old game for me when Westbrook did his thing -- what I am noticing today are the differences.
Those Redskins were good, and led by greatness. Their opponent that day was an eventual Super Bowl winner, also led by a future Hall of Fame coach. These Redskins are awful, and these Panthers are only slightly less awful. John Fox didn't look like a genius yesterday, he just looked less out of his league than Jim Zorn. And what does it say when both head coaches are heavily rumored to be fired soon?
The points that day felt earned, while the points yesterday felt handed out like day-old doughnuts. The mistakes that day -- and there were a few -- were glaring, rare (the first 3 turnovers of the year for Joe Gibbs' offense), and not tolerated. (Stan Humphries would be benched a game later.) The mistakes yesterday? Same story, different week, different idiots.
The tenacity we saw at RFK 19 years ago has been replaced by status quo indifference. Lip service masks shoulder-shrugs and hasty retreats into spacious, elegant living quarters via luxury motorcars. Guys like Kurt Gouveia and Greg Manusky would find no refuge in this team's locker room. Neither Darrell Green nor Jim Lachey nor Earnest Byner nor Wilber Marshall would let this stuff go on for long. Chris Samuels, Clinton Portis, Santana Moss, and London Fletcher . . . they shouldn't either.
Most of 1990 was played without starting quarterback (and Super Bowl MVP a year later) Mark Rypien, who got hurt in an early game against the Cowboys. Four weeks after this tough loss, the Redskins got their asses kicked at the Vet in the "Body Bag Game"; eight 'Skins got knocked out of the game, including two QB's (not counting Rypien), so they finished with Brian Mitchell under center. Bad times.
And yet the '90 squad found a way to make the playoffs, even winning a playoff game . . . against the Eagles at the Vet -- avenging the Body Bag debacle, knocking the Birds out of the postseason, and leading to Buddy Ryan's firing a few weeks later, all of which ushered in the Rich Kotite Era. Not bad, 'Skins. Not bad at all, all things considered.
To say that the 2009 Washington Redskins are bereft of the drive, focus, leadership, and playmaking ability (if not the "talent") to pull off any salvation like the 1990 team is laughably understated. And every loyal, knowledgeable Redskin fans knows that there isn't a player, play, coach, or game that's going to right the ship at this point. Sad to say.
Zoltan wrote something similar recently, but I'm pretty damn far from those free-wheeling college days of 1990. (Not as far as most of my peers, but still . . .) Meanwhile, the Redskins franchise is just as many miles removed from what it was back then, too. The difference is that while things are drastically different in my life today, they are mostly good and just a little bad in ways that are different than they were mostly good and just a little bad two decades ago. For my favorite football team, however, they are wretched and miserable these days (and for much of the last two decades) in ways that they were fantastic and fun back then. And with Captain Edward Smith Queeg Ahab Snyder at the helm of this sinking ship, the horizon's not looking too sunny.
Danny, it's not luck. You've got to make those plays.