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The team has lost four of its last five. The star running back is hurt. The remaining schedule looks perilous. But before you start fretting too much about young Jason Campbell -- and all the pressure he's suddenly facing as the Redskins' new quarterback -- consider this: He has a lot less weighing on him than Jay Schroeder did. Or Heath Shuler, for that matter.
Back in their day, you see, the Redskins' quarterback had to live up to certain expectations. The franchise was one of the most successful in the NFL, and whoever had the honor of being the QB was supposed to keep it that way. When Schroeder fell short of Joe Theismann's standards, he was booed out of town. When Shuler was unable to match Mark Rypien's feats, he, too, felt the fans' wrath -- and quickly.
The situation is different for Campbell, though. For one thing, the Redskins are no longer a league power, haven't been for some time. In fact, since Joe Gibbs' first retirement after the 1992 season, they've been one of the worst teams in the NFL, winning just one division title, making the playoffs only twice and compiling a crummy 95-125-1 record. For sheer futility, they rank right down there with the Lions and Saints (though not quite as low as the Cardinals and Bengals).
Heck, if you're younger than 20, you're probably not old enough to remember when the Redskins were really good. To this demographic group, the one that writhes to the rap music at FedEx Field, the club's "winning tradition" must seem as distant as the Arthurian legend. Certainly, the expectations of the Internet Generation are more modest than: Super Bowl or bust. (More like: Could you please not lose to the 0-5 Titans at home?)
So Campbell's burden, I humbly submit, isn't as great as his predecessors'. Redskins Nation, beaten down by 14 years of losing, doesn't have nearly the sense of entitlement it had in the 1980s and early '90s. At this point, many fans would be thrilled just to see the team score a touchdown the next time it visited the Meadowlands.
Also, let's not forget: Campbell doesn't have the toughest of acts to follow. He's not coming in after Sonny Jurgensen or Doug Williams; he's succeeding Mark Brunell, who went 16-19 as a starter and excited no one with his Jamie Moyer arm. Eventually, if Campbell has any staying power, he'll be measured against the hallowed Redskins quarterbacks of yesteryear, but right now he only has to be better than No. 8.
Actually, it's Gibbs, not Campbell, who should have the heebie-jeebies. After all, Coach Joe blundered in choosing the used-up Brunell to be his quarterback -- and tarnished his reputation further by refusing to admit his mistake. What happens if Campbell can't do the job either -- after the Redskins gave up three picks to draft him? Here's what happens: Gibbs retires again, but this time no tears are shed (except maybe those of regret).
What Campbell is carrying on his shoulder pads is more than just the immediate fate of the franchise. How he fares also will affect how his Gibbs is remembered. Coach Joe's first stint with the Redskins put him in the Hall of Fame; there's no changing that. But how will we look back on the Elder Joe? As a coach, perhaps, who could no longer distinguish between a good quarterback and a not-so-good one? Can't help but wonder.
Obviously, there's a great deal at stake here -- and no small amount of uncertainty. Yes, Campbell was a high pick, but had the Redskins not selected him at No. 25 two years ago, there's no telling where he might have gone. (Most clubs reportedly had him going in the second round or later.) It wasn't, moreover, considered a great draft for quarterbacks. The first five taken were Alex Smith, Aaron Rodgers, Campbell, Charlie Frye and Andrew Walter.
Best-case scenario: Campbell shows promise, steals a few wins down the stretch despite the absence of Clinton Portis and the Redskins head into the offseason with some optimism. (Much as they did in 1985, when they finished 5-1 under second-year man Schroeder and went to the NFC title game the following year.)
Worst-case scenario: Campbell plays like a novice, creates doubts about his long-term viability, and the team feels compelled to use its first-round pick -- which is getting higher all the time -- on another quarterback.
That's what these last seven weeks boil down to, basically, for the Redskins. It could be a New Era ... or it could be a New Error. Not where Gibbs wanted to be in Year 3. Not where he wanted to be at all.
By John R. Bolton
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