In the bowels of FedEx Field, as the clock wound down and the St. Louis Rams were lining up for a long field goal, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice walked out of the staircase and into the lobby. She stopped to look at the television and asked, “What happened?”
”The Rams just got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called against them,” I answered.
“That’s what makes an 0-5 team,” Rice said, hoping the visitors’ miscue would make them an 0-6 team.
But while Richie Incognito’s penalty pushed the Rams back, it wasn’t far enough to keep kicker Josh Brown from nailing a 49-yard field goal to beat the Washington Redskins 19-17, and Secretary Rice left the building.
It was the first home loss for coach Jim Zorn, and for the fans at FedEx Field, it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Things are tough all over in the grip of this economic crisis, but it has been a particularly rough week in Washington, which is seen by the rest of the country as sharing blame with Wall Street for the money mess.
More than 90,000 people, who, given the affluence of the Redskins’ fan base, probably lost more money this week than the government is spending in its bailout plan, came to FedEx looking for something to feel good about. That’s how it works around here. The Redskins win, people feel good. They lose, as they did Sunday, and people feel just as bad as they did when they read the front page of the newspaper each morning last week.
You think things aren’t tough all over? Some players didn’t get to finish showering after the game because of water problems at the stadium.
“Everybody feels bad,” Zorn said, referring to his team’s mistakes that led to the loss.
Despite their worst efforts - three lost fumbles, including the heartbreaker by guard Pete Kendall at the end of the first half that led to a 75-year touchdown return by Oshiomogho Atogwe, giving the Rams a 10-7 lead - the Redskins nearly did their part for regional morale.
After being shut down since the first quarter, Washington managed to put 10 points on the board in the fourth quarter, capped by Clinton Portis’ second score of the day that gave Washington a 17-16 lead.
But with less than four minutes remaining, Rams quarterback Marc Bulger hit Donnie Avery with a 43-yard pass, putting the ball on the Washington 16. Incognito’s penalty pushed the ball back to the 32, but it still was in Brown’s range.
Before Sunday’s game, players and fans alike were feeling pretty good about the Redskins. After beating the Cowboys and the Eagles on the road, they were 4-1 and looking at a three-game stretch in which they would face three teams that had won a total of one game so far this season - the Rams and Browns at home and the Lions in Detroit.
Washington, it was assumed, would be looking at a 7-1 record and making playoff plans. Even the players were caught up in the possibilities.
“We were on a roll, feeling pretty good about ourselves, coming home to FedEx,” linebacker Marcus Washington said. “We felt like we should have taken control of this game from the word go. But we made some turnovers and gave up a little field position, and they made some plays and got a little confidence at the end.”