The Redskins put a lot of money and effort into trying to make this Their Year. From the signing of Bruce Smith to the acquisition of the third pick in the draft to the firing of Norv Turner with three games to go, everything was geared toward getting to the Super Bowl this season.
But the Redskins didn’t get to the Super Bowl this season. In fact, they didn’t even make the playoffs. They finished 8-8, lost to every team in their division at least once and came apart like a non-licensed jersey down the stretch. And now they have to figure out a way to make next year Their Year with far fewer cap dollars at their disposal, players like Smith and Darrell Green edging closer to retirement and the whole league beginning to look askance at the organization.
Hopefully, interim coach Terry Robiskie said yesterday, the Redskins’ failures this season “will make it easier” for them to regroup in 2001. “We put all our eggs in that one basket. I hope guys coming back next year realize that all the player signings and training camp hoopla and everything else meant nothing. Because on Sunday, you’ve still got to go out and win the game.”
Robiskie, of course, is paid to be optimistic like that. I, personally, wouldn’t count on the Redskins having any such epiphany. A veteran club rarely changes its stripes. If the players needed to be reminded this season that championships are won on the field, they’ll probably need to be reminded next season, too.
Beyond that, though, you have to be concerned about the direction of the franchise. Will Dan Snyder be able to attract a coach with anything on the ball, or will his hands-on style turn off the best candidates? Will he continue to stock up on aging household names, or will he recognize that the Redskins need to get younger?
Frankly, I don’t think the team’s prospects will improve until Snyder removes himself from the operation more and lets his coach and general manager call most of the shots. And I don’t know if Dan is constitutionally capable of doing that. He’s used to running the show. He likes to run the show, to have the spotlight be on him. The Redskins are going to have to do a lot of losing, I’m convinced, before Dan considers handing the reins over to someone else. And at that point, he might be just as inclined to sell the club as to step back.
The fact of the matter is Snyder hurts the Redskins as much as he helps them maybe even more than he helps them. He’s willing to spend a bundle to win, sure, but then he forgets that you need a reliable kicker. He moves training camp to Washington to make the team more accessible to the fans (and their wallets), ignoring the fact that camp is where chemistry is formed. (As Robiskie said, players need to be “smelling each other’s feet every day for five weeks.” It facilitates the bonding process.)
Finally, Snyder sends Turner packing with a 7-6 record, convinced the club needs shaking up, before knowing who his replacement is going to be. (Pepper Rodgers? Ray Rhodes? Robiskie?) The Redskins were shaken up, all right. Their next two games were their worst of the season, and they were quickly eliminated from playoff contention.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and the first impression Snyder has made is pretty lousy. He’s seen as impulsive. He’s seen as star-struck. He’s seen as boorish. He’s seen as ignorant in the ways of pro football. It’s hard to think of an owner who has been so disliked so quickly. If the Redskins don’t turn it around next year, he’s going to have a heck of a time getting anybody good to work for him.
But enough of that. Let’s talk about the playoffs the Redskins-less playoffs. Rarely have we had such a season of extremes. We’ve had a team score 540 points (just 16 off the record), and we’ve had a team allow 165 points (the fewest in a 16-game season). We’ve had a team go 13-3 (with three losses by a total of seven points), and we’ve had a team go 1-15. I don’t know about you, but I’m pumped for the postseason.
Here’s how I envision it going: Tennessee will win again in the AFC. The Titans are playing great, their meal ticket, Eddie George, will be fresh after a week off, and they have a terrific weapon in receiver-returner Derrick Mason, one of my favorite players in the league. The Ravens beat them once; they won’t beat them twice.
The NFC is where all the drama will be. Why? Because the Giants are the most suspect top seed I can remember. (Sorry, I’ve just never been much of a Kerry Collins fan.) Imagine this scenario: The Rams win at New Orleans (where they won Sunday), then they knock off the Giants in New York (where they won, easily, in November), then they play at Minnesota (another club they’ve already defeated) or Tampa Bay for the NFC title.
Yes, even though their defense couldn’t stop Park View High School, the defending champion Rams are still the most dangerous team in the conference, in my humble opinion. And I’m picking them to vanquish the Vikes in a shootout who wants to see the Bucs play in the Super Bowl on their home field? before Tennessee reminds everybody who the baddest team in football was this year.