- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2000

Twenty-four years ago, I applauded when Charlie Finley tried to peddle Vida Blue to the Yankees and Rollie Fingers and Joe Rudi to the Red Sox and got vetoed by commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Never mind what the deals did to the once-mighty A's, I just didn't like to see the rich colonize the poor even if the Sox were my team. Like Bowie, I didn't think it was in "the best interests of baseball" or any other game, for that matter.

The sports world has changed since then, though. Baseball has added six teams, football five, basketball 11, hockey nine. The result hasn't been pretty. Even the better clubs these days are populated with players who wouldn't have gotten out of the minor leagues in '76. And the stars are so spread out among the franchises that you don't have super teams any more like the Big Red Machine, the '80s 49ers, the Magic Johnson Lakers or the Guy LaFleur Canadiens.

I miss them. I miss the excellence of the '70s Steelers and the Larry Bird Celtics, clubs that had Hall of Famers by the half-dozen. I miss the anticipation, the excitement, when they would play a team capable of giving them a game or a series. "This," you would tell yourself, "is as good as it gets."

I don't remember telling myself that as the St. Louis Rams bumped helmets with the Tennessee Titans in the last Super Bowl. Nor was I telling myself that as the Lakers tipped off against the Pacers last night. This might be as good as it gets now, but it's not as good as it gets. To be as old as I am is to know the difference.

So and this surprises me as much as anybody I don't feel the same way about owners buying championships as I used to. It used to really aggravate me when George Steinbrenner stockpiled talent or Eddie DeBartolo manipulated the salary cap (perhaps illegally) or Jerry Buss swooped in and stole Shaquille O'Neal from Orlando. Conspicuous consumption at its worst, I would sniff.

But now I realize it's the only way we're going to see a truly great team again a great team like the old great teams. The heck with competitive balance; I'm sick of competitive balance. Competitive balance has bred nothing but mediocrity. If a club has a chance to make itself into something special, go for it, I say.

And the Redskins, as we all know, have that chance. They have the cap space, the draft picks, the returning talent and the kind of tradition that appeals to free agents. In the past few months Dan Snyder has eagerly played checkbook football, signing Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Jeff George, Mark Carrier everybody but the Hunchback of Notre Dame. You could play ring toss with all the zeroes Snyder has written on bonus checks lately. And he's far from done. He still has to get rookies LaVar Arrington and Chris Samuels under contract, as well as Stephen Davis and, for the long term, Brad Johnson.

Some will say, "Yeah, but what's the accomplishment in outspending everybody else?" And I readily admit: There isn't any. There's no art to signing a Deion Sanders, a Bruce Smith. Plenty of teams would have loved to have them. It doesn't take a genius to recognize Jeff George's talent either. (It's his baggage that gives you pause.)

But some people don't care about the means, only the ends, and Snyder is one of those people. Dan has that '90s New York Stock Exchange kill-or-be-killed mentality. What's more, every decision he makes is the right one just ask him. (If he has goofed on any of the aforementioned players, rest assured he'll find an underling to blame it on. "You screwed up," he will tell him. "You agreed with me.")

My problem with Snyder isn't his unbridled pursuit of excess. My problem with Snyder is some of the moves he has made and the money he has paid. I'm not sure Smith, soon to be 37, is going to make Dana Stubblefield and Dan Wilkinson better tackles. I wonder if Sanders, soon to be 33, has anything close to a full season in him. I question whether Norv Turner even wants George (since he refrained from signing him in '97 and again last year). I'm not convinced the Redskins will get more out of Samuels than the 49ers will out of the three picks they received for him. And as for Carrier, the guy is a helmet-first hit away from a multigame suspension. Think that might influence how physically he plays?

Then there's the cap issue. You don't want a Florida Marlins situation. You don't want the Redskins winning the title one year and throwing bodies overboard the next. You want the team set up for a good, long run. Well, that might be difficult, since the salaries of Smith and Sanders alone increase by a combined $6 million next season. Everything, financially speaking, seems to be geared to this year.

But I appreciate the gung-ho attitude, Dan, I really do. The Redskins are taking their shot, daring to be great, and you can't argue with that. Not in this era of one-season wonders and Rams-Titans Super Bowls.

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