- The Washington Times - Friday, October 16, 2009

Steve McVearry has had Washington Redskins season tickets since the mid-1980s, first at RFK Stadium, then FedEx Field. A 48-year-old lawyer from Bethesda, he is the type of passionate, loyal fan who references the birth of a daughter in terms of Norv Turner’s hiring as coach.

Right now, Mr. McVearry is vearry angry at his team.

“I was talking to a friend the other day, and I think we referred to that unmitigated disaster as a ‘train wreck,’” he said.

Another season-ticket holder, Paul Pappas of Cooksville, Md., described the Redskins as a “dysfunctional family” and said “the fun is going out of” attending the games. “I’m taking my 10-year-old nephew, and it’s getting to the point where he doesn’t even want to go,” he said.

Mr. McVearry and Mr. Pappas are but two voices among a large and growing chorus of frustrated, disenchanted Redskins fans. From the talk shows to the message boards, the office chatter to the boos that shower the home team even when it wins, discontent is running rampant throughout Redskins Nation. At this moment, it might be deeper and more widespread than ever.

“I’ve been a Redskins fan for as long as I can remember, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt as much despair and lack of hope for the team as I do now,” Mr. McVearry said.

The Redskins are 2-3, and a win over the 0-5 Kansas City Chiefs at home on Sunday will put them squarely at .500. There are teams with worse records, teams worse than the Redskins, period. What, then, has sparked such ire and invective and, yes, despair? What would prompt Stephen Weaver, another lifelong Redskins fan, to proclaim that “this thing is getting out of control,” or Mr. Pappas, whose season tickets have remained in his family since the team played at Griffith Stadium, to suggest that right now he would “probably not” renew those tickets for another season?

Part of it is that, handed perhaps the weakest first-half schedule in NFL history, the Redskins simply have not played well. They lost to two winless teams. Even the victories, over bad teams still seeking their first wins, were ugly, unsatisfying and perilously close. Coupled with the 2-6 record (after a 6-2 start) during the second half of last season, the team now has a valid streak of ineptitude. Barring a miracle, the Redskins are looking at 18 years since their last Super Bowl. Even a winning record seems doubtful.

Another part is the Redskins’ tradition, which includes five Super Bowl appearances from 1972 through 1991 - four of them under Joe Gibbs - and general excellence during Gibbs’ first term as coach from 1981 to 1992. But that’s just the backdrop. The real source of frustration might best be typified by a 24-year-old part-time high school football coach named Matthew Hoffman, who sunk $3,000 into printing T-shirts bearing a highly unflattering likeness of Redskins owner Dan Snyder clutching fistfuls of cash with the words “Fire Snyder” printed underneath.

Mr. Hoffman, who sells his shirts in person and on eBay and Craigslist, said he started rooting for the Redskins “the day I was born,” but what he sees now is unacceptable. And where he places the blame is as clear as the shirt’s cartoonish depiction of the owner.

“Since this man has taken over the team, the whole love of the game isn’t there anymore,” he said. “It’s about image and being marketable. He acts like he’s won a Super Bowl. He hasn’t won a Super Bowl. He has a toxic management style.”

However it is described, Mr. Snyder’s management style appears to be the fans’ primary flash point, and more than one online poll names him as the main culprit for the Redskins’ problems. Since purchasing the club in 1999, he has been among the most active owners in the league. He has fired dozens of club employees, spent millions on free agents at the apparent expense of the draft and had five head coaches (and one interim coach). So far.

Mr. Snyder has expanded FedEx Field beyond what many consider to be a reasonable point, significantly raised ticket and parking prices and tried charging a fee to attend training camp (it lasted one year). But what many find most irksome is his involvement in player personnel matters and his stubborn refusal to hire a president, general manager or personnel director to make the big decisions.

He also has made the Redskins the second most valuable franchise in the NFL, according to Forbes magazine.

If Mr. Snyder has become public enemy No. 1 to Redskins fans, a close second is Vinny Cerrato, the team executive vice president of football operations. Once dismissed as Mr. Snyder’s gofer and racquetball partner, Mr. Cerrato has assumed the No. 1 role in player personnel decisions, i.e., the draft, trades and free agency. Many say the results speak for themselves.

Mr. Snyder also has doggedly avoided interviews and failed to publicly address some of his team’s issues while entertaining the likes of Tom Cruise. All this - which includes luring Steve Spurrier from college coaching (a disaster) to bringing back Gibbs (mixed results) to suing financially distressed season-ticket holders who can’t make their payments - has added up to a 78-87 record, a likely eight out of 11 seasons without making the playoffs and considerable ill will.

Former players such as LaVar Arrington who have access to microphones also are taking frequent whacks at Mr. Snyder. In addition to his daily radio talk show, Arrington, who was involved in a messy contract dispute with the club and later asked for and was granted his release, painstakingly composed a screed in short bites on his Twitter account. Among the highlights was: “It’s mystifying to me that ever since this man [Snyder] has bought this team, that we can’t win. He’d rather have movie stars on the field distracting a coach who is in a no-win situation rather then making it an environment where guys who have done so much for this team don’t even want to be a part of this.”

Arrington won’t get an argument from Mr. McVearry.

“I’m a capitalist,” he said. “I don’t begrudge him from making money at all. But I think there’s a certain level of stewardship or public trust you have when you take over a team. Again, it’s his team, his money. Arguably, he can do whatever he wants. But this was the first year when I went to renew my tickets that I thought long and hard about whether I would do it.

“It’s not a lot of fun, for sure,” Mr. McVearry said. “I’m kind of torn. I respect the team, and I do believe the players are playing hard. But I think the tack they’ve taken in building a team - and I use that term loosely. … I want them to win, but I’m so disgusted with ownership, my thought is, if they fall on their face, maybe someone will say, ‘You know what? Maybe it’s time we start building through the draft and not paying millions of dollars for high-priced free agents.’”

Many Redskins fans disagree entirely with the naysayers and remain wholly supportive. Christie and Chris Lopez, who live in Ashburn, Va., near Redskin Park, still show up to send off the players to every road game and welcome them on their return. They bring balloons and posters and even made up comic books featuring the players as superheroes.

“I will never lose faith in my team,” Mrs. Lopez said. “I think things are gonna get better, and no matter what happens, I’m gonna be there for every game and every send-off.”

Said Mr. Lopez: “I truly think the NFL goes in cycles. It’ll all come back around again. It has a way of doing that. Fans just have to be a little patient.”

On the Extremeskins.com Web site, a user called Burgold started the “Sunlight Vanilla Kharma Thread” by writing: “This thread is about why the Redskins are good, why they have your love, and your faith in them. If you can’t summon an atom’s worth of positiveness please stay away.”

Responded GoSkins561, “I have faith Dan Snyder … will one day, hopefully soon, return this team to glory.”

Underneath was an upside-down Redskins logo and, in big gold capital letters, “Fire Vinny.”

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