For years, the Washington Redskins’ sales pitch to free agents went something like this:
“Here’s our 90,000-seat stadium.
“Here are our three Super Bowl trophies.
“Here’s the dotted line. Sign on it.”
The assumption, always, was that success for the Storied Franchise was inevitable, if not imminent. After all, it had tons of working capital, a large and loyal fan base, a glorious history in D.C. dating to 1937 — many of the qualities you look for in a club.
As time went on, though, it became harder and harder to make that leap of faith — for everybody. Oh, the Redskins were able to harpoon Albert Haynesworth by offering him a $100 million deal, an obscene sum then and now, but people stopped looking at the organization as A Place Where You Can Win. As the 4-12, 5-11 and 6-10 seasons piled up, Washington morphed into A Place Where You Can Get Paid, period.
There was so much atrophy that the capacity of FedEx Field shrank by about 10,000 — seats that were removed because no one wanted them (and replaced by standing-room-only party decks). When the Redskins beat the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night to win their first NFC East title since 1999, the announced attendance was 82,845. When they’d beaten the Cowboys to nail down a wild-card berth five years earlier, the attendance was 90,910. For those of you scoring at home, that’s a drop-off of more than 8,000.
So you won’t find many more meaningful Redskins victories than Washington 28, Dallas 18 — for a raft of reasons. And one of the biggest is that, by finishing the regular season with seven straight wins, the Redskins have reminded the rest of the league that you can, indeed, have success here.
What’s more, it doesn’t figure to be the one-shot-deal kind of success the team had in ‘99, ‘05 and ‘07, when it failed to build anything lasting. With a rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III, headed to the Pro Bowl and a rookie running back, Alfred Morris, rushing for more than 1,600 yards, the Redskins are in a position to rejoin the NFL’s elite.
This should make Washington a more desirable destination for free agents — free agents such as Pierre Garcon, Barry Cofield and London Fletcher. It also should make it easier for the Redskins to retain their players. In 2005, you may recall, Antonio Pierce bolted to the New York Giants basically because he thought the club had a better chance to win. And he turned out to be right. Three years later, Pierce was fitted for a Super Bowl ring. For some guys, it’s not just about the dollars. Being in a winning environment counts for something, too.
In recent years, the Redskins have had so little credibility in the market place that they’ve been forced to trade on Shanahan’s two Super Bowl victories in Denver (and, before that, on Joe Gibbs’ three titles in his first stint as coach). And let’s face it, if the team hadn’t turned its season around after a 3-6 start, there might not have been much left of Shanny’s reputation. In fact, we might have been looking at another coaching search this month, with owner Dan Snyder jetting hither and yon and the media monitoring the whereabouts of Redskins One on Flight Track.
There’s little question, though, that the club’s luck has turned.
In another year, the second pick in the draft — the one the Redskins used to grab Griffin — might not have been available. Usually, teams that have the No. 2 pick need the No. 2 pick. Finding Morris in the sixth round was just as fortunate. At that point in the proceedings, every selection is a “Hail Mary.” And lest we forget, Shanahan could have taken Alfred in the fifth, but he decided he’d rather have Adam Gettis. (Just as he could have gotten Terrell Davis earlier in the sixth round in 1995 but held off a while longer and snapped up the immortal Fritz Fequiere instead.)
Morris is the Redskins’ answer to Victor Cruz, the Pro Bowl receiver the Giants signed as an undrafted free agent three years ago.
Planning is great, but sometimes putting together a championship club is like combing a beach with a metal detector.
Every blue moon, among the bottle caps and loose change, you hope to stumble across a Rolex or a wedding ring.
The Redskins won as many games this season (10) as they have since 1991, the last time they won the Super Bowl. Hard to believe, isn’t it? But it isn’t hard at all to believe they might win that many again next year and the year after. That’s what Sunday meant, as much as anything. That’s what this season has meant. And it ain’t over yet.