The Chicago White Sox won the 1983 American League West division, but opposing Texas Rangers manager Doug Rader wasn’t impressed.”They’re not playing that well,” Rader said .”They’re winning ugly.”
That became the identity — the rallying cry — of those 1983 White Sox.
Ladies and gentlemen — your 2016 Washington Redskins — winning ugly.
“Defensively, we’ve been ugly the last two weeks,” linebacker Will Compton said after Sunday’s 16-10 win over the Baltimore Ravens. “This week we did good. This is the NFL, man. That’s what happens. It comes down to a few plays.”
“Good” is relative. They did good because the Ravens offensive coordinator —sorry, former offensive coordinator — Marc Trestman stopped running the ball after his offense was gaining about eight yards a carry early in the game.
But who am I to argue with Will Compton, the Einstein of the NFL, perhaps the smartest man stepping on the football field. He knows ugly when he sees it.
The Redskins are 3-2, and every one of those three wins were ugly.
“It’s never going to be pretty when you come here,” coach Jay Gruden said after Sunday’s win. “This is a tough place to play.”
Coach, it hasn’t been pretty anywhere you’ve played yet — the Meadowlands, Landover, Baltimore.
“I know the type of team we have,” Gruden said. “We have to understand these games are going to be 60 minutes long. We just have to stay resilient, focused and play hard for the entire length of the game. These guys so far have done a nice job of that.”
You’ve got to give Gruden and his coaches credit. He may not know what time it is or what play they called or sometimes where they are playing, but he knows his team, and through the ugliness of losing the first two weeks of the season and winning these last three, he has kept this team together.
There have been pockets of discontent — Chris Baker complaining about the coaching, DeSean Jackson throwing fits on the field when open and ignored — but they haven’t opened up into craters.
We may have underestimated Gruden’s head coaching presence, because he seems so affable and unflappable when he speaks publicly. He is the anti-Mike Shanahan in that sense — he still doesn’t exude that head coaching authority publicly. But he must do so privately, because not only during this “winning ugly” season of 2016, but when they went through the benching of Robert Griffin III in favor of Kirk Cousins last year and struggled early, we never saw a locker room on the verge of self-destruction.
He has kept this team together when everyone expected them to fall apart in each of these games. Each of the three wins this year could have turned into debacles at points in each of the games. But with an inconsistent quarterback, a disappointing running game and a defense that appeared to be on its way to being historically bad, Jay Gruden has kept a lid on it.
“You pull together and weather the storm,” Ziggy Hood told the Richmond Times-Dispatch after the Baltimore victory. “You don’t ride the emotional roller coaster. Back when I was playing for the Steelers, Coach (Mike) Tomlin said don’t get too high on the highs or too low on the lows. Stay steady.”
Or, in the great Jim Zorn’s words — stay medium.
At some point, though, as we know from the Jim Zorn era, it is a house of cards, unless the talent is there to start executing pretty, and pretty consistently. The belief is the Redskins, at least offensively, have the talent to do that.
We haven’t come close to seeing the Cousins who lit up the league in the second half of the season last year with 29 touchdowns and 4,166 yards passing, with only 11 interceptions. And as a result of that, we haven’t seen the best of what his weapons of excellence — Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder and Jordan Reed — can do. We believe this offense is capable of more than “winning ugly.”
Those 1983 “Winning Ugly” White Sox were capable of more. They were 16-24 through the first 40 games, then went 26-15 in the next 41 games, and finished the season winning 99 games, the most in baseball. They led the league in runs scored, were second in home runs, fourth in batting and were fourth in pitching and second in team ERA. (They would lose in the American League Championship Series to the eventual World Series champion Baltimore Orioles).
At some point, they stopped “Winning Ugly” and started winning pretty.
“We showed a lot of character and resiliency to win this game, but this is life in the NFL,” Cousins said after the Baltimore game. “Every week this game takes everything out of you that you have to win a game. Then, you go back and get ready for the next one.
“To win those kind of games, we have to be physically and mentally tough,” Cousins said. “I love being a part of a team that is so resilient. We take everything week to week and try to stay focused.”
The Redskins should have been on the other end of all three of these games that turned out to be wins. They’ve been on the good side of ugly so far, but they need to start looking presentable.
“I like where we are at,” Gruden said. “We started out poorly. We won three in a row to get us in a good position right now after five weeks and now we just have to continue to get better.”
Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes and Google Play.