Tuesday, October 25, 2011
So It Has Come To This...
So it was somewhere during the 3rd quarter of the Redskins/Panthers game that I realized that I don't even love this team anymore. I had no care in them succeeding, and when Steve Smith continually just outran our allegedly Pro Bowl CB to get a big catch, I was actually thinking in my head, "See! You pieces of shit." Of course, out loud I was cursing and steaming and stomping and pretending to still have hope the Redskins could pull off a miraculous comeback that contradicted the actual energy of the entire game. But inside, I was happy to see what was going on. It served them right. It was in that moment that I thought of the line I used in the metasciences recap about being in a loveless marriage, laying there, staring at the ceiling, wondering what the fuck you were doing, pretending it was going to get better.
It makes sense this happened during a Panthers game, and not just because the Panthers looked like the better team, with a more upward trajectory as a franchise. When Carolina was given an expansion franchise in the mid-'90s, I actually contemplated shifting my rooting allegiances. I've been a lifelong Redskins fan, following the lead of my father and maternal grandfather. My dad used to have some drinking buddies who came over for every game. They'd split a half-gallon of Jim Beam, smoke weed, and get loud and belligerent over every play of every game. It was beautiful. This was during the '80s heyday of Joe Gibbs, and there were three Super Bowls during that decade where a late January Sunday turned into a euphoric experience (except for the Raiders one, which was probably the most depressed and helpless I ever felt as a kid while watching TV). It was good times.
But the fact of the matter was, by the time I became an adult in the '90s, I knew where I was from culturally - southside Virginia - and what the D.C. suburban sprawlish much of northern Virginia and Maryland was like. These were two different places. And though I received Richmond TV stations in my various homes through the antenna on top of the houses, which was considered Redskins market, I felt a closer tie south, to the Piedmont area of North Carolina. Two completely different places, but definitely the Carolina roads felt more like home to me from how I grew up than the immense clusterfuck that you hit once you got within 50 miles of D.C. proper. So I contemplated jumping to the Panthers (and this was long before Dan Snyder ever came on board), but couldn't bail on that lifelong history with the Skins, and actually the day before Christmas in 1995, there was a game between the two franchises, and I told myself that whoever won would be my team. The Panthers had done better under Dom Capers than any first-year expansion franchise ever, mixing in a good collection of veterans with the youngsters they drafted together, and it was actually a legitimate game in question for the much-storied Redskins. They prevailed though, and even though I felt weird even letting my allegiances ride on a single game, I stuck with the Skins.
Since that point, Jack Kent Cooke died, Dan Snyder took over, and it's been a comedy of errors ever since. My waning love for a team that still looked like it could be the great presence I knew in my youth has deteriorated into a bumbling, stumbling mess that has tarnished the white jerseys of Super Bowl victories, Joe Gibbs, and any good memory I have ever. They moved into a new stadium, free of history, that's actually located in Maryland (the shittiest of all states in my travels, except for maybe Indiana), and they've signed a ton of guys who were not actual Redskins in spirit or aura, ever, no matter how many Dan Snyder checks they cashed. I can go through the list if you want, but we've all been through it - the same tired free agents that were brought in as "the missing piece" only to be a Goodwill jersey three years later. The entire culture of the team has changed, and that long-term history that used to make you feel so strong as a Redskins fan... I don't know, it seems like that chronological line has been stamped out to be honest. It doesn't even feel like the same team any more.
After last season, I had contemplated doing a group of pieces on Armchair Linebacker about testing the free agent markets as a fan. I know that sounds ridiculous, because alpha male sports fans will say you stick with your team, through thick and thin, because that's how it's supposed to be. But is the NFL like that any more? Sure, in the early days and into the '80s, a player tended to spend the majority of his career with one team. In fact, it took rabble-rousing renegades like our beloved John Riggins to force the free agency issue and allow players to move to other teams where they might find more happiness. And at first, it seemed like the motivation was more personal happiness, and I cannot deny it seems free agency has degenerated into players just jumping for money, with no real allegiance to any team. And I certainly don't want to contribute to a more fickle fanbase that switches favorite teams twice a year. But I do feel there's some legitimacy to my desire to have more happiness as a fan of an NFL team. So I don't necessarily think it completely outlandish to suggest I could become a free agent somewhere down the road.
And there is personal precedence for this, as my favorite baseball team growing up was the San Francisco Giants, simply because my first little league team was called the Giants, and I thought there was some connection in my naive little CF mind. But when the Expos moved to Washington to become the Nationals, I adopted them as my baseball team, because they were closer, and I didn't feel much kinship to the Giants any more after the Barry Bonds era, and shit man, they were across the fucking continent, whereas I could drive to see a Nationals game as an afternoon excursion. So I switched, and never looked back, even as the Nationals piled up terrible seasons, and even as the Giants won last year's World Series. I never once questioned my change in allegiance, because I arrived there sensibly, and planning on being loyal, and understanding you make this decision expecting the worst but hoping for the best. So there was no switching back when the Giants became a contender before the Nationals did.
There's precedence in Virginia too. You get down below Roanoke, and you tend to see more Panther flags in yards than Redskin ones. Sure, the Redskins "market" used to stretch from DC through Virginia and the Carolinas, which is why there were so many Redskins fans at the Panthers game last week, because there's still heavy enclaves of burgundy and gold allegiance throughout the south. And I can respect that.
But there's nothing left in it for me. I see the writing on the wall, that if you took away the historical importance of this franchise, we are no better than the bumbling Bengals of the past 15 years, and in fact, probably worse. Any stat you look up to see how unstable a team is - lack of playoff victories, number of starting QBs, number of head coaches, W/L percentage - the Redskins are contenders for incompetence in all of them.
So what we have now is a team that does not represent my cultural/geographical awareness, and also on top of that is a fairly incompetent organization spearheaded by a man who will most likely live as long as, if not longer than I do. That means the inner-conflict and emotional frustration I experienced watching the Panthers game will most likely remain with me for the rest of my breathing life. That's a tough prospect to swallow - no hope, no joy, just remaining in a relationship because it's the only one you know.
I can't accept that. So I'm saying here and now, after this seventh week of this 2011-2012 year, that I remain committed to this Redskins team through the end of this season. But once the playoffs are done and a Super Bowl champion is crowned, who will certainly not be wearing burgundy and gold, yet again, not even close, then I'm going to test the free agent waters, to direct my allegiance to another team. And it's not going to be some goofy, "Hey, I like this one player, so I'm gonna be a Team X fan!" because this is not the NBA. I am a loyal motherfucker, to a fault, and a good fan who can remain positive even in negative swirls of tornado-like energy. But I'd like to give that fandom and that positivity and that energy to a team that would give me something back, if nothing more than a little glimmer of hope. Hope that things will get better, and hope that I'm appreciated. I don't feel appreciated as a Redskins fan, that's for sure. I feel like I'm supposed to co-sign everything mindlessly and spend my money on whatever new jersey is available this season as the missing piece and not be bummed that my jersey from three years ago is in a trash bag marked "Goodwill donations" waiting to be dropped off. I'm tired of it.
Being we are still in the season, I'm not even gonna entertain ideas of what team I might want to become loyal to, and I'm not discounting the Redskins eventually remaining that team. This is not a "fuck the Redskins, I quit" post. I want to think it out and see what the teams might have to say. Ideally, I'd die a Redskins fan, but I'm not entirely sure that's in my best interest.
But I'd also like to know what you think. Is this sensible? Do you think it's a cop-out? I'd like to know what a Redskins fan feels about this, and what any fan feels about this. Is it our duty as allegedly loyal fans of a pro football teams to just suck it up and take this fucking frustration for decades? And if so, why is that? What do we get out of it in the end? Is the point not to get anything necessarily but just emotionally attach yourself to one team and ebb and flow with that attachment? If that's the case, then why wouldn't we switch from time to time, to encourage joy and euphoria in our lives instead of frustration and hopelessness? I'm not sure about any of this, but I doubt John Riggins was sure what he was doing when he refused to play for the New York Jets back in the day. He just knew it didn't feel right, and all he wanted was a chance to have things feel right. I'm right there with you, Riggo.