Monday, December 31, 2012

Washington Redskins Win NFC East

It has been a long, difficult journey. The fans who couldn't stay seated on the wagon leaped off and tried to land on their feet cheering for a number of other teams. We don't welcome those fans back, and we know who you are. Instead we cherish our own, who can enjoy this moment for what it's worth; the relief of years of misery and torture. This 7-game run has been the absolute answer to all of our prayers.

I was barely four and a half years old on January 26, 1992 when the Washington Redskins beat the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVI. 21 years ago. I knew what the Redskins did, but I don't know that I appreciated it or what it meant for the area. Since that Super Bowl, we have lived through a lot as Redskins fans.

20 starting quarterbacks have donned the burgundy and gold, promised to be our next leader. Guys like Heath Shuler, Gus Frerotte, Trent Green, Brad Johnson, Tony Banks, Shane Matthews, Patrick Ramsey, Danny Weurffel, Mark Brunell, Jason Campbell, Todd Collins, Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman, and John Beck. Guys who couldn't get it done.

And they did it for a number of coaches. Guys like Richie Petitbon, Norv Turner (who, in 1999, coached us to our last division championship and was cut immediately after the season), Terry Robiskie, Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Joe Gibbs 2.0, and Jim Zorn. Schottenheimer had a good run to end his year but management didn't want him. Joe Gibbs' second stint made the playoffs 2 out of 4 years he was here but he didn't feel he could commit any more to coaching. We also had the Bingo Hall to cap off Jim Zorn's stint here.

The Redskins have dealt with overpaid free agents who didn't perform. The Jeff George's, the Deion Sanders', the Adam Archuleta's, and the Albert Haynesworth's. We had players leave and go on to find some success, albeit at the strength of others - the Brad Johnson's, Stephen Davis', and Jeremiah Trotter's. We had players who couldn't coexist with management and the system and decided to walk on to places they felt treated their players better - the Ryan Clark's, Carlos Rogers', LaRon Landry's.

The Washington Redskins have been a rollercoaster ride. A late push by the 2005 Redskins got them into the playoffs where a young Sean Taylor made his mark as the face of the Redskins' defense. Then we stumbled in 2006. And then in 2007, when Sean was playing some of the best football in the entire league, he was taken from us by a senseless murder.

These scars run deep. Fans were right to believe it would always be the same old, same old.

But Dan Snyder eventually canned Vinny Cerrato. He brought in Bruce Allen, and Mike Shanahan. Fans were skeptical. We couldn't believe Dan Snyder was going to sit back and let Mike do his thing. With the first year feeling everything like all the years prior, we waited for Snyder to go back to everything HE knew. But he held on tight with all of the fans, and we suffered through Haynesworth and Grossman. We watched as Trent Williams and Fred Davis rolled their careers up in whiteboys and smoked it away. But they came back to play well (Davis' before injury). We got our chance to draft Robert Griffin III, even though the league wanted to take all of those picks away. Even though the guy responsible for Capgate spoke publicly with every bit of high-school hatred in his voice suggesting the picks should have been taken away. We lost $36 million in salary cap money ($18M this year, and $18M next) and it felt like our great thing was going to be tarnished.

But Mike Shanahan was already building a roster of youth, talent, and character that didn't cost so much. Fans got tired of hearing, "he's a good kid with a lot of character and any time you've got a kid with that kind of talent who is good character, you have a player who can play at a Pro Bowl level and help you do the things you need to do in order to win a championship." But Mike didn't lie.

This isn't premature. We haven't won anything yet. The playoffs can be a 1 and done deal. We might still see us falter. But at 3-6 heading into a week 10 bye week, we didn't imagine this. We looked every bit a team that was $18M short of salary cap space. Shanahan "threw up the white flag" and was ready to turn to next year, or so the media said.

When Mike said those things, I turned immediately to Twitter and said he was telling guys they weren't going to be here if they couldn't play like they wanted to turn it around. Well, coming back from the bye, guys played like they wanted to turn it around. Pierre Garcon showed amazing heart, and guys believed new captain RGIII was everything he said he wanted to be after laying out for a first down late in the game vs. Carolina. Alfred Morris ran more violent. WR's blocked and caught tough passes and fought for extra yards. The O-Line took it upon themselves to make plays. The defense found themselves finally playing man coverage and getting it done when it mattered the most. Week 17 was for the division after a 6-game winning streak, against rival Dallas Cowboys... and Washington continued to show all the fight and heart that they swore they had. Good character guys with a lot of raw talent were putting it together.

Whatever London Fletcher and Robert Griffin III said to teammates during a meeting in the bye week, worked.

Every single week has been a playoff week for the Redskins coming out of the bye. They've played like a playoff team. Able to run. Able to stop the run. Able to score points. Able to keep points off the board. Able to make interceptions when the team needs them. It hasn't been pretty, but it has worked.

Our focus is on the Seahawks, an even bigger game than the Dallas game. We want to win more than the division and a playoff berth. But we're ahead of where we expected to be on the timeline. Maybe Shanahan knew it, but I think he also knew he could afford an average year with promise for the future. Instead, we're still fighting in January. We've won the division, but youngster Robert Griffin III knows what a youngster shouldn't know. MVP's and Pro Bowls are nice consolation prizes if you don't win a Super Bowl ring.

This team looks like it is hunting a Super Bowl. Whether we win it or not has yet to be written, but fans actually see a group of guys who look like they're headed towards it. They've got obstacles who want it too. For once in a long time, Redskins fans see a group of players who equate with the perennial teams and players, who want the ultimate prize. They tell you that is their goal, and whether you believe they can win it or not, you believe it is their goal.

So we sigh a little today knowing we've come this far, gone through all of the pain of 21 years, and we have something to show for it. Dan Snyder sitting back and letting the coach do it his way. The players buying in and showing the fan base they want it. Robert Griffin III came here knowing fans needed a QB who was more than a name, and his rookie season has lived up to his hype of hope. There is a reason to believe in the future, near and far.

But we've been in playoff mode. We know what it takes to win every game. You have to execute. You have to want.

As London Fletcher says, "Our will! Our way! Our win!"

Hail to the Redskins!

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