The Washington Redskins were once one of the league’s model franchises.
The old RFK Stadium used to rock, the fantastic fanbase belting out “Hail to the Redskins” at every opportunity.
The Redskins won three Super Bowls during Joe Gibbs’ first tenure as head coach (1981-92), the last one being the dominant team in 1991 that went 14-2 and steamrolled through the postseason. I remember that season; I was eight years old. I watched the Redskins dismantle the rest of the league, and thought that they’d always be good.
Unfortunately for Redskins fans, it didn’t turn out that way. Their beloved team faded from relevance, often becoming the butt of jokes across the NFL.
There’s a litany of reasons why the Redskins lost their luster from 1992-2011, finishing with a winning record only six times during that time frame.
You can blame the team’s head coaching hires. Guys like Richie Petitbon, Norv Turner, Steve Spurrier and the immortal Jim Zorn did little to inspire confidence.
The quarterbacks weren’t much better than the coaches. Signal-callers like Heath Shuler, Tony Banks, Shane Matthews and Patrick Ramsey would never be confused as world-beaters.
Then, there’s the reckless spending of owner Daniel Snyder, who, along with former executive vice president of football operations, Vinny Cerrato, treated the Redskins more like a fantasy football team than an NFL franchise.
Regardless of the reasons why the Redskins became so lousy, the fact was that it had reached a point where you expected them to be bad. Redskins’ fans deserved so much better than the lousy product they were being force-fed.
So, when the final seconds ticked off the clock this past week on Monday Night Football and the Washington Redskins defeated the first-place New York Giants, 17-16, to improve their record to 6-6, everyone who truly loves the NFL should have cracked a smile.
I’m absolutely giddy for fans of the Washington Redskins.
The game was rife with symbolism. The last time the Giants visited the Redskins on Monday Night Football, Jim Zorn decided to run the same fake field-goal play that worked earlier in season against New York. Predictably, it failed in spectacular fashion.
As Zorn looked hapless and hopelessly over-matched on the sidelines, and boos cascaded down from the Redskins faithful, I remember thinking that the Redskins might never be good again.
Monday night’s victory represented a rebirth of the franchise, with quarterback Robert Griffin III serving as the team’s iteration of the phoenix of Greek mythology, rising back to life from the ashes, saving a moribund franchise from irrelevance and delivering them back to national prominence.
When the Redskins lost at home to the Carolina Panthers in Week 9 to drop their record to 3-6, it looked like another typical season in our nation’s capital.
After that game, Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan was criticized for saying that the rest of the 2012 campaign would be used to “evaluate players.” That was roundly viewed as being a concession for the remainder of the season, punting the remaining seven games of 2012 to make for a better 2013 and beyond.
Shanahan hadn’t exactly reminded Redskins fans of George Allen during his tenure as head coach. An 11-21 record in his first two years in charge, coupled with infamously “staking his reputation” on the fabled quarterbacking duo of Rex Grossman and John Beck in 2011, put Shanahan squarely in the crossfire of jaded Redskins fans.
But, when the book is written on Shanahan’s time in charge in D.C., people will remember him and general manager Bruce Allen as the men who saved the franchise.
They are the men who drafted Robert Griffin III.
I know that the Redskins gave up a boatload (three first-round picks and a second-round pick) to move up in the draft to acquire Griffin. In hindsight, they probably didn’t give up enough for the opportunity to bring him into the fold.
It’s impossible to overstate the impact that Griffin’s had on the Redskins franchise, just 12 games into his rookie season.
Since the loss to Carolina, Griffin has led the Redskins to three consecutive wins. The aforementioned victory over the Giants lifted the Redskins into second place in the NFC East, a game out of first.
On Monday night, Griffin broke Cam Newton’s single-reason rookie record for rushing yards by a quarterback.
Among regular starting quarterbacks in the NFL, no signal-caller has thrown fewer interceptions than Griffin’s four.
In front of the raucous, re-energized Redskins fans at FedEx Field, Griffin has been celestial, throwing 10 touchdowns in six games with a quarterback rating of 101.
And, during the team’s three-game win streak, Griffin has tossed nine touchdowns against one interception. His quarterback rating over that span is a ridiculous 140.
Griffin didn’t allow his team to pack it in following the Panthers’ loss. He and the leaders in the locker room refused to pack in the season, instead taking Shanahan’s challenge head-on, and are now fighting for a playoff berth.
But, more than anything else, the thing that Griffin has brought back to Redskins Nation is the thing that they haven’t had much of since the ’91 Super Bowl team: pride.
I got the chills watching the crowd at Fed Ex Field lose their minds on Monday night. Simply put, the NFL is a better place when the Redskins are relevant.
Thanks to Griffin and Mike Shanahan, the Redskins are relevant again. The NFL is a better place for it.
Look at the Redskins’ schedule over the final four games. They host Baltimore on Sunday, and this isn’t the Ravens defense of yore coming to Fed-Ex Field. That’s followed by road contests at Cleveland and Philadelphia, and they close the season at home against the rival Dallas Cowboys.
Could the unthinkable happen? Could the Washington Redskins win out, and qualify for the tournament?
It’s certainly in the realm of possibility, and that fact alone is validation of the resurrection that Griffin and Shanahan have performed on the Redskins franchise.
So, Redskins fans, I urge you: for one of the first times since the ’91 Super Bowl campaign, be proud of your team.
Be proud of your owner, who seems to have finally “gotten it” when it comes to running an NFL franchise.
Be proud of your head coach and general manager, who drafted Griffin and have the franchise set to win for years to come.
Be proud of your otherworldly rookie quarterback, who has brought pride and relevance back to Redskins Park.
Be proud to wear burgundy and gold, and to stand up and sing:
Hail to the Redskins!
Braves on the warpath!
Fight for old D.C.!
Nick Kostos is the executive producer of the "SiriusXM Blitz", hosted by Rich Gannon and Adam Schein, on SiriusXM NFL Radio. You can follow Nick on Twitter.