The Tough Life of a 22-Year-Old Redskins Fan

Philip Speake@@PhilipSpeakeCorrespondent IJune 26, 2009

MIAMI - DECEMBER 03:  Washington Redskins 'unofficial' mascot Zema Williams known as Chief Zee wipes his face as he arrives for the funeral of Redskins football player, Sean Taylor, at the Pharmed Arena at Florida International University December 3, 2007 in Miami, Florida. Taylor died November 27, one day after being shot at his home in Miami.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

I still remember my first memory of watching the National Football League. It was January 1992 and the Washington Redskins were about to win Super Bowl XXVI.

I was five years old, and man was football fun to watch.

My parents had plenty of friends and family over my house to watch and celebrate Joe Gibbs' third championship in nine seasons. We played Hail to the Redskins after every score, and I had learned every word by the end.

I fell in love with football that night and with the Washington Redskins. My father groomed me into a fanatic.  If I only knew what I was about to get myself into.

Stress, agony, heartbreak, death, frustration, excitement, impatience, anticipation, annoyance, and high expectations. These are just the feelings I can think of off the top of my head.

I honestly can’t remember much about Gibbs' last season the following year. They made the playoffs, advanced a round, and then he retired.

Between his retirement and eventual return to the sideline, the Redskins' record was 74-101. This 11-year period was forgettable to say the least. There was one division title and playoff win in 2000.

Norv Turner and new owner Daniel Snyder (names synonymous with winning) led the team to within a botched field goal snap of a possible NFC Championship game in 2000.  It was about as bad as Tony Romo's botched hold for those who do not remember.

The Skins lost 14-13, and that is when Mr. Snyder became famous in NFL circles and a laughingstock of football fans everywhere.

Months after the loss, Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders, Mark Carrier, and Jeff George all signed with the team as free agents. Chris Samuels and LaVar Arrington were drafted second and third overall.

Giggity!! We are going to win it all!!!

Or so Redskins nation thought.

Nope, we finished 8-8 a huge disappointment. To add insult to injury, the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl that year.

I live 30 miles north of Washington DC, which means 20 miles south of Baltimore. You get the picture; all of a sudden I am the only kid still rocking a Darrell Green jersey. All I see is purple, EVERYWHERE.

All the kids in class apparently have “always been Ravens fans.”

Did they know the difference between Peter Boulware and Jermaine Lewis? No. All they knew was Ray Lewis and Marvin Lewis. Hell, that’s all they needed to know.

The Redskins were no longer the favorite team in town.

This was when things began going from bad to worse. Now every man is rocking purple in town. Nobody likes the Redskins nationally anymore either because of Snyder’s annual spending sprees every offseason.

This still rings true at this very moment. It just doesn’t seem right.

Finally a moment of happiness arrives when Norv Turner is fired, only to be replaced by Marty Schottenheimer. They started the year 0-5, yet somehow rebounded to finish 8-8.

Great, we’re making progress now. Stephen Davis was running like a beast, Arrington was becoming a defensive force, and the team was playing smart football.  

About two weeks later reports surface that Snyder was having dinner with the one and only Steve Spurrier fresh off of an Orange Bowl victory over my Maryland Terrapins. 

Marty Ball out, Fun n’ Gun in.

The ole’ ball coach goes 12-20 in two seasons. Patrick Ramsey’s confidence is shot after Dallas beats him like a rag doll. Stephen Davis is let go in favor of Trung Candidate. Taylor Jacobs is our first draft selection in 2003.

More hype, even less results. And this memorable video. Oh Steve!

This was the breaking point for my father, a lifelong fan. He admitted to me recently he was losing faith, although I don’t believe it to be true. Once a Redskins fan, always a Redskins fan.

It was at the lowest point of his faith in the Burgundy and Gold when it all got exciting again. Joe freakin' Gibbs was coming back!!!  

I was woken up around 5am to hear the awesome news. “Were back!” my father announced.

The entire fan base needed to be rejuvenated, and it happened.

Unfortunately the game apparently passed Gibbs by. His offense only scored more than 30 points once and a 6-10 season ensued.

In 2005, Gibbs second year back the Redskins reeled off five-straight wins to reach the playoffs and beat Tampa Bay in the Wild Card round.

I got to experience an incredible playoff run with my family, friends and new classmates in college. Clinton Portis, Santana Moss, Mark Brunell, and Sean Taylor were simply awesome.

I know it’s sad, but a six-game winning streak is still the best month and a half of football I have ever witnessed from the Redskins over an extended period.

My little bro kissed the TV after Marcus Washington’s game-sealing INT against Tampa in the playoffs. Sean Taylor sealed the playoff berth by leaping into the Eagles' end zone in Philadelphia. 

Maybe Gibbs hasn’t lost his touch for play calling after all.

After a great ride in 2005 Daniel Snyder once again ruined the chemistry of the team, bringing in Brandon (I have one great highlight) Lloyd and Adam (punt protector) Archuleta.

While paying Archuleta the largest contract for a safety in football history, Snyder also released Sean Taylor’s good friend and excellent role player Ryan Clark.

Clark went on to Pittsburgh and has continued his stellar play. I’m not really sure about Archuleta last I checked he was a tackling dummy for the Bears.  

Another forgettable year followed with a 5-11 record.

The 2007 season was the toughest and most fulfilling of them all. The team was 5-3 hosting the Eagles at FedEx Field. Up late in the game, Sean Taylor left due to a knee injury and the Eagles came back to win.

Two more losses followed to Dallas and Tampa Bay. It was ok because Taylor was getting healthy and would be back soon.

I woke up around 9 a.m. in the middle of the week to eight text messages. “Sean got shot.” 

Later that night at work I heard he was showing signs of life in the hospital. I never thought the beast would have died that night.

I skipped all my classes, called a few close friends, and was brought to tears.

It was a strange pain. I mean I didn’t know him; he was just a football player. Should I be this upset?

Well once I talked to a few friends who loved the team as much as me I knew it was ok to feel like I lost a close friend.  I will never forget that day either, much like Super Bowl XXVI but for entirely different reasons.

First, a young baby girl just lost her father, and the Redskins and Miami Hurricanes lost a legend. Second was the passion all Redskins fans showed, the love they all showed. Even Dallas and Philly fans came up to me and said they were sorry, he was the best they had seen.  My Sean Taylor jersey was worn once more the following weekend.

The Redskins went on to play football that week and lose on a game-ending field goal after a unmemorable gaff by Joe Gibbs calling two consecutive timeouts, putting the Bills 15 yards closer.

I sat in silence after the clock hit zero. The entire fan base was in shock. Some friends left the room to let off steam, some made excuses for Gibbs.

The team had every excuse in the world, but nobody made any. They just celebrated Sean.

Coach Gibbs stressed character and resiliency through the entire ordeal, two cornerstones of his model for team building.

What followed were four-straight victories, including a playoff-clinching win over Dallas at home by 21 points.  It was an accomplishment I’m not sure any coach but Gibbs could have pulled off. Rallying men together for a single lost teammate, with a backup QB nonetheless was amazing.

From the Super Bowl in 1992 to present day, I have lived, breathed, and sweat Redskins pride. All I have since that championship are two playoff victories, a few memorable wins over Dallas, and the memory of Sean Taylor’s abilities as a football player.

And well a lot of games I wish I could forget that took years off of my life.

I would not trade it in for anything because being a Redskins fan prepares you for life. I hope the next 22 years are as tough on me as the previous 22. Through the good and the bad, “Fight for Old DC!”


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