The following was written mostly at 3AM. Sorry if it’s mostly incoherent, but it has a point, I swear it does.
I’ll start off by saying this; I’m still relatively new to being a Washington Redskins fan. I didn’t become a fan, really, until the tail end of 2009, during the New Orleans Saints game. I’m still a relatively new football fan, just speaking generally. I became a fan of the NFL before I became a Redskins fan; loving the Redskins came slower. What new football fan willingly roots for the Redskins?
I watched Redskins games on and off for a lot of high school, usually being too bored or not understanding the rules to get invested enough. I did play Madden, and I frequently changed out Jason Campbell for Mark Brunell, and the only play I could figure out how to run was a HB Draw. But I didn’t become a real, true fan until 2010.
I don’t know what it was about that offseason. I certainly didn’t buy the whole “Donovan McNabb” deal; I knew enough to know he was an Eagle, and before I even knew about how division rivalries worked, I knew I couldn’t like an Eagle. But I fell in love with football, I came intrigued by the intricacies of the game.
What made me a Redskins fan wasn’t the Monday Night Miracle, or Sean Taylor, or the three Super Bowl wins. It wasn’t Clinton Portis. It wasn’t Santana Moss or Chris Cooley, or the shiny new left tackle Trent Williams.
It was this guy. It was Anthony Armstrong. It was his whole story.
I don’t know why I connected with Armstrong, but he stuck out to me before I had even started to grasp the scope of the Redskins legacy; before I knew about “Slingin’” Sammy Baugh and Sonny Jurgenson, about that magical 1991 season, about Doug Williams breaking color barriers. I was just intrigued by this fast guy who wore 13.
I think it was the story that got me. A small town kid, goes to a small college, plays in an indoor league no one’s ever heard of, catches on with the Dolphins, and then ends up here, and has a legit chance to start. The story hooked me before the football did.
Slowly but surely, I started liking Ryan Torain, and Keiland Williams, I liked the cockiness of DeAngelo Hall, the passion of London Fletcher, the hard running of Clinton Portis and Santana Moss spinning the ball and the sound of the crowd chanting “Coooooooooooool” after ever catch, that left tackle we spent the fourth overall pick on. The more that preseason went on, the more that hope started to creep in. That we could be something special. That’s when it went from being about a player, to being about the team.
Of course, that season ended up being nothing special. But by then, I was already hooked. Redskins were my team. Period. There was no changing it.
I say all that stuff above to say this; I never saw the heyday of Redskins Nation. When the Redskins won their third Super Bowl championship, I was 4 years old, and my Dad was a Dallas Cowboys fan. (This is a fact that I am not proud to admit, at all, trust me.) Since I’m new, I haven’t suffered through the last 21 years of fluctuating somewhere between Godawful and barely mediocre.
I missed Heath Schuler. I missed Gus Frerotte ruining his neck, I missed Michael Westbrook and Taylor Jacobs and Rod Gardner being busts, I missed Norv Turner and Steve Spurrier. I never saw Trent Green play, never got to lament his loss, never went on to see Brad Johnson when a Super Bowl with another team, never had to suffer watching Tony Banks or Jeff George or Shane Matthews or Danny Wuerfel or Tim Hasselbeck. I wasn’t there when Patrick Ramsey was drafted or when he busted. I wasn’t there when Joe Gibbs came back and couldn’t quite adapt and bring us back to the promise land. I barely saw the tale end of Zorn, but I never knew how bad it was.
Since I missed all that, I tend to have an optimistic point of view. Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate all the history of the Redskins, good and bad. I don’t dismiss it, or take it lightly. I can certainly see why certain individuals are jaded.
But holding 21 years of bitterness against the organization is one hell of a burden to bear. To wait for Sundays, only to expect to be disappointed—who can be a fan like that? Who can simply sit back and enjoy anything when you’re holding on to all the crap that came before.
Cornerback Chase Minnifield was waived, with the hope of putting him on injured reserved on Tuesday. Altogether, it was a pretty disappointing blow. Chase Minnifield was a standout corner at Virginia, a very gifted athlete who played at a pretty high level. Most scouts had a second-to-third round grade on him. And then he had microfracture surgery. And while he looked on the path to recovery in minicamps and OTA’s, when it came down to it, Chase was not healthy, and we could not justify keeping him on the roster. Luckily, we were able to get him onto our injured reserved.
It sucks. That was the feeling of most of Redskins Nation; Chase seemed like he could really contribute, if he was healthy.
But a weird thing happens when news like this happens. Whenever there’s some negative news, and people feel bad…there’s always those people that want to say “I told you so.”
Those people who turn their nose up at the very idea of hoping a young player turns out to be a steal, that a guy that went undrafted because of some injury concerns could turn into something special. They scoff at that idea. They mock it. And part of it’s because there are some people that take it a step too far, that will talk about D-Hall getting cut and being replaced with Chase Minnifield, that he could be a stud and a star, and blah-blah-blah.
Part of being in any fanbase is dealing with delusional homers with fantasies bigger than the Empire State Building. But almost worse than that is the part of the fanbase who, despite evidence that finally, the changes they demanded be made may finally be blooming into something positive, simply refuse to see the light in anything.
Chase Minnifield gets cut, and he’s just another Malcolm Kelly. It’s expected. The idea persist that it’s ridiculous to hold out hope that an undrafted free agent can overcome the odds and be great. He’s just some random corner out of Virginia who got hurt. Probably dumb to sign him anyway, right?
Of course that sort of thinking doesn’t jive with the fact that one of the greatest Redskins of all time, and one of the best men who has ever put on the pads, was that guy.
Fletcher was too small. He wasn’t fast enough, or imposing enough. He was a long shot to make the St. Louis Rams roster. And all he’s done since is because the second leading active tackler behind only future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, while not missing a single game. And if we get a second ring on London’s finger, then he will be finally, and rightfully acknowledged for the Hall of Fame caliber player he is.
Now, is Chase Minnifield the next London Fletcher? Probably not. But who knows? Maybe he is just some injured guy, maybe he’s just a guy who could be a solid contributor for a couple seasons until we get better fill the position with someone else. He’s not Champ Bailey, but maybe he could be an Ike Taylor. One day. If he’s healthy.
But 21 years on trauma seems to sit in the stomach of some fans. Even as things change around them, the refrain remains the same; “Until I see success on the field, none of this matters!”. “After two decades of sucking, I think I’m entitled to not be excited about some rookie!”
Ask yourself an honest question; are we better off now than we were before Mike Shanahan got here. Seriously. Ask yourself that question. And you can’t say “None of the changes matters, we sucked then and we sucked now”. While they cross their arms and hurrumph and feign disinterest, while they actively seek to bury people in the same decades long angst and anguish they feel, they also ignored that thing that allows the game to be fun, and allows the game to be miserable, and exciting and spirit-crushing.
That whole “hope” thing. The hope for a good season, the hope that we win a game, that we’ll have a winning record, even the vague hope for the playoffs. Any hope is squashed by that previous 21 years. And yeah, two decades of sucking…well, it sucks. But isn’t it time we let go?
What good is bringing up those previous two decades? And what right to do you have to get mad at another losing season…if all you expected was more losing in the first place?
The apathy showed towards a promising guy like Chase Minnifield—and particularly the laughing and the smug comments about Minnifield making light of his injury—is a crutch. It’s a defense mechanism, it’s a big, huge sign in bright red letters that says “I REFUSED TO BE FOOLED AGAIN!”. For those people, no level of success will be enough. Every prospect can be a bust, every player can get hurt, every coaching staff can be fired, and should be fired if it’s not turned around quickly enough.
Those people would have people believe that they’re dumb, or foolish, or misguided for thinking a guy can be good. They’ll say things like “you all thought Minnifield would be the next Revis”, or “you thought all thought Minnifield would replace DeAngelo Hall”, when really, those comments are made by the smallest, most homer-tastic parts of the fanbase. And then they’ll throw in a little quip about what failures McNabb and John Beck and Rex Grossman to validate the opinion they have, that nothing has changed, that hoping stuff will change is useless because it never will.
The thing is, this team has changed. The culture has changed. Is it perfect? No. But for the most part, everyone who is here wants to be here. Young guys who don’t know the depths of our sorrow, free agents who want to take it a new level and earn their contracts, veterans hungry for a winning season. We are better than we’ve been in a long time.
I understand tempering expectations, and not going overboard. But most people haven’t. They’re just excited that a new chapter is starting. I ask only a small favor from those who still harbor the past two decades in their heart, and refuse to see the light…
Let us see the light. Let a guy like me be excited. Let people be excited for Robert Griffin III, let them be excited when a young guy flashes. Let people get excited about the prospects of guys like Niles Paul and Aldrick Robinson, or maybe some other unnamed guy.
Because the change we’ve been wanting for so long? It’s almost here. It may be a slow turn around…but it’s still progress. And progress is always something to feel hopeful about.
It’s time let it go. Let that baggage of the last two decades go. It’s gone. Over. We can’t fix what happened before. We can only exist in the now, and right now, training camp is about to open, and guys are about to put on those helmets, and start training to be great. How can you enjoy what we will have, if you can’t let go of the past?
What are you watching for if you expect everything to go wrong? And if you can’t let it go, maybe it’s just time you stop watching.
Times are changing. It might by optimistic, or too light-hearted, but I’d rather be hopeful that things go well and be disappointed, than to think the worst is always around the corner, and pretend to be shot and hurt when it goes bad.
Positive thinking breeds positive results. It’s time for a little more positivity in the DMV.
Follow KC on Twitter @kcclyburn