For better or for worse, I’ve been a Redskins fan since birth. In fact, when I was a child, my parents put me in Dallas Cowboys diapers to teach me to shit on the star at a young age. I’m sorry for the vivid picture, but I’m not really sure how else to put it.
Growing up there wasn’t a choice which team you were going to follow. It was either the ‘Skins, or you found a new place to live. And it’s not like it was a tough choice – the team in burgundy and gold was kind enough to win three Super Bowls before I even started high school.
I remember back in ’92, being informed that my family was attending a Super Bowl party at a friend’s house the night the Redskins took on the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVI. I wasn’t happy because … honestly … because the people hosting the party sucked. Well, during the first quarter, one of the kids there had the audacity to badmouth my favorite team and I gave him my best swing, right to his face. There was blood and there were tears as he ran upstairs to tell the parental figures his one-sided account of what had transpired. Thankfully, my “punishment” was being driven home by my father and told to watch the game alone (without any mouthy pipsqueaks).
Those familiar with that game should note – the game was scoreless after the first quarter (when I was forced to be sociable), but the Redskins led 24-0 less than a minute into the second half and never looked back (after I got to watch the game home alone). I take no credit for the win, but the moral of the story still holds true to this day – I happily watch the big games by myself. It’s just better for everyone involved.
Sadly, there hasn’t been much of a reason to kick everyone out and watch the Redskins solo since then. One year later, in March of ’93, head coach Joe Gibbs retired and the team hasn’t come anywhere close to the “glory days” of my childhood. Names like Norv Turner, Richie Petibone, Steve Spurrier and … well … Norv Turner haunt Redskins fans. A once proud and model NFL franchise suddenly became a popular punching bag because of a perceived meddlesome owner and a stockpile of disappointing losses, regardless of who was calling the shots on the sidelines. Cheering for the Redskins became an endless cycle of disappointment.
But everything changed four years ago when Grandpa Gibbs returned to the sidelines, ready for another go at it. If anyone could distance the Redskins from the cellar-dwelling likes of the Cardinals, Lions and Browns, it had to be Joe.
The day he returned, I quietly promised myself I would enjoy every last minute of Joe Gibbs 2.0, mostly because I felt guilty about not doing so during his first stint. Little did I know how different things would be during his second tenure.
Three seasons ago, because of a little talent and a lot of luck, I managed to somehow end up covering the team and the coach I grew up idolizing. Instead of watching games by myself in the basement, I now found myself patrolling the sidelines of FedEx Field as Gibbs set out to make the Redskins respectable again. Over the last three seasons, I’ve covered rookie camps, minicamps, training camps, scrimmages, preseason, regular season and even playoff games as a photographer. I’ve interviewed more than 100 players, attended Gibbs’ press conference and even ate dinner with the Hall of Fame coach and the billionaire owner. Yep, I know. I’m a lucky son of a bitch. What can I say? It pays to slack of in school and never turn in your homework.
And just like I promised myself, I’ve enjoyed every step of this surreal experience. Every time I come home after a 10 hour day of covering the team, I make sure to tell my wife just how truly blessed to be around this coach and this team. Honestly, the fact that they’re a part of my favorite sports franchise is a bonus at this point.
Assholes like Len Pasquarelli and Sally Jenkins will point to the wins and losses over the last four years and tell you that Gibbs’ return to football has been a failure. As usual, they’re missing the point. Ask any of the 90,000 fans who show up to FedEx Field on Sundays to see Joe and company. Or the 100 or so fans who line the roads at Redskins Park at 2 a.m. to welcome the team home, even though the ‘Skins lost to the Seahawks. This has never been about wins and losses – not this time. For the older folks, it’s about wanting to be around Grandpa Gibbs just a little while longer, while the younger generation stuck around to see what the fuss was all about. In my humble opinion, the fact that the Redskins are in better shape than we he arrived is just a bonus.
Here’s one more thing I wanted to point out – almost all of the Redskins players interviewed Tuesday sounded shocked, as if they’d been blindsided by Gibbs’ retirement announcement. The players didn’t have a clue this was coming simply because Gibbs is a consummate professional. He was too dedicated and focused on trying to beat the Seattle Seahawks and advance in the playoffs to stop and worry about himself or any off-the-field issues. And if he did have those concerns, he certainly wasn’t going to let the players get the impression he was distracted.
Even though all of the players wanted Gibbs to return for the fifth and final season of his contract, they let him ride off into the sunset because they know he’s going home to be with his family.
Speaking of family, the Redskins – as an organization – used to be where free agents came to cash in on hefty pay days. Not anymore. Now, after spending a few seasons with Gibbs, this team is a tight-knot group who enjoys going to battle along side each other. A team, in the truest since of the word. For that, and for everything else, we say, “Thank you, Joe.”
Brian Murphy is an award-winning sportswriter, and still doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.