Over the past 10 years, Snyder’s football team transformed into the black sheep of the D.C. sports scene and a general laughingstock. Washington’s football team was fine until Daniel Snyder showed up. House derisively calls them “the Deadskins” these days. And he means it.
If you asked me in 1999 to name the five most important NFL franchises, I would have defined “important” by some admittedly murky formula that included long-term success, a storied history, the recognizability of its uniform/logo/name, the breadth/passion/support of a multi-generation fan base and its weight/power/influence compared to the other local teams in its city. And I would have given the following answer: Green Bay, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Washington and the New York Giants.
Mention that list to a Washington fan 15 years later and you can almost see the blood leaving their body. For the first time in franchise history, they’re thinking entirely in question marks. What do we do? How much longer? How do we stop this? When will this end? In general, fans are loyal as hell. We root for laundry and we know it — we don’t care. It’s part of our DNA. We’re always coming back. It’s just one of the things that makes human beings so freaking strange. We’ll divorce people before we divorce our favorite teams.
But an irredeemable owner? That’s the only person who can nudge a fan base to a collective breaking point. When you support a pro team with an unspeakably awful owner, at some point you take a step back, do the math and mutter things like, “I was 19 when he bought the team, I’m 34 right now, and I’m gonna be 54 in 2034 — AND WE ARE STILL GOING TO SUCK BECAUSE THIS GUY F------ SUCKS AND HE’S NEVER LEAVING AND WHAT THE HELL AM I GOING TO DO?” . . .
Check out this seemingly ludicrous email from Paul Fischer in Arlington, VA . . .
“Wouldn’t any rational Skins fan support Dan Snyder moving the team to LA, so long as the NFL promised DC an expansion team within three years — like what happened with the Browns and Ravens in 1996? I would gladly go without an NFL team for three years, then deal with a replacement level expansion squad for another few years, just to get Snyder out. Has there ever been another NFL team so dysfunctional that it causes its fans to daydream about their own team leaving town?”
Great question. I have some personal experience here. Patriots fans hit rock bottom just a few years after the ’85 Bears crushed us. We finished 5-11 in 1989 and 1-15 in 1990, endured a hateful sexual harassment locker-room scandal, traded down in two straight drafts and improbably turned the no. 3 and no. 1 overall picks into Chris Singleton, Ray Agnew, Pat Harlow and Jerome Henderson. The 1990 Pats actually caused me to start gambling just to stay interested in football. (In other words, thank you, 1990 Pats!) At some point, our idiot bankrupt owner (Victor Kiam) sold the team to a St. Louis billionaire (James Orthwein) who claimed he didn’t want to move the Patriots even though everyone knew he did. Me and every other Patriots fan were 95 percent mortified (“They’re trying to steal our team!”) and 5 percent hoping they were stolen away. Let the Patriots leave, blow up Foxboro Stadium, jettison 30-plus years of disappointment and incompetence, and then start over with an expansion team in downtown Boston and pretend the New England Patriots never happened. When Orthwein hired Bill Parcells, that 5 percent vanished. Robert Kraft saved the Patriots and the rest was history.
Anyway, that’s rock bottom. That’s the lowest you can sink — when you say to yourself, “I’d rather have the non-guaranteed chance at a real football franchise than the guaranteed reality of THIS football franchise.” I never realized Washington fans had reached that point until Paul Fischer sent me that email. I mentioned it to my Washington-fan friends. Three years of no team, then three years of expansion hell … would you do that? Everyone said yes. I couldn’t believe it. House even offered to drive everyone to the airport.
Just to be sure, I called the Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg, an excellent writer with an exceedingly rational feel for the Washington sports scene. He thought 75 percent of Washington fans would take the deal, as long as the new expansion team assumed the old franchise’s history. Steinberg believes that Snyder’s age is the single most important X factor for Washington fans. He’s only 50 years old. What if he never sells? What if he owns the Skins until 2050? What then? What do you do?
Anyhow, Simmons asked me what percentage of Redskins fans would make that deal. Off the top of my head, I said 75 percent. As we talked, though, I decided that estimate might even be low.
Because which Redskins fans, exactly, would say no to that offer? The ones who believe the current team is set to excel in 2016 or 2017? The ones who just couldn’t bear to miss Jay Gruden’s second season, or a full season of Colt McCoy? The ones who have enjoyed the last two dozen NFL Sundays, as their team has put together its worst 20-game stretch since 1964?