For Washington fans, it's hail to the Redskins, at long last
Those in the Washington area know that the biggest story in the US capital region these days is not the falling off of the fiscal cliff, but the rise of the Redskins.
Last week, President Barack Obama recommended that his Republican rivals in Congress "peel off the partisan war paint" and make a deal. But some partisan bipartisanship may be in order; the Redskins of old were credited with being the one thing that really unified Washington - black and white, young and old, Republican and Democrat. That now shows signs of happening again. Indeed, the war paint will still very much be on in Washington at least until January 6, when the Redskins host the Seattle Seahawks and make their first playoff appearance in five years.
In the Redskins' showdown with their arch-rivals the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday night (Monday morning in Bangkok) - a game moved to primetime, with the NFC East Division title hinging on the outcome - Washington stepped up for the seventh time in a row (the longest current win streak in the NFC) and held on to win 28-18.
I've been an ardent Washington Redskins fan for more than 30 years, about the last half of which I've lived in Thailand. It hasn't been particularly problematic keeping up with their highlights since moving to Bangkok in the mid 1990s, despite the distance from a community of fellow followers, because ever since I've been here, the Skins have pretty much, well, sucked. From 1993 to 2011, they managed just five winning seasons, and three measly playoff appearances.
Their futility had been particularly wretched in recent years; just seven weeks ago it looked like Washington was fated to end up dead last in the NFC East for the fifth straight year. Then rookie quarterback sensation Robert Griffin III - well known and cheered on in home games by the catchy moniker RG3 - caught fire and began living up to his billing as a dual-threat pass/run quarterback around which a franchise could be built. True, he had consistently played well earlier in the season too, yet the losses kept mounting. But then the Pro Bowl-bound Heisman Trophy winner, who despite his young age of 22 was voted team captain, led his team from worst to first, instilling in the Redskins' long-suffering yet legendarily faithful fans (the Redskins own an NFL-record streak for home-stadium sellouts that began in 1968 and is still going strong) with pride that hadn't been felt since the glory days of the 1980s and early 90s when Washington won three Super Bowls and had the potential to thrill in dramatic ways on any given Sunday.
Quite fortunately for me, their stunning recent success has coincided with my best opportunity to regularly root for them in years. When the dubious website that I had watched choppy approximations of Redskins games on last year was dramatically overtaken with the logo of the US Department of Homeland Security, and featured an anti-piracy message from their investigations arm, as well as the automatic appearance of a video that rather persuasively argued against watching "free" movies and sporting events, it was simply time to go legit.
So, at the high-end Sukhumvit condo of a fellow football-mad American friend, the routine since this special season kicked off in early September has been to catch Redskins games via delay - mercifully, with all the commercials hacked out - on his NFL.com package, generally after I got off work every Monday night. This shift was very welcome news to my wife, a light sleeper, who no longer had to suffer from my watching games in our small condo in the wee hours, even though I did so as quietly as I could in another room with headphones on and tried to keep from erupting in joy during the big plays by the Redskins, few of them though there were.
Game after game this year, my friend and I intently watched the long dashes of stalwart rookie running back Alfred Morris (the NFL's No. 2 rusher this year) as well as those of the explosive Griffin himself (the NFL's top-rushing QB this year), and the opportunity for something magical to transpire whenever RG3 scanned downfield for playmaking wide receivers like Santana Moss or Pierre Garcon, who he regularly hooked up with - sometimes for touchdowns. But despite the anything-goes, options-loaded offence and big plays, too many times Washington ended up on the side with fewer points, and after Week 9 stood at a stagnant 3-6.
But ever since then the ball has been bouncing the Redskins' way - most famously during the magical fumble-touchdown RG3 spewed that helped turn the Redskins into Giants slayers in Week 13 - as they have gone on to prevail in their last seven games, including a sweep of Dallas.
Even last Sunday when Griffin completed only 9 of 18 pass attempts, his lowest percentage in a game this year, it didn't matter, as Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo himself managed to toss three passes into the arms of Redskins players - the three interceptions helped lead to Dallas's demise.
No matter what happens in the playoffs, it certainly appears that with its impressive new quarterback, offence that was ranked the fifth best in the NFL this year (including a running game that was second to none), and defence that while not as high in the ratings made enough big stops when they were called for, Washington is for real again for the first time in decades, and has the potential to attract even greater talent thanks to the leadership, charisma and abilities of the unassuming Griffin.
After RG3's sensational aerial shredding of the Dallas defence in the first Redskins-Cowboys matchup on Thanksgiving Day, Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan compared Griffin's performance to the poise showed by Paul Newman's iconic Cool Hand Luke. But RG3 brings another silver-screen star named Luke to my mind. The one who, just a few months after the Redskins won their first Super Bowl in 1983, fulfilled his destiny to help restore justice to the galaxy by outduelling Darth Vader.
RG3 ended up ranked the third best NFL quarterback in passer ratings this year. But when it comes to sales of replica jerseys at NFLShop.com, nothing this year outsold the burgundy-and-gold ones emblazoned with a No. "10" beneath "GRIFFIN III". This is the hero that Redskins fans have been waiting a long, long time for.
Carleton Cole is a writer and former Nation staffer based in Bangkok.