LANDOVER, Md. — The prestige and status of the Washington Redskins within the District of Columbia area reached their absolute bottom — the lowest point in the existence of the franchise in this city since 1937 — on Sunday at FedEx Field.
Just 15 days earlier, a downtown parade celebrated the World Series victory of the Washington Nationals. The 2018 Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals have the most wins in the NHL. Over the past 18 months, a trend, many years in the making, has turned into a stunning transformation.
Washington has discovered that champions can live here. So why tolerate, let alone support, an atrociously run and constantly embarrassing franchise with a moral compass that is as twisted as a corkscrew?
Suddenly the distance from the heights of the Nats and Caps down to the disgraced depths of the local 1-9 football team — which fell behind the awful New York Jets by 31 points before losing, 34-17 — must be measured in miles, not just NFL yards.
The team’s reign as king of a football town may have ended quite some time ago as Washington amassed one of the worst records in the NFL over the past 25 years. But now the Redskins have fallen so low that they are no longer even in remote contention for top team in their own city.
Something that was unthinkable for my entire lifetime, since my Sammy Baugh-loving father took me to see the Redskins play the Baltimore Colts when I was 10 in 1957, has now become obvious. The change happened slowly. Then, over the past 18 months as the Nats, Caps and WNBA’s Mystics showed Washington could win titles, the flip happened fast: The Redskins lost Washington.
It took Washington owner Daniel Snyder 20 years to carve a trap door under his own franchise. Like a character in a cartoon, he has been sawing a circle in the floor around himself — with the billionaire the last person to know he was the one who would drop through the hole.
Suddenly you don’t have to look for data points to connect. Everything, everywhere, screams the same conclusion.
Before kickoff Sunday, tickets could be bought online for $10 — almost unthinkable to get into an NFL game. Good seats were available for not much more. The franchise that two seasons ago claimed it had a years-long waiting list for season tickets now sees its tickets fetching about half the price of a “Toy Story 4” ticket.
Walking into the stadium, fans of the teams were teasing one another — good-naturedly because both of their franchises are symbols of massive, long-standing mismanagement. “How can you pay to see that team?” a Jets fan yelled. “My tickets only cost $30,” came the answer.
Yet with the near-giveaway prices, the stadium was still half-empty, and half of the fans who attended wore the green gear of the Jets.
As Washington waited to receive the second-half kickoff, down 20-3, return man Steven Sims, a rookie and still perhaps a bit naive, turned to the end-zone crowd just a few yards behind him. Over and over, he waved both arms upward, pleading for their support in a silent stadium. Finally, three fans, perhaps out of pity, stood up.
In recent weeks, seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams has become the latest symbol of the region’s disgust with Snyder’s ownership, an inept decade under team president Bruce Allen and a general petty ugliness with which the team treats everyone.
This year, the public has learned that Williams hates the team so deeply — based on years of what he considers bad medical diagnoses — that he prefers to lose millions in salary rather than play for it. How bad does a culture have to be — regardless of the details of beefs between the sides — to drive away the best player on the team?
The debacle at FedEx Field on Sunday, in which the Washington offense extended its streak of touchdown-less quarters to 16, was just the latest installment of How Low Can You Go.
Remember, this Jets team is a much-injured bunch that entered the game at 2-7, outscored by 108 points, a 2 1/2-point underdog and dead last in the NFL in offense.
In the first half of the first home start for Washington rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins, the Jets countered with their own young but often inconsistent quarterback, Sam Darnold. Before halftime, Darnold led Haskins in passing yardage 184-6, the Jets had a 20-3 lead, Washington had just one first down, Haskins had often looked confused when he had to go through a pass progression, and the game was over.
Year after year, it is the Redskins’ pattern — and perhaps their policy — never to admit that anything is wrong and always to say that they are “close.” That is always the word — coaching regime after regime. They hardly ever are. It’s self-delusion and marketed to suckers.
“I was really disappointed in how we played coming off the bye [week], where we put in so much time and effort,” interim coach Bill Callahan said.
Asked directly whether the team was “close” in this game and, if so, “close to what?” Callahan said: “I don’t think we were close today. I have to be honest with you.”
This team has dominated Washington sports conversation for so long, it’s hard to believe it can veer so amazingly close to irrelevance, parody and pity — for its remaining fans.
The franchise lost the NFL championship game as the Boston Redskins in 1936, then won the NFL title in 1937 as soon as it got to D.C. In its first nine years in Washington, it played in the championship game five times. The Redskins owned the town immediately, the American League’s Senators a distant second.
Even in two awful years — 1-9-2 and 1-12-1 in 1960 and 1961 — you couldn’t get cheap tickets to a Redskins game. I know. As a 14-year-old, I would have paid more than $1.25 in odd-job money — the equivalent of $10 for the Jets game now — and rode my bike to RFK Stadium to see my team. Trust me: No such tickets were to be had. Now, half the stadium empty and half of the rest rooting for the enemy? A nightmare beyond comprehension.
Mark the moment in D.C. history. Long time coming — and deserved, one defeat and misdeed at a time. But the crash, when it came, happened fast. Washington, owned by a pro football team year-round — that’s over now. Hail to a much different future.