By Mark Pierce
The NFL parlance is chock-a-block filled with phraseology that concerns in one way or another what has come to be known as “building a championship franchise.” If you listen carefully, you can hear that’s the way it is said. Often with a tinge of bravado. The verb building is always used. “They’re building the right way.” or ” This team has been built from the bottom up.” And don’t forget rebuilding. As in, “don’t expect too much out of them this year, they’re rebuilding.” The metaphor is particularly apt, emphasizing as it does the sort of de facto construction process teams experience.
Rebuilding is a normal occurrence for all NFL teams. Players age, performance diminishes, stars become former stars. The good franchises always seem to keep their down years to a minimum. One can point to the Steelers, or the Giants, or the Patriots, or any number of other well respected teams as examples of franchises that manage this.
But the Washington Redskins have been under construction for over twenty years. To say that they have encountered an unusual number of setbacks in their hopeful fabrication of a championship franchise is to be kind. Fans have seen it all, and are for the most part repulsed by even casual usage of the word rebuild. The sound of it summons the sour stench of losing.
In those two decades, the Washington Redskins became the butt of a cruel league joke. They lost and they lost again, often ignominiously. They became losers. In the wake of mounting frustration, a culture of losing developed which then became resistant to even the best intentioned efforts to change it. And that is the primary alteration the Washington Redskins had to effect before any meaningful growth could occur. A cultural transformation had to take place.
Enter Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen in 2010. In short order, bench warmers and neer-do-wells were shown the door. At the first training camp, the thing everyone commented on was how different the experience was from those of previous administrations, in particular of the one immediately preceding it. There was order. Exceptions, even for stars, were not made. These guys were in charge.
It certainly wasn’t perfect; see Albert Haynesworth, Donovan McNabb. But for all that there was a growing sense that the Redskins were headed in the right direction. Now, with the drafting of Robert Griffin III, the promise of great teams ahead is in the air. The foundation has been laid. Only fifteen players from the pre-Shanahan-Allen era are still on the roster. Those guys will tell you: the culture has been changed.
As a fan, I am grateful to the organization. I can hold my head up in a public discussion of football again. Living as I do amidst throngs of Patriots fans, that’s important to me. More importantly, it matters to Redskin fans everywhere.