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Onward And Upward

January 5, 2006

By Mark Steven

Is it just me, or is the sky brighter up here above the tree line?

And just look at that view.

I say we shuck off our packs, catch our breath, grab a snack and enjoy it for a couple minutes before continuing on.

Look down there...I do believe that's Santana Moss, taking the second of two consecutive Mark Brunell bombs in stride, plunging a stake deep into the heart of Dallas and killing The Streak in the most dramatic, Hollywood fashion imaginable. I'll be reliving that one for a lifetime.

And there's Seattle kicker Josh Brown, missing a last-second field goal that would have allowed the Seahawks to steal a game the Redskins largely controlled...and Washington marching methodically down the field in overtime to win, running their record to 3-0 and forcing everyone--friend and foe alike--to take notice. Someone actually missed a big one, and our guys jumped on the reprieve? How about that.

Check out the column of smoke still curling up from that aspen stand over there. I'm pretty sure that's the wreckage that was San Francisco, dispatched with frightful 52-17 efficiency, in a stark foreshadowing of what was to come within the once indifferent environs of FedExField, suddenly turned vicious. If we'd only known then what we know now...

That other column of smoke? Well, I'm afraid that's the rubble that was Washington the following week, in the wake of the first New York Giants game. What a perfectly awful storm of circumstance that was. Of course, in hindsight, perhaps that appalling affair provided Washington the psychic slap upside the head it needed to keep its collective noggin out of the clouds, and feet planted firmly on the ground, for the rest of the season.

Just sayin'.

What's that? Oh, indeed--good eyes. That's Philadelphia's superstar quarterback Donovan McNabb, trudging dejectedly off the field--at long last a loser in the Nation's Capital again--in a "must win" game for the Redskins that they did. Neither of us has forgotten the line in the sand or lump in the throat heading into that one, I suspect. Nor the emotional release and fierce pride after.

Check it out...there appears to be a gentleman in black and white over there raising both hand to signify two points that...man. I've been trying to shake that particularly nasty vision for weeks. But you know what? I'm struck again by the wonder that is Fate. Imagine having a second bite at that bitter apple, only this time for far greater stakes, and this time we show up with all our teeth...

But I digress.

Ouch. Looks like the losing locker room after that heartbreaker against San Diego over there, back in week eleven and the last of three straight gut-wrenching losses. Back when our guys sank below the powerfully symbolic .500 line, and all looked lost. I recall a silence so pervading in there that the proverbial metaphoric knife didn't even make a scratch. And a slow undercurrent of anger, too; one that resulted in a fateful team meeting, which in turn led to a grim resolve, which in turn led to...well, you know.

There are those back-to-back successful road trips to St. Louis and Arizona. Overwhelming victories? No. But viewed with the benefit of hindsight and clarity of altitude, we can see that they were gut-check, professional efforts, when absolutely nothing less would have sufficed. And that once accomplished, they served to set up the Biggest Game of the Year, against none other than the ubiquitous Dallas Cowboys.

Well, see that crater over there? That's what's left of them. That game, plain and simple, was nothing less than the single most cathartic Redskins moment this side of the three Lombardi Trophies sitting in a glass case in Ashburn, VA, in silent, patient wait for a match.

Yeah, I know. Me too.

Look...there's New York, the Revenge. Much obliged, Big Blue, for the whole "feet on the ground" thing. Everyone's but Mr. Moss,' that is, whose feet never actually seemed to touch it that particular evening.

And finally, just down the path...there goes Philadelphia again, this time sinking under the weight of a flurry of turnovers, followed by ruthlessly efficient capitalization. Was it really just a few short days ago that the Washington Redskins danced under the lights of Lincoln Financial Field, helmets and fists held high, celebrating nothing less than a franchise's rebirth?

And so, here we are.

Where's "here?"

Here is the giddy feeling of unlimited possibilities.

Here is having Redskins named, in the four final successive weeks of the season, NFC Players of the Week (Antonio Brown, Phillip Daniels, Santana Moss, Mike Sellers) and NFC Defensive Player of Month (Marcus Washington)...and hardly anyone batting an eye.

Here is the dawning realization that Santana Moss and Clinton Portis have both, in one remarkable season, set franchise records, thus adding their names in ink to the storied rolls of Redskins lore. Charley Taylor, Art Monk, Santana Moss. Larry Brown, John Riggins, Clinton Portis. No, it's not too soon to say that. It's just going to take a while to sink in.

Here is superstar assistant head coach Gregg Williams, perhaps the hottest head coaching candidate on the NFL market, preemptively slamming the door on budding speculation as to his destination by extending his contract to remain in Washington. The ramifications and implications of that move are far too broad to cover here, so I think we'll save them for another climb...but they shouldn't be far from our minds.

And here is exerting one's will to resist the urge to shake a fist and yell, "I told you so!" at the dour, sour legions that so clearly delighted in dismissing the notion that, with the return of Joe Gibbs, so had returned relevance, respect and direction to a proud franchise that had seemingly lost its way.


All in all, "here" is a pretty sweet place to be. It's exhilarating and enervating all at once. It's strangely familiar, yet entirely new again. It's the place we have so long sought, which now attained, we find even more electrifying than imagined.

So, you ask, what comes next?

Turning from the valley below, we come about and gaze up a trail that ascends out of sight to an unknown destination still partially hidden in clouds. Slinging my pack over one shoulder, I wash down the last of the porterhouse with an icy quaff of ale (what, you expected energy bars and water? Please), grin a lopsided grin, and give a nod toward the mountain.

My friend, I have no idea. But I'm seriously ready to find out.

Shall we?


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Guest ComebackKing

This has been a great season even if we lose this week just making the playoffs should make any fan happy after a 6-10 season...

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Eat your heart out, Mr. Shapiro!

Truth? I had initially included a rather "direct" blurb about that particular gentleman's smallish, um, character ... but then thought, why expend perfectly good bile, not to mention photons, on such as he?

So I took the road he has clearly less traveled--the high one--and took it out.

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