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And now for something completely different.


The Biggest Story

By Mark Steven

March 30, 2006

There's an elephant in the room.

It is large and squatting, so it is hard to get around it.

Yet we squeeze by with, "How are you?" and "I'm fine," and a thousand other

forms of trivial chatter. We talk about the weather. We talk about work.

We talk about everything else, except the elephant in the room.

- Terry Kettering


You don’t generally find pachyderms in football columns. I know that.

But it wasn’t my fault.

Fact is, for two weeks I tried to focus on anything but the oversized wrinkle-bucket -- but it wouldn’t let me. Immune to my sincerest efforts, it was simply too hard to get around. So in the end I gave in.

But I did try…it’s not like there weren’t other seemingly suitable subjects.

I tried to write about Patrick Ramsey, for instance. Big story. Ramsey was a popular player and a solid character guy; a big-armed young gun who came along precisely at a time followers of the burgundy and gold pined for their very own home-grown star at quarterback. A guy who oozed potential early, enough to quickly raise expectations to the very highest levels. And then, ultimately, a guy who left the team under unhappy, or at least unfulfilled, circumstances, never having become the player so many had anticipated.

But as big as the Ramsey story was, it wasn’t close to the biggest.

What about LaVar Arrington, for heaven’s sake? The mercurial LA, the wildly popular and undisputed “Face of the Redskins,” suddenly and shockingly abandoned $4.2 million dollars of his mega-contract for the right to leave town…just weeks after swearing up and down, in that sincere and laconic manner of his, that he was going to be a “Redskin for life.” And also just a few months after we had watched him, at long last, seemingly overcoming that elusive missing ingredient in his game, that missing something that always seemed to stand between LaVar and his coaches, and between LaVar and his massive potential, for so very long.

It really hasn’t sunk in yet for many Redskins fans, I suspect, that LaVar Arrington -- the fiercely proud, explosive, unique, entertaining, engaging, inspiring yet equally infuriating shooting star -- is really gone.

So yeah, that was a pretty big story. Just not the biggest.

And then there was the stunning, unexpected signing of offensive guru Al Saunders. What, Paul Brown wasn’t available? We had to settle for the guy who turned a Kansas City Chiefs offense featuring a bunch of pretty good players, but whom few reading here will likely argue are Hall of Fame locks, into the number one offense in the game? That Al Saunders? Whoa.

For those keeping score at home, the 2006 Redskins will be coached by, 1) a three-time world champion Hall of Fame head coach, 2) a defensive coach universally hailed among the best and brightest in the game, who has, in two short years, turned the Washington Redskins defense from an Achilles Heel into one of the most consistent, effective and most respected units in the league, and 3) arguably the top offensive coordinator in football.

Not too shabby. Big, even.

Just not the biggest.

So it must be the free agents, right? This must be about the exuberant, almost surreal whirlwind of watching our team hit free agency like a tidal wave, methodically signing every single free agent it targeted -- wide receivers Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El, safety Adam Archuleta, defensive end Andre Carter, tight end Christian Fauria and quarterback Todd Collins – and all with such seeming effortlessness and certainty that you almost had shake your head and laugh. It’s just not supposed to look that easy.

But, no.

I did think that the free agency thing would be The Biggest Story for a time, but in the end, even that wasn’t it. Instead, what I kept coming back to (and bumping into) was the answer I kept hearing myself give friends, colleagues and anyone willing to listen when, shortly after the various departures and additions and free agency dust began to settle, “the talk” inevitably started.

You know the litany: The Skins, yet again, are March’s Team. The Skins, yet again, have Won the Offseason. There Goes Snyder…Again. Heck, I noticed that some people even tried to run the “Hey, it’s 2000 all over again” thing past us. Well, I’m not even going to dignify trying to equate Norv Turner, Ray Rhodes, the 2000 versions of guys like Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith and Jeff George, with the likes of Joe Gibbs, Gregg Williams, Al Saunders and the 2006 versions of such as Antwaan Randle El, Andre Carter, Brandon Lloyd and Adam Achruleta. I’m just not. And please don’t get me started on the whole “overspent” thing. Anyway, I believe that may have already been mentioned in passing in this space recently.

Now In fairness, I did read a tiny handful of “mainstream media” comments, where so many seem to take themselves more seriously than the content of their work, suggesting that Washington might have actually done themselves some good this time. But there weren’t many. Mostly, it came across as the same superficial point-and-snicker stuff that has provided safe harbor for the lazy and/or disingenuous for years.

And they all seemed to be missing something...which began to strike me as rather strange, given that it’s not a little something. In fact, it’s rather a large and squatting something. Something that, if you actually look at it, is rather hard to miss. Yet many apparently cannot, or wil not, either see or acknowledge it. Instead, they continue trying to squeeze by with gems like “you build through the draft” and “you overspent” and “salary cap hell” and the thousand other forms of trivial chatter to which we’ve grown so accustomed.

For years, “Redskins Win the Offseason” was their cheap, convenient punch line. Most close followers of the team closely knew it for what it was, but no matter how much sense the team’s moves made in the light of cold analysis, no matter how outraged we became at the mindlessness of so much of the criticism, and no matter how tirelessly we defended our colors, when the season rolled around amid all our justifications, explanations and expectations…the team never actually won. Which, at the end of the day, is all the critics really had to say.

And which also brings us, at long last, back to our patient pachyderm.

This year, when the catcalling voices come at you with how “the Skins lack depth,” and how “Lloyd and Randle El are unproven,” or how “Brunell is done and Campbell’s not ready,” and proceed to throw all manner of assorted dirt clods at your favorite team, simply remember…sitting placidly at your side, right smack dab in the middle of the room, is a six-ton mammalian mountain who begs to differ.

Not just any mammalian mountain, either. A 10-6 record-sporting, fast-finishing, division-difficulties-overcoming, second-round-playoff-making, quiet-confidence-oozing, big-time-momentum-possessing, at-the-bit-chomping, masterfully-coached and organized mountain, sporting a bit of a ‘tude…eyeing the calendar for the crisp fall day it can bust its chains and start tromping some serious toes.

Go ahead, tell ‘em. They’re the ones shooting uphill, now. We’re the ones doing the Hannibal impression.

For the first time in a long time, Redskins fans don’t have to make excuses. They don’t have to justify. They don’t have to defend, explain, or out-debate. They can simply nod, smile, and point to the scoreboard.

For this Redskins fan, too long forced to defend his team with reason, projection and hope, that, far and away, is the Biggest Story surrounding the summer of the 2006 Washington Redskins.

What the Redskins are doing, quantifiably, is working.

What the Redskins are, right now, is good.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna drag this big dude up to the rooftop with me and shout about it for a while -- humbly, of course -- and watch the rest of the world try and prove us wrong for a change.



Column Archive

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Man, you hit it perfectly as usual, Om. It's still going to take a while for those outside our fandom (and even many inside) to finally come to grips with these facts. It's not Spurrier or Norv anymore. It's Joe Gibbs and the team has completely taken on his demeanor, character and attitude. That's all you need to know because there's only one thing Joe Gibbs does....win. That's what he's does his whole life, he's always been a winner and nothing's changed. It's truly beautiful because this is the first offseason I can remember where I can be entirely confident about the coming campaign. I think there are a lot of us out there who don't realize how truly blessed and lucky we are to have this man leading our team again. The more I know about him, the more admiration I have. Excellent piece Om, and here's looking forward to a glorious season. :cheers:

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Are you sure it was Ray Rhodes in 2000? ;)

Anyway, I have to admit the criticism's heaved our way this year seem a little off. In the past I'd simply shrug and say "If we start winning the critics will shut up." Oddly, we have and they haven't. Go figure.

10-6. :)

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I'm not familiar with your other stuff Om, but consider me a fan, you nailed it. You said it all, we no longer have to hold on to a slight hope that our team will improve, we already have and under Joes leadership will continue to. Nice read.:applause:

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In case anyone's wondering, what my colleagues and former friends Henry and TK are referring to is my blanking out yesterday on who coached the defense in 2000, which is bad enough, compounded by making my first reaction to ASK rather than GOOGLE.

Tough room, man.

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Awesome article!

It's funny, I read through the entire article thinking the "elephant" was going to be Taylor's trial.

I like you elephant much better than mine.

Nah, the Taylor trial is the mouse. The Elephant's not REALLY afraid of it, but kind of keeps an eye on it anyway. You know, just in case.

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Ha thats awesome....you know i kind of like the fact that no one really likes us. the whole "us against the world" mentality is actually appealing to me in some way...when we start dominating, maybe we will all get a feeling of what it feels like to be an old yankees fan? also, i wonder what the media will do when said dominating begins...will they treat us like the colts or will they make up excuses for the losing teams...btw i cant wait to read peter kings mmqb next december:D

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I like that...

I should come to you with all my thoughts so that you can make analogies and organize them for me.

Nah, that would too much like going on one of those awful reality shows where they clean your house and stuff. You get a coupla bucks, some pub and nice clean house out of the deal, but the in return the whole world gets to see what's actually in your closets. :)

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