Reporting David Elfin
Mike Shanahan’s Redskins have failed to follow the command of those not-so-long-ago Under Armour commercials which featured then-Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen bellowing, “Protect this house!”
In fact, if FedEx Field were a house, it would have been robbed a dozen times over during Shanahan’s first two seasons in Washington.
The Redskins were a respectable 7-9 on the road in 2010-11, but they were a league-worst 4-12 at home. In fact, thanks to six straight home defeats to end last season, they’ll have gone 370 days without winning at FedEx Field when they arrive there for Sunday’s home opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
In coach George Allen’s seven seasons – albeit 14-game versions — in Washington (1971-77), the Redskins lost just 10 home games. Allen’s fellow Hall of Famer, Joe Gibbs, didn’t lose 12 games at RFK Stadium until the end of his seventh season.
Admittedly, the House That Jack Built and Danny Expanded (and Then Contracted) hasn’t been nearly as formidable for opponents as RFK. The Redskins had just four winning home records during their first 15 seasons in Landover – three of them during their only playoff campaigns of the past 19 years (1999, 2005 and 2007) — after posting just eight losing home records during 36 years on East Capitol Street. What’s more, the Redskins never had a losing season at RFK under coaches Vince Lombardi, Bill Austin, Allen, Jack Pardee and Gibbs from 1969-92. That’s right, 24 straight years of at least .500 ball. The first 19 of those seasons, 1969-87, were all winning ones at home.
So the Redskins’ 60-60-1 all-time mark in Landover is a big change, but 4-12 at home? By a coach who went 27-1 at Mile High Stadium from 1995-98 with the only defeat coming in postseason and who had just two losing home records during his 14 years with the Denver Broncos?
“We get great support … (but) we have struggled at home,” Shanahan said. “You want to win the opener at home for our fans.”
Doing so was made harder by the season-ending injuries that befell Pro Bowl outside linebacker Brian Orakpo and defensive end Adam Carriker last Sunday in St. Louis. Neither of Orakpo’s possible replacements, Rob Jackson or Chris Wilson, nor Carriker’s stand-in, Jarvis Jenkins, has started an NFL game. While cornerback Josh Wilson should return from last week’s concussion, it’s unclear if Pierre Garcon and Brandon Meriweather will be back from the injuries that have sidelined the top receiver since the first half against the Saints and the strong safety since the first half of the Aug. 18 preseason game.
Despite last week’s upset loss to the Rams, the presence of dynamic rookie quarterback Robert “The Face of the Franchise” Griffin III should guarantee a warm reception from the burgundy and gold-clad crowd on Sunday. And who knows? RGIII might just cure the home field blues that have plagued the Redskins. Griffin was 16-7 in home games at Baylor, including 7-0 last year when he won the Heisman Trophy.
Redskins fans went nuts for the 22-year-old pass/run threat when he was introduced in Landover two days after being drafted second overall in April and he received easily the loudest cheers before the Aug. 25 preseason home opener. With Griffin having set records in leading Washington to a stunning season-opening victory at New Orleans and having already thrown two bombs for touchdowns (and a third shorter scoring strike) while running twice into the end zone himself, the ovation he receives on Sunday could set a stadium decibel record.
“It’s going to be fun,” Griffin said. “The preseason opener, there were a lot of people there, a lot of excitement, but nothing like the regular season where things matter. The fans are definitely going to show up and we’re going to show up for them.”
So far during the Shanahan era, the Redskins have failed to show up at home, most egregiously in the much-hyped showdown with NFC East rival Philadelphia on Monday Night Football in Week 10 of 2010. Washington was 4-4. Philadelphia was 5-3. Michael Vick connected with DeSean Jackson on an 88-yard touchdown on the first snap as the Eagles built a 28-0 first quarter lead and cruised to a 59-28 rout.
Beginning with that debacle, Washington is 2-10 at home, its worst such stretch since the crash from Gibbs’ glory days in 1993 and the beginning of the rebuilding process in 1994 under rookie coach Norv Turner. The latter season was also the only one in the past 50 that rookie quarterback(s) started more than five games for the Redskins.
Maybe if this year’s rookie quarterback starts a lot more than five games, the Redskins will finally be back on the road to truly protecting their house again. That mission starts Sunday against the Bengals.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin