WASHINGTON (CBSDC) – It won’t have any of the drama of last year’s showdown for the NFC East title when the Redskins whipped the archrival Cowboys behind 200 yards and three touchdowns from standout rookie running back Alfred Morris to win their first division crown since 1999.
However, Sunday’s game in Landover could be special and not just because Washington could eliminate Dallas from playoff contention.
Seven of the nine Redskins who played for the team before coach Mike Shanahan’s January 2010 arrival are free agents and could be suiting up in their final home game. That list includes captain London Fletcher, senior Redskin Santana Moss, outside linebacker Brian Orakpo and cornerback DeAngelo Hall. Between them, they have been selected for eight Pro Bowls during their Washington tenures.
Starting safety Reed Doughty, former starting tight end Fred Davis and outside linebacker Rob Jackson, whose late interception sealed the victory over the Cowboys last December are also on the list.
If all seven of those players exit via free agency or retire this winter, defensive end Kedric Golston and center Will Montgomery will be the only remaining Redskins who played for the team prior to 2010.
Of course, the bigger looming departure is that of Shanahan and his assistants who have run an operation that has sunk from 10-6 last year to 3-11 now and hasn’t won a game since Nov. 3.
Within that crash from the top of the NFC East to its bottom, for what will be five years out of six compared to just seven times during the franchise’s previous 76 years, is another miserable season at home.
The Redskins are just 2-5 in the House That Jack Built and Danny Renamed, Expanded and Then Shrunk. Their only home victories have come in the closing minutes against Chicago and in overtime against San Diego thanks to a goal line stand that prevented the blown second half lead becoming the story of the day.
The losing season in Landover will be the fourth in five years and means the Redskins will finish under .500 during the stadium’s first 17 seasons at 67-69-1, including 1-1 in postseason. Compare that mediocre mark to Washington’s sterling 93-48 record – including 9-1 in postseason — during its last 17 seasons at RFK Stadium where the Redskins beat the Cowboys in its final NFL game 17 years ago today.
“Any player who came to RFK knew he wasn’t just playing the Redskins,” said Joe Theismann, Washington’s starting quarterback from 1978-85. “He had to deal with a whole bunch of other people, 55,000 plus. When I stepped on the field at RFK, it was just like sitting down in a big easy chair in my living room because I had my family around me.”
Take away Jack Pardee’s last year, Joe Gibbs’ first and the final four seasons there under Richie Petitbon and Norv Turner and you have an incredible 72-21 record from 1982-92. Neither Gibbs (12 years) nor fellow Hall of Fame coach George Allen (seven) ever had a losing season at RFK, but Gibbs had two in just four years at FedEx Field.
“RFK was a unique experience with the fans being so close,” said Gibbs, along with Turner, the only men to coach the Redskins in both stadiums. “They had a great impact. We had older locker rooms and the field wasn’t the best. Other teams didn’t like playing there, but our guys loved it.”
Even with their awful first three teams at then-D.C. Stadium, the Redskins were 173-102-3 during their 36 seasons at East Capitol and 22nd Streets S.E. That includes a near-perfect 11-1 playoff record.
“We always felt like we were going to win at RFK,” said Hall of Fame receiver Charley Taylor, who played or coached there for all but four seasons from 1964-93. “That place was its own community. You could almost feel it as you got close to the stadium.”
That was certainly true when the Redskins crushed the Cowboys 26-3 in the 1972 NFC Championship Game to advance to their first Super Bowl as more than 56,000 packed into RFK roared with delight.
“The stands were rocking,” defensive tackle Bill Brundige said. “You could literally feel the sound cascading through your body.”
The noise was just as deafening a decade later as Gibbs’ young Redskins whipped the Cowboys 31-17 at RFK to win the NFC crown.
“The thing I remember most was the stands,” said linebacker Monte Coleman. “They were rocking and rolling. Before the game, people were screaming, ‘We Want Dallas! We Want Dallas!’ A cold chill just kind of crept over me. It was unreal.”
And yet in the early 1990s, as the NFL headed into the era of free agency and the salary cap with suite and club seat income becoming more important, RFK was outdated.
“I loved RFK, but we needed a more modern, bigger stadium with all the fans on our waiting list for tickets,” Gibbs said.
Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke tried to build a new palace for his team in the District, Alexandria and Laurel before settling on Landover. The stadium was built up and out, dispersing the noise that used to envelop RFK despite its much greater capacity. And as the Redskins have struggled and tickets are easily re-sold on the Internet, fans of such foes as Pittsburgh and Dallas have been as loud as Washington’s.
FedEx, which used to have 35,000 more seats than RFK and still has over 20,000 more despite the recent reductions, has never been as raucous even with the stadium announcer screaming for noise and Redskins employees holding large signs begging for cheers, two things that never happened in its bandbox-by-comparison predecessor.
And that’s not even discussing the often-painful experience of getting in and out of FedEx or the obscene prices that Redskins owner Dan Snyder charges to park, eat and drink.
If Washington loses Sunday to Dallas, it will have as many home defeats this year as Green Bay has suffered during the past four-plus seasons. Shanahan had one losing home record during his 14 years in Denver. He has had three during his four seasons here.
Makes you feel almost sorry for the man if this is his home swansong.
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 three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin.