WASHINGTON — The Redskins were in a familiar position — that is, facing a “must-win” situation less than a month into the season — Sunday afternoon, and, like they did a year ago, they pulled out the victory.
Last time we did this dance, the Redskins edged the division-rival New York Giants to avoid going 0-3; the NFC East aspect gives the matchup that extra spice, doesn’t it?
This time around the floor, we got to see the Redskins take on Sean McVay, the prodigy coach who left Washington after three seasons as offensive coordinator to become the top man with the Los Angeles Rams. The extra seasoning in this coming from the tasty storyline that writes itself: Former protege sends Redskins spiraling while leading his own team to a 2-0 start. The student becomes the teacher, that old bit.
Yet sure enough, Washington was able to salvage its season (on September seventeenth, mind you). All is good in Washington, right? Pats are distributed to backs, hoorays are uttered and the airwaves are accosted with repeated choruses of “Hail to the Redskins” on a joyous Victory Monday, surely!
Yea, all is not well in Landover, as the Redskins have put Su’a Cravens on the Reserve/Left Squad list. This coming in spite of a report by Ian Rapoport just a day prior that Cravens was set to return to the team this week.
I’d like to break form and share an anecdote.
On Monday evening, shortly after the Cravens news broke, I was walking home and gave my dad a call. We hadn’t spoken in a week or so, and we were catching up on various news, and then we got to the Redskins. We briefly discussed the game and ventured guesses as to why Jay Gruden hates running the football so much, but he quickly diverged down a different path.
He had been watching the news earlier in the evening, and that particular broadcast had spent virtually the entire sports segment, likely two minutes or so, discussing Cravens and his absence.
“The Redskins just got their first win of the season, the Nationals are getting ready for the playoffs, the Capitals are starting their season, and the only story anybody wants to talk about is Su’a Cravens. Is there really nothing else to talk about?”
I noted that the Redskins game had been covered extensively for nearly 24 hours prior to the Cravens news, and the Cravens news was, in fact, quite recent and potentially devastating to the team’s defense. I also mentioned the Nationals had been essentially a non-story for several months, exception given to various injuries, and the Capitals never generating much of a buzz around town until the playoffs.
The conversation carried to other matters and the topic was quickly forgotten, but several minutes after hanging up the phone my mind returned to it.
This city, whether through some mystical curse, unenviable fortune, or a general pattern of mismanagement by the numerous powers that be, really can’t have nice things, can it? Even when things go well, they go poorly.
The Redskins win a “must-win game” (have I mentioned that it was the second game of the season?), and the story within 24 hours is about one of their best young players maybe never playing again. (And not long afterward, we were treated to Robert Griffin III vs. Mike Shanahan drama!)
The Nationals dominate the division all season, but the story remains their inability to get past the first round — and also, why didn’t they adjust their rotation to give themselves the best chance against the Los Angeles Dodgers?
The Capitals, on the heels of yet another incredible season, drum up virtually no interest outside of the diehards, at least in part because they simply cannot get past a) The Pittsburgh Penguins and b) The Second Round.
The Wizards have their three best players — one of whom is one a top-10 player — locked up for the foreseeable future and just had their best season in nearly 40 years, yet they’ll maintain the same air of irrelevance until they at least make the conference finals.
The Redskins’ situation is a short-term concern while all the others are long-term concerns, so for the sake of symmetry, here’s a comparable tune: The most prolific passer in (their lengthy and storied) franchise history is, in many eyes, virtually guaranteed to be in a different jersey next year because Washington doesn’t want to pay him top dollar, yet Washington is in the midst of paying him $44 million over two years.
This probably comes across as yet another one of those dreadful D.C. Sports Curse pieces, and, honestly, that’s not how this was supposed to go. It was supposed to be a rumination on the bizarre mindset of Washington as a sports town, how life is essentially several hours of joy in the wake of victory followed by days or weeks of wallowing in real or perceived defeat.
And make no mistake: Things will change.
That’s not some bold prediction that the Wizards or Capitals or Nationals or (*chuckles heartily*) Redskins will break the seal and win a title in the next calendar year. I’m not a very bright person, but even I’m not ignorant enough to make that prediction (again).
Rather, eventually everything changes. Even the Chicago Cubs broke their century-plus streak; this city has four teams giving it a go each year, and two of them are perennial contenders while a third is just barely outside that conversation these days.
But let’s not convince ourselves that everything will change all at once. Suppose the Nationals take their first series this year and make it to the NLCS. What changes if they lose then? The window is, by all accounts, likely closing for them, and if they don’t win a World Series in the next 14 months, they could lose Bryce Harper, among others, and be facing a rebuild.
The same goes for the Capitals and Wizards, and to a lesser extent, the Redskins. Unless a championship parade makes its way through the District, that fog still hangs over the Capitol. “They can’t get past the second round” gets the polite upgrade to “They can’t win it all,” which is really just a kinder way of saying “They wasted a great team.”
And in the greater picture, imagine one of those teams does break through and wins a title. Will it be glorious and cathartic and incredible? Absolutely.
But how long until the first rumbles of “We got one, now we’re stuck in a rut again” begin? Or if the Capitals win, when do we hear the “Yeah, but I don’t even care about the Capitals, the Redskins still haven’t won since the ’90s” grumbling?
If the Redskins, Nationals and Capitals all win titles in the next calendar year, but the Wizards waste the primes of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter and never make it past the second round, you better believe you’ll hear the Wizards fans bemoaning the team’s curse in 2027.
Perhaps this is all a considerable overreaction to a mostly unproven second-year player being ruled out for the season. It just more and more seems like this city, as a collective fanbase, is developing into an amorphous cloud of despair and apathy.
Yet, it’s hard to blame it. I certainly don’t.