In the past few years, we’ve heard from a neverending parade of NFL players who have spent time in both Pittsburgh and Washington, talking about how the latter can’t compare to the former.
Well, this week, I spent some time chatting with Shar Pourdanesh, the former Redskins offensive lineman who came out of nowhere to be a starter and then was traded to Pittsburgh after his time in D.C. ended. And he had a different take.
“I played for two other teams in the NFL; that feeling was not the same anywhere else,” Pourdanesh told me. “To be a Washington Redskin and to be in that city was an awesome, awesome feeling. The fans loved you, and we loved the fans and we were one.”
Yeah, but Pittsburgh…I mean, they LOVE LUV LOVE their Steelers, right?
“Absolutely,” Pourdanesh said. “I mean, it’s not like I went and played for the Cincinnati Bengals. I played for three very proud organizations. Absolutely the fans in Pittsburgh are amazing, but the connection between the Redskins and their fans was amazing….Listen, Steelers fans are awesome, but the connection that we had with our fans in Washington was special.”
Which is probably why many of you no doubt remember Pourdanesh, the NFL’s first Iranian-born player, who started 36 games at left and right tackle in the late ‘90s, replacing Jim Lachey at left tackle before getting supplanted by Jon Jansen at right.
Pourdanesh had a great story – his family fled Iran after the overthrow of the Shah. He had a great name – which actually inspired the name of a fantasy football team in my league last season. And media members lined up next to his locker back in the day because he was a great quote. Still is, by the way.
During his last season in D.C., Pourdanesh said he had a double hernia, two half-dollar size tears in his stomach wall that prevented him from opening his stance to the right side and prevented the team from running certain plays. He said he got shots in “a very uncomfortable area” before every game to numb the pain, but that he couldn’t lift his then-one-year-old son off the ground, and suffered through “the most miserable time I ever had playing football.”
Injuries forced him out of football not long after he left D.C., and Pourdanesh quickly got involved in several business start-ups, including a chain of restaurants, a real-estate development company and a cell phone firm. He’s coming back to D.C. this weekend as part of something called the Zero to Wealth seminar in Arlington; the opening reception will include former teammates Ed Simmons, Ken Harvey, Raleigh McKenzie and Brian Mitchell, and Pourdanesh will speak on how to start a small business in a bad economy.
Pourdanesh lived in Washington year-round when he played here, and said he still gets goose bumps thinking about starting at tackle during the team’s last game at RFK Stadium — “absolutely magical,” he said — and during its first game at Jack Kent Cooke. He said he once put his name on a waiting list at a Tysons restaurant his rookie season and had 75 people waiting to greet him when he returned — “just amazing,” he said — and he said he wants to see Washington feel that way about its football team again.
“I do know that there is an issue, there’s a major issue, there’s a major disconnect between a team the city loves and the fans,” he told me. “I don’t know what it would take to fix it, but it needs to be done. The Redskins Nation is, or was, amazing. It’s a feeling that you can’t fake. It’s a feeling that’s there.”