“You talkin’ to me?” Meriweather, the knuckleheaded safety, said, spinning around in the most jovial 3-13 locker room in the history of 3-13 locker rooms.
“Better yet, what happened this season?”
“Ask Coach,” Meriweather said.
Coach left. He’s not coming back.
All together now, “Ding dong, My-Way Mike is gone.” Let the party begin.
As the rain pelted Mike Shanahan coming through the MetLife Stadium tunnel Sunday, the soaked coach made his final, humiliating walk up the tunnel after four years of leading this organization into further oblivion. The dank, gray, nothingness of this loss to the New York Giants in the season finale finally started to make sense a moment later.
Rick Walker strode up the ramp to the locker room, smiling deviously.
“Oh, this is when it gets good,” the former player turned broadcaster said, nodding. “This is when it gets real good.”
It’s the offseason, Washington — The Dan Man’s Time.
When the games end, that’s when this franchise’s greatest moments under Snyder happen. The splashy hires, the glitzy signings, the hope that the new era could one day be as good as the old era, before he got here.
So go gas up that private jet. Go get that next coach to turn it all around. Wine, dine and sign that next free agent, whose name will look so resplendent on the back of that burgundy-and-gold jersey retailing for $110 at the team store.
Hold that Santana Moss retirement news conference. Induct London Fletcher into the Ring of Fame. Fight that name-change movement. Prop up Sonny for another few years. Make Bruce slap more backs and press more palms.
Remember, Dan’s got salary-cap money this year. He’s back in the spend-money-to-spend-money business again.
Ironic, isn’t it, that Shanahan walks away with roughly the same money Albert Haynesworth did — $35 million and change; $70 million total for the pleasure of watching one man put another through a shuttle drill and win 24 of his 64 games.
Shanahan found out what Bill Parcells, Jimmy Johnson, Mike Holmgren, George Seifert, Mike Ditka and others learned: There is a reason why it’s unprecedented to win a Super Bowl coaching two organizations — you’re only as good as the culture and talent holding a franchise together.
And when the people in charge stop believing in your ability to lead, most notably your quarterback and your owner, it’s time to go.
I actually bought in early. Shanahan had me the summer of 2011, telling me he told Snyder, “If you believe in my background and you believe in what I’ve done, then you should hire me. But if you’re going to ask me to take shortcuts, I’m not going to take shortcuts. I’m going to do it the right way. And he said he would.”
But as much as the record and external voices did him in, Shanahan’s certainty of his own certitude did him in. He couldn’t reflect or regret or own up to his mistakes — or, hell, admit John Beck couldn’t play.
Donovan McNabb “didn’t want to learn,” Shanahan told me once. Albert Haynesworth, in his mind, “didn’t want to work.” “What was I supposed to do, just give him the money?” Shanahan said. “Is that what you’d do?”
Nothing he did merited criticism, it was decided. It was all done in the name of jettisoning Dan and Vinny Cerrato’s mistakes — getting, as Shanahan liked to say, “Good character guys.”
Like Tanard Jackson, the safety who already had two strikes against him for drug suspensions when Shanahan signed him, before Jackson was suspended indefinitely in August 2012 for failing yet another. All told, eight players were suspended for violating the league’s drug program in the Shanahan regime here — including Fred Davis and Trent Williams.
“Good character” guys?
Like Meriweather, suspended for trying to knock people out in Roger Goodell’s safety-first NFL, having a good old time laughing his behind off with his 3-13 teammates in time?
What a prideful group — an inglorious 0-8 finish the second half of the season, the franchise’s worst record in two decades and one of just three three-win seasons for Washington in half a century.
You go, fellas — laugh, laugh your way into another sky’s-the-limit offseason.
This still all feels a little surreal, as if last season almost never happened.
To think that one year after Shanahan seemed to turn it all around, when Robert Griffin III outdueled Tony Romo to win the franchise’s first NFC East title in 12 years, when this franchise’s hyperbole finally equaled its hope and promise, here were are again.
The owner will soon be on his seventh full-fledged coach in 15 seasons, the starting quarterback needs an image makeover and another respected NFL mind has his reputation rained on amid losses on the field and a loss of trust from above.
Oh, Mike Shanahan earned this firing. I believe he wanted it. If his late-game media “strategy” wasn’t to blame, his continued defiance in the wake of the losing and the haphazard building of a very lackluster roster almost guaranteed his termination.
But in his most private moments, a part of him must be thinking what Brandon Meriweather was thinking out loud Sunday afternoon: Thank goodness he doesn’t have to be part of this submerged vessel anymore. Thank heaven it’s mercifully over.
For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.