The other Mike Shanahan finds himself pulling for the Redskins’ coach


GW professor Mike Shanahan — no relation to Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan — has fielded calls at home from Redskins’ fans offering coaching advice. (Associated Press)

For several weeks, I’ve been working on very serious and important stories about a Washington Post poll concerning D.C. sports fans and their rooting interests. Along the way, I accumulated a few paragraphs that didn’t fit into very serious and important stories.

For example, the poll — which was conducted over the summer — found a surprisingly high number of D.C. sports fans with unfavorable views of Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan.

“And I’m worried about that,” said Mike Shanahan, George Washington University journalism professor. “You know, I was benefiting there for a while. My whole persona was on a roll. But now that the team’s shambolic, falling apart, what’s going to happen to my reputation?”

Shanahan was, of course, joking. But there are real-life implications when a man who shares your name becomes the area’s most prominent coach. On the plus side, the professor once made reservations at a high-end Washington restaurant and, upon arriving, was immediately escorted to one of the place’s best tables. On the negative side, there was the Haynesworth saga.

“People would call me at home and just start giving me advice late at night,” Shanahan told me. “Why would the coach of the Washington Redskins be in the phone book? But nonetheless, they’d call. Sometimes they were drunks in bars. Sometimes they were just fans.”

If the professor wasn’t busy, he would play along and listen to the callers’ advice, but most of that has died out this season. His students, who mostly aren’t local, don’t seem impressed by his name. And he hasn’t yet hired his daughters as professorial assistants, so there are no nepotism charges.

Shanahan — a longtime Washington correspondent for the Associated Press, Newhouse and McClatchy — is also a lifelong Redskins fan. He worries, as do we all, that this season is nearing the point where we start thinking about 2012, that the other Shanahan’s decision to stake his reputation on Rex Grossman and John Beck might not work out. But he continues to cheer Mike Shanahan on.

“I hope he succeeds,” the professor told me. “If he succeeds, I succeed.”

Then there was the issue of the Cowboys, and the inordinate number of Washingtonians who cheer for the Redskins’ arch rival. Some point to decades-long sociological explanations for this phenomenon. Others find less weighty reasons, especially for younger Dallas fans in this area.

“There’s a segment of people that wants to get attention, and there’s no better way to bring attention to yourself,” Rick “Doc” Walker told me. “You can go from a nobody to a somebody just by putting a star on your hat and walking around here. For those that lack self-confidence and want some attention, it’s the easiest way to do it.”

Then we started talking about bandwagon fans.

“Typical Cowboys fan: real loud when they’re good, quiet as a church mouse when it’s bad,” Walker said. “Run like roaches when Raid hits ’em, but boy, if it’s going well, they’ve got their Cowboy underwear on, you can’t get rid of them.”

And speaking of the bandwagon, a great many people told me that Washington is a prototypical front-running sports town. Others disagreed.

“That’s very common in every city,” former Nats president Stan Kasten told me. “I’m sorry. That’s just the way that is. . . . The Red Sox had trouble selling out until this last decade. You’ll see a bandwagon everywhere. It’s just part of our business.”

Which means, with the Nats making rapid improvements, a roster filled with young stars and a realistic hope of finally finishing above .500 next year. . .

“We’re very possibly at the beginning of a bandwagon,” Kasten said.

Somebody better call Kornheiser.

Dan Steinberg writes about all things D.C. sports at the D.C. Sports Bog.

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