On the evening of Nov. 4, as the last embers of a lost season were dying out, I typed these words into my Post-issued laptop: “For the Redskins, it’s time to pack in your playoff dreams. Goodbye hope, hello monotonous practice hell.”
Never mind that that line is completely taken out of context. The important thing is that I did what my sportswriting forbearers have done for a century: I Gave Them No Respect.
Everyone knows it’s better to write that players smell of fermented beans and eat puppies for breakfast than it is to Give Them No Respect. So by writing that the season was over and that Shanahan had quit on his team, I provided the coach and his players the fuel to rise from the 3-6 ashes and become a Super Bowl contender.
So after jump-starting the train Arlo Guthrie called the City of New Orleans, am I going to get a single playoff royalty or even so much as a simple thank-you for all my tough love? Nope.
You think Red Smith ever got any of the credit for coining, “’Dem Bums,” which so angered the perennial runner-up Brooklyn Dodgers they finally became World Series champs? You think Secretariat ever thought to give William Nack a dime of his Triple Crown earnings after the equine scribe wrote that the greatest racehorse ever was “dog food” prior to the 1973 Belmont Stakes? You think Robert Redford comes back from being shot by Barbara Hershey in “The Natural” if it wasn’t for Robert Duvall mocking him?
(Hershey, by the way, goes down as the least supportive girlfriend in sports movie history: pumps a round into Roy Hobbs, tries to keep Norman Dale’s best player from getting back on the court. . . . Watch carefully next time you watch “Miracle”: She’s probably ladling out borscht for Tretiak in between periods.)
Bottom line: From Montana to Magic to RGIII, they can never be their best without overcoming the skeptics. They want doubters. They like haters. They need us — or at least our clips — on that wall.
Why? Because the moment we put a fork in ’em is the moment they spring from that dinner plate and live — live, I say! Until we Show Them No Respect, they can’t earn their respect.
I didn’t do it alone. Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com and ESPN Magazine deserve praise, too. In August, they picked the Redskins to go 3-13 and 2-14, respectively. If both had written “10-6, NFC East champs,” you think those players are preparing for the first home playoff game at FedEx Field in 13 years? Nuh-uh. They’re on their couches, sucking on chili fries.
That’s why I cringed when Joe Theismann, asked whether he could envision 10-6, replied, “You know, I think it’s very conceivable that number can be reached.” Thanks to Joe, the Redskins started 3-6. They just couldn’t overcome all the respect Theismann had shown them.
Coaches know how this game is played. From the now-it-can-be-told file: NBC-4’s Dan Hellie spoke with Shanahan after his infamous comments following the Carolina game.
“I told him, ‘You’re going to be crushed for this tomorrow,’ ” Hellie said. Shanahan’s clearly frustrated response, which he corroborated: “If we play like this, it doesn’t matter if we make the playoffs. Our goal is to win the Super Bowl. I had to light a fire under them.”
If Shanahan had kept his “evaluation mode”remarks inside the locker room, who knows how they would have been taken? But by voicing his frustration to the media, we focused the blame on him for quitting on the season, thus taking immediate pressure off the players. And then — best of all — Shanahan was able to galvanize his players, telling them privately he would never give up on them and only those media jackals would suggest such a thing.
Shanny pulled the oldest trick in the book: Rally everyone against a common enemy — the messenger. There’s no “I” in team, but there is definitely a “me” in media.
The point is that behind every franchise quarterback and Pro Bowl running back, behind every future Hall-of-Fame coach, there is a cynical sportswriter who didn’t believe, who said it was over before it was over. But for all our tireless work, you think Jason Reid or I will get a spot on one of the parade floats?
Just to show how committed I am to the Burgundy and Gold, here’s a prediction for Sunday’s game: Seattle 35, Washington 20.
See you in New Orleans, guys. Wave to me from the trophy ceremony.
For previous columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.