A blocked number shows up on the office phone. It rings once, twice. Eh, what the heck.
“This is Jay Winter Nightwolf,” the man on the other end says. “You have been looking for me, and you don’t even know it.”
“I’m the one who put a curse on the team.”
Come on. Like, a real American Indian curse?
“It was actually a ceremonial prayer.”
So you prayed for bad things to happen to Dan Snyder’s team?
“No. I basically said, ‘Until they change their name, they will not have any good luck.’”
Whatever. What about getting Robert Griffin III last year? That was good luck.
“You sure about that?” Jay Winter Nightwolf says, laughing sinisterly.
“Why does something bad happen to that team every time people think they are finally going to be really good again?” he continues. “You think that is all the owner’s making, you think a person can make something this bad for this long?”
You really believe in this?
“Yes,” Nightwolf says emphatically. “I do.”
It is two days before Washington hosts Kansas City in Roger Goodell’s Native American Mascot Bowl, an old-home week of sorts for those “honoring” cultural stereotypes amid a moment — actually about a year — of consciousness in the name-change movement.
And, coincidentally or not, all that was good has become bad.
Mike Shanahan, coming off an NFC East title run a year ago while masterfully cutting and pasting his underfunded roster together, is now coaching for his job as much as his NFL legacy. Griffin, last season’s offensive rookie of the year, blew out his knee shortly after the calendar turned. Perception-wise, he has gone from Robert Gandhi III to Ryan Leaf II, with the truth somewhere in between.
Washington is a shockingly disappointing 3-9, about to finish up its 17th season in the past 21 years without going to the playoffs — 11 seasons in 15 years under Snyder, who recently has had to spend considerable money and time to counter the multi-pronged assault on his brand.
Between protests, court hearings, crisis managers and code talkers, you’ve seen and considered it all this past season. But, really, a curse? The notion that somehow a genuine mystical correlation exists between keeping the name of the team and god-awful football?
And then Nightwolf calls, saying it happened sometime in 2000, during his weekly show on WPFW (89.3 FM ) in Washington, “American Indians’ Truths . . . the Most Dangerous Show on Radio.”
A District-based historian, poet and writer, Nightwolf is Buffalo Ridge Cherokee, a registered member of the Echota Cherokee Nation. He recently stood with his back to FedEx Field before the loss to the 49ers, part of a multiethnic news conference geared to change the name.
“I decided to do it when a guy called in to give me grief, telling me to get off his team’s back,” Nightwolf recalls. “He started singing the fight song. I told him after we hung up I would put a curse on the team. This is what I said:
“Great Spirit, you have always been the beginning of Creation and you will be the Father at the end of Creation. Your children ask that you remove the racism that plagues all of mankind. And, in particular, would you please do something for this team not to win anything of real merit until they change their name, including an NFC championship and a Super Bowl.
“My partner looked at me like, ‘God, you actually did that.’ Go ask Billy Tayac. He was out there protesting for years, at RFK and when FedEx Field opened.”
Billy Redwing Tayac, 77, the hereditary chief of the Piscataway Indian Nation and an active member of the American Indian Movement, once worked with the African National Congress toward freeing Nelson Mandela.
“Do I believe in that curse and curses in general? Certainly I believe,” Tayac says. “I heard some other Indian people put a curse on them as well. But I don’t really care if you call it a curse. Bottom line: Snyder has bad karma. They can bring in any messiah they want. It won’t matter if you don’t have parity for mankind.”
Many name-change advocates, including American Indians, think talk of curses and karma is a bunch of hooey and wonder why no one put a hex on the team during its glory years in the 1980s and early ’90s. Others who love the team but loathe the name are upset by the mere possibility that someone would wish ill fortune on coaches and players who have no say when it is changed.
And then there is Suzan Shown Harjo, who since filing her original trademark suit against the team in 1992 has noticed that Washington has not returned to the Super Bowl and is tied with the Detroit Lions for the longest conference championship game drought in the NFC — 22 years and counting.
“As curses go, I’m not sure what to believe,” Harjo says. “But since my first filing, the Washington football team has changed coaches numerous times. They have brought in hundreds of different players. They have changed quarterbacks, stadiums and owners. They even changed the states and municipalities in which they play and practice. The only thing they haven’t changed is the name. You’d think at some point they’d just do it for luck.”