Redskins Fans Keep Giving

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By Thomas Boswell
Monday, December 25, 2006

ST. LOUIS

Here in the shadow of the Arch, the Rams' home game Sunday was blacked out on local TV because it wasn't a sellout. At kickoff, barely half of the stands at Edward Jones Dome were filled. Nobody protested. Few cared, even though the Rams were still in the playoff picture. Thus, the Redskins got a perfect view on Christmas Eve of the best gift their franchise receives every year -- the undiluted, and perhaps to some degree undiscriminating, support of their enormous fan base.

The reason Washington remains an NFL economic powerhouse and a perennial threat to (someday) field a team worthy of its elephantine payroll is the rare combination of patience and enthusiasm shown by its supporters. Time magazine recently named "You" its person of the year, with a mirror on its cover. Now there's an idea for the '07 Redskins program -- especially after yet another brutal defeat, this time 37-31 in overtime.

In a season full of agonizing and often unnecessary defeats, including five losses by three points or less or in overtime, this game was as galling as any. The Redskins' secondary, hampered by injuries, now officially qualifies as pathetic after 388 passing yards by Mark Bulger on a day when the Rams had an avalanche of 579 total yards on offense. The reputation of Sean Taylor, in particular, as an efficient rather than merely violent tackler continues to erode. Two Rams scores, including the game-winning, 21-yard run by Steven Jackson, came after open-field whiffs by the dubious Pro Bowl alternate.

As unfairness would have it, the best surprise of the Redskins' season -- running back Ladell Betts -- was the game's goat on the same day he ran for 129 yards, tying a Redskins record by rushing for 100 yards for the fifth consecutive game and surpassing 1,000 yards (1,062) even though he has started only eight games while Clinton Portis has been injured. With 2 minutes 2 seconds to play in regulation, Betts broke a 25-yard run only to fumble when stripped by Oshiomogho Atogwe at the Rams 25-yard line.

But then, that's been the story of the Redskins' season: Just when they're on the verge of setting up a game-winning field goal, some kind of Oshiomogho happens.

The irony of this day was that Washington still cares far more about a team with no playoff chance and no Super Bowl win in 15 years than St. Louis does about a team that won the Super Bowl not quite seven years ago and started this game with its playoff hopes still alive. "We've had a tough year all the way across the board," said Coach Joe Gibbs, who seemed deflated, perhaps even dispirited for the first time in this 5-10 season. "I hate it for all of us, particularly our fans. They've done everything they can for us."

What a Christmas bummer for those on the Gibbs watch. A loss Saturday to the Giants would mean that, after three years of "rebuilding," he'd match Steve Spurrier's record in his final season.

"It's sad. We've got such faithful fans. They'll get on you a little after you lose, like they should. But they're right back with you the next week," fullback Mike Sellers said. "Here [in St. Louis] they got spoiled by 'The Greatest Show on Turf.' "

Hard as it seems to believe, St. Louis doesn't even yawn at the permutations that might still get the Rams into the playoffs. In front of The Ed, one lone fan handed out leaflets: "Rams Fans Stick By Their Team To The End." Out of pity, I took one, since nobody else would. In D.C., if the situation had been reversed, the Post might've had a special section: "Skins Still Alive: Exclusive Coverage Of 10-Game Parlay That Gets 'Em In."

At least Washington got to watch this game on TV, for what that's worth. None of the "g's" in defensive coordinator Gregg Williams's name will be mistaken for "genius" after this hideous track meet. He's chosen a high-risk, high-pressure scheme with personnel -- picked by him -- that produces little pressure and needs three takeaways next week to avoid having the lowest total (currently 12) in NFL history. He built the defense. Now it's broken.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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