By Leonard Shapiro
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, November 6, 2007 2:54 PM
Channel 9 is making a very big deal about its all-time Washington Redskins Legends contest that began earlier this season with a list of 22 players and will culminate with a 30-minute special on Dec. 18 when the so-called No. 1 legend of all time -- at least according to fans voting via the internet -- will be announced.
The competition is being held during this, the 75th anniversary of the team's existence, but the club in no way is involved in selecting the candidates. So far, more than 45,000 votes have been cast, with the original top 22 first pared to a top ten list of players. Since then, voters have eliminated one man a week, and the field is down to a top seven going into Tuesday night (Nov. 6).
Charles Mann was the first to be voted off Survivor: Redskins Island and occupies the No. 10 spot, followed by Dave Butz at No. 9 and Charley Taylor at No. 8. The remaining seven, in alphabetical order, now includes cornerback Darrell Green, quarterback Sonny Jurgensen, receiver Art Monk, kicker Mark Moseley, running back John Riggins, quarterback Joe Theismann and quarterback Doug Williams.
Clearly, judging from the results so far, any resemblance to a truly representative top ten is purely coincidental, particularly when you consider that three Redskins Hall of Famers -- quarterback Sammy Baugh, receiver Bobby Mitchell and safety Ken Houston, did not even make it into the final ten.
Immediately you have to say the process has to be flawed.
Baugh, a charter member of the Hall of Fame, is generally acknowledged as the greatest athlete in Redskins history, considering he played quarterback, defensive back and, until 2002, still held the NFL record for best gross punting average. For 15 years, he was The Franchise, the swashbuckling Texas native primarily responsible for quickly establishing the Redskins' immense popularity when he joined the team as a rookie from Texas Christian University in 1937.
Mitchell's credentials are equally impeccable, particularly when you also consider the societal implications of his arrival in Washington via a blockbuster trade with the Cleveland Browns (they got rookie running back Ernie Davis) as the first African-American player in franchise history in 1962.
And Houston, a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1986, as well as an all-world human being, is considered by many long-time NFL observers as arguably the greatest strong safety in the history of professional football. I can still feel the press box at RFK Stadium shaking and actually swaying from the noise when he tackled the Cowboys' Walt Garrison at the goal-line, one of the most memorable plays in Redskins history, to save a stunning victory.
Other worthy candidates are missing from the top ten as well. Linebacker Chris Hanburger merely was selected to the Pro Bowl nine times over his career, more than any other player in team history. Running back Larry Brown was the league MVP in 1972. Offensive linemen Russ Grimm and Joe Jacoby are both likely future Hall of Famers and were key men on three Super Bowl title teams. And versatile running back and return man Brian Mitchell retired as the league's all-time leader in all-purpose yardage.
Even the top 22, selected according to Channel 9 sports director Brett Haber in consultation with a wide variety of sources, did not include three members of the Hall of Fame who played the majority of their careers in Washington -- running back Cliff Battles, tackle Turk Edwards, and tight end Wayne Millner, all from the pre-1950 era.
Clearly there's a trend here in the Channel 9 balloting. Eight of the top ten played predominately in the Joe Gibbs glory days within the last 25 years. Jurgensen and Taylor both played in the dog-days 1960s and the Redskins' revival in the early '70s under George Allen.
Taylor was the league's all-time leading pass catcher when he retired and was a receivers coach under Gibbs in the '80s, as well. And Jurgensen, a man I'll predict will finish No. 1 or No. 2 among the current final seven, remains a hugely popular figure as the radio voice of the Redskins for most of the last three decades and a fixture on Redskins-oriented television programming on Channel 4 since he stopped playing in 1974.
Every time Haber goes on the radio to promote the Channel 9 list, he generally gets hammered by the hosts for all of the above injustices, which he readily acknowledges but can hardly help. His explanation also makes perfect sense as to why so many worthy players were not included in the final ten.
He points out that many older fans who might have voted overwhelmingly for the likes of Baugh, Bobby Mitchell and others probably didn't respond because they may not be quite as computer savvy as many of the younger voters logging on to Channel 9's website.
Another possible explanation? Many fans may not even know the contest is going on. Audiences for local news are probably at their lowest levels ever these days, and many sports fans are getting their nightly local fix on Comcast SportsNet, which airs a far meatier local sports news and highlight report starting at 10 p.m., almost 90 minutes before Haber goes on the air for only a few minutes on Channel 9.
Haber also has been right up front from the start in saying the fans' legends list would not necessarily be his own personal selections.
"In my mind, there's no doubt that Sammy Baugh is one of the top ten legends in Redskins history, that Bobby Mitchell is in the top ten, that Jacoby and Grimm are in the top ten and on and on," he said. "But it's not my vote.
"We did have a serious discussion on how you factor in accounting for fans not agreeing with the conventional wisdom. We made a decision that this is not Afghanistan. We were not going to rig the election, and we respect the choices of the people who did vote. You can disagree. We're not saying this is the gospel truth. We wanted to make it as egalitarian as possible. It's clearly become a water cooler thing. We've sparked discussion, and that's always good."
Perhaps Channel 9 might have considered a few other voting options -- having fans call in their choices by telephone, handing out ballots in FedEx Field parking lots on game days, maybe even taking out print ads in all the local newspapers that included paper mail-in ballots. But they went the way of the internet, and the results are clearly skewing young and what-have-you-done-for-me-lately fans submitting their votes.
So take it for what it's worth in the 75th anniversary season of Washington's favorite football team. Obviously it's a flawed sample, but it's not exactly as if the fate of the western world rests on the final outcome.
B y the way, my own personal top 10 legends would start with Baugh No. 1, followed by Jurgensen, Riggins, Green, Art Monk, Bobby Mitchell, Taylor, Hanburger, Brian Mitchell and a tie for No. 10: Grimm and Jacoby.
And, since this is a column about sports broadcasting, while we're at it let's also offer a personal top ten Washington Television Sportscasting Legends list as well, at least starting from 1969, when I first arrived in town and began watching up close and personal.
No. 1 would be Warner ("Let's Go To the Videotape") Wolf (Channel 9), a two-way tie for No. 2 between Glenn Brenner (Channel 9) and George Michael (Channel 4), No. 4 Dan Daniels (Channel 4), followed by Bernie Smilovitz (Channel 5), Steve Gilmartin (Channel 7), Steve Buckhantz (Channel 5), Frank Herzog (Channels 7 and 9), Mike Patrick (Channel 7) and another tie for 10th between Wally Bruckner (Channel 4) and Ken Mease (Channel 9).
So who's on your legends list, Redskins or broadcast division? Feel free to agree to disagree.E-Mail of the Week
Congratulations to Glen Consor. His assessment of games and the players therein have always been honest, professionally astute and refreshing. No pulled punches from this guy. Integrity of purpose is the heart and soul of his reckoning. The same cannot be said of Capitals TVG broadcasters Joe Beninati and sidekick analyst Craig Laughlin. Their purposeless banter and questionable humor is terribly disconcerting. They ramble on and on about anything and everything while the passion and intensity of the game being played in front of them is basically ignored. Of course their unwillingness to provide comprehensive, action-based, on-ice coverage might serve a logical personal purpose. Surely, it spares them from the necessity of pointing out individual breakdowns, flawed team strategy and listless or uncoordinated team play. Ironically, it also denies the watching audience the opportunity to savor the partisan fruits of a winning draw, a solid hit in the corner, a nifty pass to a streaking winger or a key steal at the blue line in time of potential distress.
Every fan has a right to expect quality in performance, whether it be on the ice, in the booth or in the front office. That's why we pay to watch the games. I suspect many hockey fans are unhappy with this group.