The defining moment of the Redskins' decline was a safety at the end of Sunday's loss

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By John Feinstein
Tuesday, October 20, 2009

There are certain defining moments for sports franchises: John Riggins's fourth-down touchdown run in Super Bowl XVII for Joe Gibbs's first tenure with the Redskins, Joe Montana's touchdown pass to Dwight Clark in the 1981 NFC championship game for the San Francisco 49ers' Super Bowl era. There are moments like that for individuals too: Tiger Woods's 12-shot victory at the 1997 Masters; John McEnroe's first victory over Bjorn Borg at Wimbledon in 1981; Bob Beamon's long jump in Mexico City in 1968.

Then there are those moments that define futility: Bill Buckner's error in the 1986 World Series symbolizing the Boston Red Sox' World Series drought that didn't end until 2004; Scott Hoch and Doug Sanders missing three-foot putts that would have given them major championships they never won; the Portland Trail Blazers choosing Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA draft.

For the Washington Redskins under owner Dan Snyder, that defining moment came late Sunday afternoon before no more than 10,000 fans left from an announced crowd of 79,572.

The Redskins trailed the 0-5 Kansas City Chiefs 12-6 and their offense, having failed to score a touchdown all day, trotted onto the field to try to drive 93 yards in 31 seconds. Quarterback Todd Collins, thrust into the breach by a clearly desperate Coach Jim Zorn, dropped into the end zone to pass and had absolutely no chance to even look for a receiver. The Redskins' tattered offensive line couldn't hold back the Chiefs. Collins tried for a moment to scramble and then went down in a heap in the end zone.

Safety.

This is what has become of the Redskins after 10 years of Snyder's ownership: a quarterback tackled in his own end zone in front of thousands of empty seats while the few fans still around booed angrily as the hapless offense trotted off the field.

Does anyone seriously think a new play-caller is the answer to what's wrong here? Snyder and vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato have accomplished the impossible: They have turned a significant portion of this town against the Redskins. People are so angry and so frustrated and so sick of management's excuses that they almost want to see their beloved team lose.

They have finally graduated from the notion that this is either the fault of the quarterback or the head coach. Oh sure, Jason Campbell is going to be long gone at season's end, and Zorn might not last that long. But everyone who is paying any attention now understands where the fault ultimately lies.

To quote "Deep Throat," explaining to Bob Woodward during "All the President's Men" that Watergate was no third-rate burglary: "It leads everywhere, right to the top."

The situation has become sad because, for better or worse, this has always been a Redskins town, willing to forgive mistake after mistake, selling out an inconvenient stadium and paying for the privilege just for the chance to -- someday, maybe -- see the team get turned around and recapture the glory days of . . . Norv Turner. That would be more than enough right now for most people.

The worst part of the whole mess is the lack of accountability for those truly responsible. There are lots of bad teams in the NFL -- the Redskins have played almost all of them this season -- but the only one other than the Redskins in which the owner refuses to admit any complicity is the Oakland Raiders. At least there, Al Davis once knew enough about football to build a great franchise.

If nothing else, Snyder owes it to his remarkably loyal fan base to explain his role in how a once-proud franchise turned into a punch line.

There's no short-term solution here. If Snyder won't sell the team, he should call Bill Belichick at season's end and offer him 25 percent ownership in the franchise and a promise: The day you take over, I'll clear out of Redskins Park. If you need me, call me. Otherwise, you are in charge.

Until something along those lines happens, the lasting image of Snyder's years of Redskins ownership will remain what we saw Sunday: Todd Collins lying in the end zone while thousands and thousands of empty seats looked on.

For more from the author, visit his Web site, http://www.feinsteinonthebrink.com


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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