Tracee Hamilton - Sports Columnist

Redskins fans' faith being put to the test

Daniel Snyder, left, with agent Drew Rosenhaus, is a target of frustration in D.C.
Daniel Snyder, left, with agent Drew Rosenhaus, is a target of frustration in D.C. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
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By Tracee Hamilton
Wednesday, October 28, 2009

In my 16 years living in Washington, the two sentences I've heard most often are "Sorry I'm late; I was stuck in traffic" and "I've been a Redskins fan for [fill-in-the-blank] years." The latter has seldom been followed by "and they have been the best [fill-in-the-blank] years of my life."

I wasn't here for the good times. I missed Joe Gibbs 1.0, the Smurfs, the Hogs, the Bandwagon, the Super Bowls, the whole glorious ball of wax. I moved to D.C. just in time for Game 1 of the Richie Petitbon era. There have been Redskins playoff appearances during my time here -- five, to be precise, two wins, three losses, one home game. So I haven't seen the Redskins at their best, or their fans at their happiest.

But I've never seen anything like I'm seeing this season. As noted fantasy football enthusiast Leo Tolstoy observed, "Happy fans are all alike; every unhappy fan is unhappy in his own way." For Redskins fans, that way is simple: Hope is gone. Yes, we can't.

On the Metro, in the chat rooms, on talk radio, in tweets and text messages, on blogs, in the stands, on the streets -- I've never heard this kind of anger and pessimism regarding the Redskins. I've never heard so much despair.

Of course, it's much easier to disseminate anger and pessimism and despair than it was 16 years ago, or 60 years ago, when the postwar Redskins were nothing to write home about. When our normal pursuit of happiness is letting us down, venting is one of our certain unalienable rights -- except at FedEx Field, where self-expression has apparently been banned. If the reports of the censorship and jack-booted quelling of public opinion Monday night are true, the organization should be ashamed of itself. It won't be, but it should.

However, even factoring in all the "new media platforms," this angst seems much deeper this season, and more universal. During last Sunday's loss to the Chiefs, there was booing, shouting, cursing, the whole sports fans' repertoire. One guy walked out of the stadium with both middle fingers raised high over his head. He wasn't flipping off anyone -- he was flipping off everyone. He was flipping off life.

Monday night, the vibe was different. There were only two rounds of serious boos: when Brian Mitchell mentioned owner Daniel Snyder in his pregame Ring of Honor speech, and on the fumble on fourth and 4. Fans apparently couldn't bring themselves to boo Campbell when he was literally risking his neck on every play. Or maybe all the disgruntled fans had already been removed by security.

All fans suffer setbacks. All fans at times want to throw in the Terrible Towel and just stay home, turn off the TV, put the sweatshirt in the back of the closet, take the flags off the car, whatever. But most of the time, they don't. And they don't because they have hope. Hope that things will get better. Hope that this, too, shall pass.

Disaffected Redskins fans have lost even that shred of hope. They want a new general manager. They want to end the parade of ineffective coaches. They want free agents who live up to their contracts. They want draft picks who pan out. They just have no faith that any of these things will happen. And that's on Snyder. They no longer have faith that Snyder can fix this team.

This all started with such promise: local boy makes good, makes millions, buys team of childhood dreams, makes more millions. It was a movie script come to life, but without the happy ending.

When Snyder bought the team in May 1999, he said he'd always dreamt of owning the Redskins. Turns out he'd always dreamt of running the Redskins. Not the same thing. In the nine years since, he has struggled to find his way as an owner. He has succeeded in making money, probably beyond anyone's wildest expectations. But I honestly don't believe he bought the Redskins only to make a buck. He just happens to be good at finding "revenue streams." He should probably be Treasury Secretary. He probably shouldn't be making football decisions.

The opportunity is there for Snyder to fix this mess. But his fans don't believe he can, because they don't believe he will -- or even can -- admit he's wrong. That belief is only strengthened when security confiscates signs and tries to silence any criticism of the owner.

If Snyder would hire a strong general manager, give him a bag of money and the power to hire a coach, strengthen the scouting staff and put together a sensible draft board, that would be a start. Then give him time -- time to build through the draft, work the waiver wires and put the "depth" back in depth chart. Finally, Snyder would have to do the hardest thing of all: trust the people he hires, and walk away. That means maybe skipping a practice or two, giving your people a chance to breathe. That means skipping the postgame locker room visits with the happy face and the angry face. And that means not forming relationships with a select few players. (Even a mediocre middle manager will tell you that's a bad idea. You will always have favorites -- but keep it to yourself.)

Mine is hardly a lone voice crying in the wilderness. Legions of fans have said much the same things, via every electronic medium known to man. Columnists, commentators, NFL analysts . . . everyone agrees: Clean house. Everyone sees what's wrong with this franchise except, apparently, the one man with the power to fix it.

And this is why there is despair among Redskins fans this season. Because after nine years, they fear Dan Snyder cannot -- will not -- fix this. That he can't change and that he won't sell this team and that they will spend their lifetimes feeling the way they feel this season: hopeless. Hard to fault them for their paper bags and boycotts.

Snyder bought this team for the joy it would bring him. I am sure he had visions of Super Bowl trophies and grateful, cheering crowds. But there has been little joy the past nine years, especially this season. It can't be pleasant to sit in your owner's box and listen to your customers chant "Sell this team." That might even make an owner . . . despair.

But unlike Redskins fans, Snyder can end his despair. He can still write that happy ending to his movie script. It's all on him now. He can fix the dog's breakfast this franchise has become. He can get the Super Bowl trophies and the adulation. He can even get some respect from his fans, his peers, his players. He just had to admit the problem, and get busy solving it.

Will he? Redskins fans can only hope. If they have any hope left.

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