Washington Redskins get off to a fine start under Mike Shanahan

The scene in and around FedEx Field as Washington hosts archrival Dallas in Coach Mike Shanahan and quarterback Donovan McNabb's first game with the Redskins.
By Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 13, 2010; 1:36 AM

Now that's exactly how a new Redskins era should begin.

As midnight approaches, the despised Cowboys should think they've beaten Washington, 14-13, at FedEx Field with no time remaining on the clock on a desperate, scrambling 13-yard touchdown pass from Tony Romo to wide receiver Roy Williams.

Then, before the 'Boys even have a chance to jump for joy, the words of justice - or at least the NFL equivalent in a zebra suit - should destroy their moment of glory.

"Holding, No. 71" -- tackle Alex Barron.

Negate that touchdown. Game Over. Redskins win, 13-7.

No, you're not allowed to tackle Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo as he's about to hit Romo on the deciding play of the game, even if you play for America's Self-Appointed Team.

For the Redskins and their fans, this was not just an opening night but an evening that had the feeling of a new beginning. For much of the last 18 years, a span in which only four NFL teams have worse records than the Redskins, close games have cursed them, poor decisions have haunted their defeats and luck has been their enemy.

This very game, had they lost on that last play, would have been blamed on a decision by the Redskins to take three of their own points off the board in the third quarter. The Redskins accepted a penalty, declined a 36-yard field goal, took a first down at the Dallas 13-yard line, then botched the snap on a chip-shot 23-yard field goal. And got no points.

Is it possible that their luck has begun to change? If so, then that shift in Redskins affairs certainly picked a symbolic night to make its appearance.

Few events excite Washington more than the arrival of a new Redskins coach who is already a famous football name. Unless perhaps it's the anointing of a new quarterback who is already a star.

This town has buzzed for the debuts of coaches from Vince Lombardi to George Allen to the NFL unveiling of Steve Spurrier to the return of Joe Gibbs. And the city has been atwitter for every new passing messiah that came to town, whether he ended up taking the team to a Super Bowl or bombed out utterly.

But the Redskins have never had a celebrity coach and an exciting quarterback come to town together and have their debuts in the same game. Until Sunday night, that is, when Coach Mike Shanahan, with his Super Bowl rings, and Donovan McNabb, with five NFC championship games on his resume, arrived together.

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