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Daniel Snyder-owned ESPN 980 isn't pulling any punches on the Redskins

By Leonard Shapiro
Tuesday, December 7, 2010; 10:32 AM

It's always wildly entertaining to tune to ESPN980 the morning after yet another dismal loss by the Washington Redskins. The angst and venom from talk-show hosts and their angry callers are way off the charts, and Monday morning's reaction to the Redskins' debacle against the New York Giants was no exception.

And yet it also must be said that a station owned by Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, the man many still consider the major villain of this piece, seems to pull very few punches in what it allows its broadcasters to say on the air about anyone even remotely associated with the team, particularly Snyder himself.

We've taken plenty of shots at Snyder in this space over the years, mostly for his continued reluctance to show up behind a microphone at his own station to answer tough questions from both the show hosts and agitated fans on the phones. But at least Snyder, so far in his radio stewardship, has not interfered much with the people he pays to yakkety-yak about the Redskins. Good for him.

Driving here and there Monday morning, I heard Andy Pollin talk about Snyder's major fault in so many years past: Thinking the Redskins were "close" to getting into the upper echelon of the league's best teams, and then spending outrageous sums on all the wrong stiffs trying to put them over the top. The problem now, Pollin said, is that the current Redskins are closer to the cellar-dwelling Carolina Panthers than they are the Giants.

The most passionate Monday-morning rant-master was former Redskins tight end Rick "Doc" Walker, who also co-hosts "The John Thompson Show" later in the afternoon. He was particularly outraged at the decision not to play the biggest stiff of all - defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth - against the Giants on Sunday, but was highly critical of the player, as well.

"Who do you hate more, the Giants or us?" Walker said of Coach Mike Shanahan's decision to bench Haynesworth, ostensibly because he had a lousy practice on Thursday and didn't practice at all Friday because he was sick. "You've got to get your playmakers on the field. . . . I believe in winning at all costs. Fine him on Monday. . . . I'm not going to sacrifice 53 men and the fan base. I don't give a damn [about Haynesworth]. I'm trying to beat you. . . . It burns my [rear end] that people can earn a profit and not perform. It's [Haynesworth's] fault as well."

While we're on the subject of ESPN980, it's also appropriate to give a shout-out to a couple of other station broadcasters for some very good work. A few weeks ago, in the aftermath of Donovan McNabb's benching late in a loss to the Detroit Lions, early-afternoon hosts Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro had McNabb on the air for his weekly segment. They asked all the right questions, with exactly the proper pitch and tone.

McNabb, as always, gave all the politically correct, maddeningly statesmanlike responses, but Sheehan and Loverro definitely distinguished themselves that day. Sheehan also has the responsibility for hosting the seemingly never-ending pregame show every Sunday and does a truly masterful job juggling a wide variety of moving parts.

Postgame host Al Galdi deserves credit, as well. Galdi, among other roles at the station, fills the air between the end of the game and Shanahan's postgame news conference, usually a span of 25 to 30 minutes. His summation and analysis of what just happened on the field is almost always direct and to the point, and occasionally he talks about facets of the game-within-the-game hardly ever mentioned by the television talking heads.

His give-and-take with callers is almost always respectful and occasionally illuminating. Galdi also hosts his own informative show on Saturday mornings, and the station could do listeners a large favor by giving him even more exposure during the week.

Here's another suggestion for the station's Redskins beat reporter, Chris Russell, who went on the air Monday morning and said a team source had told him there was a "75 percent chance" Haynesworth would be released by the end of the week. Oh please, that's such an easy way out. Whether he stays or goes, you're sort of right. In the future, if your source can't say it's one way or the other, why bother?

Later in the day, the station was saying that ESPN's Adam Schefter was reporting that Haynesworth would definitely finish out the season. Russell then dropped the 75 percent hedge and said the team was "seriously considering" Haynesworth's future. You think?

By the way, Schefter has some very good sources on the Redskins. His old newspaper, the Denver Post, allowed him to write Shanahan's biography a few years ago even while he was covering the Denver Broncos as the beat reporter. They are longtime friends and it shouldn't be all that difficult to figure out where his Haynesworth report came from, with no percentage necessary.

The Lombardi Legend: If you read the brilliant biography of Vince Lombardi, "When Pride Still Mattered" by The Post's David Maraniss, you're probably safe in thinking you know just about everything there is to know about the Hall of Fame head coach of the Green Bay Packers and, for one year, the Washington Redskins.

Still, it's worth at least another 90-minute investment in time to tune in to HBO's latest in a long series of stirring sports documentaries, "Lombardi," premiering Saturday at 8 p.m., with a number of other play dates on HBO and HBO2 over the following four weeks.

With NFL Films also listed as a co-producer, the riveting show takes the viewer through Lombardi's not-so-meteoric rise from undersized Brooklyn schoolboy athlete, who thought at one point he wanted to be a Catholic priest, to the now-deified head coach of one of the league's all-time great dynasty teams.

There are classic vintage photographs of Lombardi's childhood and all manner of black-and-white and color action footage from his coaching days at Fordham (where he also played), Army, the New York Giants, Green Bay Packers and Redskins as well as a number of insightful interviews with a wide variety of people in his life. That includes Sonny Jurgensen and Sam Huff, both of whom played for Lombardi in his one and only season as the Redskins' head coach in 1969.

Huff, a player and linebackers coach under Lombardi in his final season on the team's roster, choked up as he recalled the last time he saw Lombardi the day before he went into Georgetown Hospital for the final time after learning he had terminal cancer.

"Just the chance to play for him," Jurgensen said, "that was the highlight of my whole career."

Lombardi's brief battle with colon cancer also brought back some very personal memories. As a young reporter at The Post, I was one of several people assigned a death-watch vigil at the hospital. I arrived at about 8 p.m. that night after the first edition of the paper had been put to bed, and stayed until the final 1:30 a.m. deadline, with strict instructions to dash to the nearest pay phone to call a rewrite man at the office with any developments.

It never happened that way. Lombardi died at 7:12 a.m. on Sept. 3, 1970. He was 57.

Several years later, when I was covering the George Allen Redskins, one of the team doctors told me Lombardi might still be coaching the Redskins if only he had allowed himself to undergo a routine, albeit uncomfortable 1960s version of a colonoscopy. For whatever reason, as the new documentary also reports, Lombardi refused to have the procedure.

I happened to watch "Lombardi" on a preview DVD a few days before the Redskins lost to the Giants. And as I sit here typing this column the day after that defeat, I couldn't help but wonder how the revered old coach known for his highly disciplined approach to the game and the men who played for him might have handled the Haynesworth situation.

I suspect Haynesworth would have been gone a very long time ago, likely sent on his way with the classic Lombardi sideline explosion - "what the hell is going on out here!" - ringing in his ears.

len.shapiro@washingtonpost.com

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