McNabb sits, pro sports in Washington stumble

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 18, 2010

When the Washington Redskins introduced Donovan McNabb at a news conference in April, he smiled broadly as he stood with Coach Mike Shanahan, the man who had orchestrated the Easter Sunday trade that brought the veteran quarterback to Washington.

At the time, the pair represented newfound stability for the Redskins - a two-time Super Bowl-winning coach and a six-time Pro Bowl quarterback as the foundation of a franchise that is nearly two decades removed from its last Super Bowl title.

On Friday, though, the foundation shook again. Shanahan announced he will bench McNabb not only against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday but for the final two games of the season after that - and suggested that McNabb's days with the Redskins were over.

McNabb's eight-month rise and fall as the latest Redskins savior in many ways epitomized the state of Washington's long-suffering professional sports scene which, since the Redskins' Super Bowl title following the 1991 season, has witnessed championships only from Major League Soccer's D.C. United.

Basketball's Wizards have only five winning seasons in their last 23, and their most recent contribution to the national sports scene involved guard Gilbert Arenas bringing guns to the locker room a year ago this month. Hockey's Capitals have never won the Stanley Cup. And baseball's Nationals, who relocated from Montreal in 2005, have finished in last place in each of their six seasons in Washington.

McNabb's arrival was supposed to be part of a renaissance here. As recently as August, Washington appeared to have the beginnings of a sporting transformation under way. Pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg made the Nationals something of a sensation, striking out batters at a record pace during a scintillating rookie season. The Wizards selected guard John Wall with the first overall pick in the National Basketball Association draft - and were ready to transform their image and their team around him.

The Capitals had already tasted success, posting the best record in the National Hockey League during the 2009-10 regular season behind magnetic forward Alex Ovechkin, a two-time league most valuable player, and they entered this season among a small handful of favorites to win the Stanley Cup.

Now not only is McNabb's future in doubt and the Redskins' season in disarray but the drone of failure continues across the landscape.

Strasburg will miss some or all of the 2011 season after ligament-replacement surgery on his elbow. Wall has missed nine of the Wizards' 24 games with a variety of injuries, and the team has the worst record in the Eastern Conference. Ovechkin has scored just two goals in his last 15 games, and though the Capitals still sit in first place in their division, they have lost seven straight - their longest skid since February and March of 2007.

In fact, no Washington team has won a game since the Wizards did so on Dec. 3.

No franchise, though, resonates across the region like the Redskins, which only served to amplify the impact of Shanahan's decision on Friday.

"I told Donovan that there's nothing he could do in the three games that would influence me of what he's done over the last 13 games," Shanahan said. "I said right now I've got to do what I think's in the best interest of this organization, and that's to get a good feel of where we're at in the quarterback position.

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