Let us motor to the Redskins game.
A lovely September day! The season is full of promise. The 'Skins have a new owner, a new quarterback, and are playing their arch-rivals, the geriatric, wizened Cowboys.
At noon, an hour before kickoff, we reach the parking lot. The problem is, the parking lot is actually a road leading to the stadium.
Crawling forward, inch by excruciating inch, watching people leap from their cars and dash to portable toilets, we are tormented by one thought in particular: That this was planned.
This was by design - a terrible design, but a design nonetheless. A traffic jam is what you inevitably get when you try to funnel too many people along too few roads into too few parking spaces. Some poor souls were still trying to enter the stadium at halftime. Many despaired and gave up and went home to watch the game on television. In the decisive (and appalling) fourth quarter, many thousands of seats were shockingly empty, because not even human beings in the throes of an irrational infatuation with a sports team would choose to endure twice in a day the slow death of a traffic jam.
Boy owner Dan Snyder claimed after the game that the parking and traffic situation had gone pretty well. (Did I see him leaving the place in a helicopter?)
To a remarkable degree, we go through our lives in places and situations that exist by design. Your computer keyboard, your office carrel, the too-small parking spaces in urban garages, the bewildering array of buttons on the remote control clicker - these are all the products of design, of someone's CONSCIOUS DECISION. And there may be no environment in the Washington area more totally the product of design, more completely removed from accident and contingency, than Redskins Stadium. It is a completely artificial world, drawn up from scratch in what used to be a cow pasture.
It seeks to be its own universe. Inside, there is not a tree or building or landmark to be seen, and so you have no clue where you are. New Jersey? South Florida? You study the motion of the sun and the shadows on the field for some clue as to north-south orientation. Even the companies who pay for advertising are, for the most part, conglomerates, like U.S. Airways. At one point the rotating advertising banner showed the word "acela,` lower case like that, repeated 40 times. Who or what is "acela`? Is that an Earth-based company? When the Bell Atlantic Mobile signs got into the rotation at least we knew we were somewhere on the East Coast.
There will come a day, surely, when the design flaws around us will be corrected. Architectural visionaries believe that, in 100 years, people will be shocked to think that in the late 20th century we allowed our beautiful world, our surrounding landscape, to be scarred with ugly highways and sprawling suburbs and generic strip malls. In the future, citizens and their leaders will find an alternative to a metropolis whose design is fundamentally shaped by the needs and limitations and possibilities of the automobile.
But perhaps that is not quite right. Perhaps, in 100 years, what will truly astonish people is that on Sept. 12, 1999, the Redskins blew a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter to the Dallas Cowboys.
That kind of collapse is bizarre. It is simply not how the game is played. The terrible thought is that this, too, was almost by design. A football team is a highly orchestrated enterprise, carefully assembled and studied, the stresses examined, the foundations probed. But the architecture clearly has some kind of defect. The Redskins have not been to the playoffs since 1992. Not making the playoffs would seem to be no longer an accident, a contingency, a foreseeable problem, but rather the result of conscious decisions.
Others can argue about fumbled snaps and the ironic weakness of the "prevent defense.` For the casual fan, the buck stops with the coach. Norv Turner's basic problem at this point is that, as a head coach, he is a proven failure.
Very few professional coaches reach that level. There should be a special alcove of the Hall of Fame for coaches that stick it out long enough for their mediocrity to be thoroughly documented. Most coaches are fired at precisely the point at which the suspicion that they are losers begins to harden into a belief. Only a handful can take it to the next level, the level of confirmation.
Turner is in his sixth season and has now won 32 games, lost 48 and tied one. These are suggestive numbers. They suggest, for example, that he is the kind of coach who loses three games for every two he wins.
This rather remarkable record of losing does not mean that he is a "loser` in the grander, spiritual sense. He may be a winner in the larger game of life. And he may be, potentially, an excellent coach for some team somewhere. But at the moment we might wonder if that team plays in shin-guards on Saturday mornings in a schoolyard, and ends the season with a party at Chuck-E-Cheese's.
Rough Draft appears on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, except when the columnist is stuck in traffic.