If I read my own newspaper correctly -- and I think I did -- the new owner of the Washington Redskins is interested in acquiring the services of running back Barry Sanders. I don't know whether the new owner is interested in what members of the media think of this idea, or what season ticket holders think of this idea. But as a sportswriter and a seat holder (Sec. 332, Row 14. If they go 6-10 again, see my ad in the classifieds for "best offer"), here's what I have to say about Barry Sanders:
Note to readers: Remember that Mr. Bandwagon crusaded for the Redskins to trade all their draft choices to pick Ricky Williams a couple of months ago. He is not to be trusted when it comes to celebrity running backs.
There are many people around town who will tell you acquiring Barry Sanders is the wrong move -- even if it doesn't cost the Redskins more than one of the three No. 1 draft picks they have stockpiled.
They will point out that, at 31 years old, Sanders has reached a precarious age for running backs. While Walter Payton had two 1,000-yard seasons after turning 31, O.J. Simpson and Eric Dickerson had none. All three backs were out of the league by 34.
They will claim that Sanders's remarkable rushing statistics are misleading, pointing out that Sanders regularly gets tiny yardage on his rushing attempts -- his Lions faced the longest average second-down situations in the NFL last season. Granted, Sanders will break a few big runs. But you can't count on him for tough yardage. And Sanders's recent playoff record is miserable. He gained 65 yards in 18 carries against Tampa Bay in 1997; he gained 40 yards in 10 carries against Philadelphia in 1995; in 1994, at Green Bay, he had disastrous numbers that haunt all discussions about him still: 13 carries for a net minus 1 yard.
And they'll close with the scariest notion of all: that the Redskins' offensive line is so terrible, and Sanders's running style is so wide open, that he probably will get his legs broken before he even gets to the line of scrimmage.
So having considered all that negative stuff, let me say again:
Sanders may not be the best choice to hand the ball to on third-and-two, but he's the most exhilarating runner in the game. And when was the last time you felt exhilarated watching the Redskins? Let me guess, 1991?
Barry Sanders is a home run hitter, like Mark McGwire. Home run hitters strike out a lot. But they also bring you to your feet when they connect. The Redskins need a star badly. And Sanders is a STAR, in capital letters. A defense might be so preoccupied with him that he might buy extra passing time for a quarterback with a bad knee.
And please don't tell me about a problem fitting him under the salary cap. Since when are the Redskins run by accountants? You trade whom you have to, you dump whom you have to -- you make room for Barry Sanders. You give the fans someone to cheer for or you won't have any fans left. No one wants to sit for three hours in traffic to see a dull team. If you're going to be 6-10, at least bring in someone who can break off an 80-yard run and distract us until the cavalry comes.
By the way, has anyone else in the Redskins organization been fired in the last 10 minutes? Man, Danny Snyder went through Redskin Park like a twister. I thought I saw a cow come flying out of there, but it could have been some overweight lineman. In that kind of wind, how will Casserly and Turner hang on?
Speaking of stuff flying about in a stiff wind, how much air do you think there is between Jean Van De Velde's ears? That guy's got a wind tunnel in there.
What was he doing hitting driver, 2-iron on 18?
Who did he think he was, Charles de Golf?
I loved it when Bob Rosburg and Curtis Strange said he was stupid for not laying up with his second shot -- like the rest of us thought he was Einstein. You need a 6 to win, and you're going for the green in two? Quel idiot. Jean, sweetheart, has your mind turned to bernaise?
Then they laid into his caddie! They said his caddie should have given him better advice. Did you see Van De Velde's caddie? He looked 17. He looked like Van De Velde plucked him from a mosh pit in Marseilles. Why would an experienced caddie work for Van De Velde? He was a qualifier, for heaven's sake, the pro from Euro Disney! A month ago he was probably giving lessons dressed as Goofy. Jean Van De Velde had about as much chance of winning the British Open as, say, Paul Lawrie, whoever he is. I mean, if a guy comes from 10 strokes back to win a major, you might at least expect him to be somebody you've heard of.
I sympathize with Van De Velde going for the gusto on 18. I would have done the same thing. I'd have figured: "Hey, I'm not gonna play this hay barn again. Why be a wimp now?" Of course, I'm a 21 handicap. The closest I'll come to the claret jug is a bottle of Mateus.
My favorite Van De Velde moment was when he took off his shoes and socks, rolled up his pants and climbed into the burn to maybe take a swing at the ball. He took his time, as if he knew this might be the last time he would ever be on television. Now he has a tape to show his grandchildren: "Look, there's Papa Jean thinking to himself, `What would Jerry Lewis do here?' "
By his third shot on 18 I felt sorry for Van De Velde, and I genuinely rooted for him. It was a sin of pride that did in Van De Velde -- much as it did in Greg Norman at Augusta. That collapse was more painful because it stretched over more holes, and because Norman had been a victim so many times before, and had never learned an ounce of humility.
But where Norman was tragic, Van De Velde was tragi-comic. Norman unraveled gradually. Van De Velde exploded. There were a million signs warning him not to hit his driver, and when he got lucky and landed soft, then not to hit his 2-iron, then not to hit the next one into the water and the one after that into the sand -- and he did it anyway! Clearly, Van De Velde did this to himself. He kept grinning as he tempted fate, and finally fate gave in and bopped him in the head.
CAPTION: Barry Sanders, right, could bring big-play capabilities to Redskins, a team with little to cheer for lately.