One morning, you roll over to turn off the alarm clock, fall out of bed and crunch the cat. At breakfast, you somehow turn scrambled eggs into a three-alarm fire. Going to work, you smash your car. Into a black-and-white.
The next morning, you feel exactly the same. But that lottery ticket you buy at the convenience store turns out to be a million-dollar winner. At work, you get promoted. On the way home, you jot down an inspiration that keeps running through your brain. It turns out to be the cure for the common cold.
So, who are you?
Why, you're the Washington Redskins, of course.
"I bet we're kind of hard to analyze," said Norv Turner yesterday.
Bill Parcells may have a nervous breakdown this week. The Jets' coach is a nut for preparation. How's he going to get ready for the Skins? All they have to do to fry his brain is make sure he gets tapes of both their games. How do you cook up a game plan for Jekyll and Hyde?
From week to week, the Redskins have no idea who they are or what they'll do next. In three hours on Sunday, with a 50-21 win over the Giants in the Meadowlands that shocked the NFL, they moved from being one of the most infuriating teams in football to one of the most fascinating. Now, for the rest of this season, every opening kickoff will bring the same thought to mind: Who's going to show up? Good Washington or Bad Washington?
A week ago, many Redskins felt they'd disgraced their uniforms. Now, it's the New York Giants who feel that same shame, thanks to the Redskins.
"I did not see this coming," said Giants Coach Jim Fassel, quoting Wile E. Coyote.
Hard as it seems to believe, just eight days ago the Redskins suffered perhaps their most embarrassing home-field collapse in history--to the hated Cowboys, no less. Then, they rolled up perhaps the most impressive road rout since the 1930s. And they did it to the almost equally despised Giants. Yes, biggest blown lead at home. Ever. Highest point total on the road. Ever. Back-to-back. Against your two primary division rivals. Even Woody Allen's therapist would be stumped.
After reviewing the films of Sunday's game, the Redskins did yesterday what you'd expect. They fainted. When they regained consciousness, they decided to lie. "After looking at it all again," said Turner, "I realize we can get better in every aspect of the game. We have a lot to work on."
Stop it, Norv, you're killing me. The Redskins, in perfect health and hitting with the fury of deeply wounded professional pride, played what quarterback Brad Johnson called a "nearly flawless" game on offense. Except for recovering two fumbles and intercepting two passes (returning one for a touchdown), the defense didn't do much, either.
The unsettling truth about the Redskins is that if they played every game the way they did the fourth quarter against Dallas, they'd go 1-15. And if they played every game like they did against the Giants, they might go 15-1.
Who really wants to know that much about themselves? Especially since the full and perplexing range of this team's personality probably will be on display all season. You think the Redskins will simply "find themselves" and establish a predictable pattern for a whole season? Dream on.
The Redskins' dominant character trait under Turner has been the same split personality they've shown the last two weeks. Their only consistency has been inconsistency. In 1996, when they started 7-1, they collapsed late and missed the playoffs. Last season, they folded early (0-7) to avoid the rush. This season, they've taken their fire-or-ice tendency to its extreme.
On a team that's so emotionally exhausting, it's only fair to enjoy the good times. At the moment, this team is happy about lots of things. Marco Coleman and Larry Centers have brought veteran leadership. Who says you can't import character? George Allen did it. Stephen Davis has back-to-back 100-yard rushing games. Rookie tackle Jon Jansen looks like the first Hog of the 21st century. Champ Bailey can cover Fairfax and part of Arlington, too.
But the reason this team is excited--and it is very excited about itself, Dallas debacle or not--is Brad Johnson. As long as he remains upright, everything is uptight, outta sight.
"Brad's got me pumped. He's a warrior. He can take us where we need to go," tackle Tre Johnson said yesterday of the quarterback. "I never understood the importance of having a spectacular quarterback. Love Gus [Frerotte], love Trent [Green], but . . . this guy is a beast. . . . We don't have to think about anything but our jobs when he's in there. Just keep [his uniform] clean."
For the fourth straight year, always in different forms, Turner's Redskins have tempted us at some point--either before a season or even halfway into it. One sublime "flawless" game, one hot quarterback, a few new faces and the promise of a fresh team "character" are not enough--not nearly enough--to make me bite again.
The Redskins, and Turner as a coach, are still deep in the Show Me phase. This team may never have sunk as low as it did against Dallas or bounced back as high as it did against the Giants. But the general pattern has been very similar several times before.
In a long NFL season, it's the occasional disastrous letups that kill a team far more than the occasional brilliant games lift it up. On Sunday, Coleman said that the phrase "Never Let Up" has become a kind of team mantra. Given the recent past, that's appropriate.
For a team that desperately needed to redeem itself in its own eyes, the victory over the Giants was large. Still, in the season-long scheme of things, it was rather small. A cornerstone, perhaps, but not yet a whole foundation.