Some Redskins sign autographs after training camp practice even when they're exhausted and so soaked with sweat they look like they've been drenched with a fire hose. Plenty don't. Or they sign one or two and split the scene.
Last week, Jon Jansen worked the long line of kids who were pressed against the restraining ropes. In a T-shirt, his arms looked like the size of a normal man's legs. At one point, a row of waist-high thorn bushes prevented players from reaching out to the crowd to grab scorecards and footballs to sign. Seeing a natural excuse to head for the showers, they would end their signing.
Except for Jansen. The 305-pound tackle, who in his sixth season is the senior Redskin in time of service, squeezed deep into the thorn bushes until he had reached as far as he could and signed every object that every child could stick in his hand.
In everything as a Redskin, Jansen went the extra mile. Or inch. Whatever the occasion required. That's why, now that he is out for the season with a torn Achilles' tendon, his presence will be missed just as much as his run blocks at right tackle. Though never a Pro Bowl selection in five seasons, Jansen was known as "The Rock," since he never missed a game in his career. While perhaps only an excellent player, not a great one, he was still a central character on a team with little character to spare.
By this season, after the ritual decimations that the Redskins inflicted on themselves three times in the past four years, Jansen was one of only three players left who felt like true long-term Redskins. Few franchises are ever this bereft of team identity or institutional memory. But the Redskins came perilously close to being an aggregation of virtual strangers.
"Jon, Chris [Samuels] and I have talked about how we're like the Last of the Mohicans on this team. We have to be the ones to set the tone," said LaVar Arrington, still stunned after seeing Jansen's season end in the first quarter of the first preseason game Monday. "When I saw what had happened, I just said, 'Wow, Jansen. He never gets hurt.' That one was tough to swallow."
If it is tough for his teammates, it will be almost unbearable for Jansen. He saw the return of Joe Gibbs and his much-decorated coaching staff as a chance to revitalize a Redskins career that had featured only two playoff games, way back in his rookie season of '99. "I've seen some good and a lot of bad since I got here," said Jansen, who got the flavor of winning as part of a national championship team at Michigan. "How many guys can say they played for a Hall of Fame coach? Oh, now that [Gibbs] is here, this is going to be a great career, if I can be around for some of the real good times."
Jansen won't be on the field this season, though Gibbs considers him so valuable as a leader that "we want to get him back as soon as possible just so he can be around the team. . . . He's going to be a Redskin forever." Interestingly, Gibbs showed great concern about Jansen's health in future seasons, but none whatsoever about him returning quickly to play this year. Does that perhaps show that Gibbs -- unlike Steve Spurrier -- plans to fulfill his five-year contract?
While Jansen's injury will cause Joe Bugel to scramble in restructuring his offensive line, you would think, from the hysterical local reactions, that the Redskins had just lost multiple future Hall of Famers on Monday night. In fact, one veteran Post photographer's reaction to seeing Jansen hurt was to say instantly, "The season is over."
Redskins Country is a bizarre place of exaggerated emotion and violent overreaction to every conceivable event. We're like the fanatic Red Sox Nation, but without the Calvinist preference for eternal damnation. Since the Redskins won NFL titles as far back as the '30s and '40s and Super Bowls as recently as the '80s and '90s, we assume that the franchise would be a champion again if only the bete noire of the moment (owner Daniel Snyder in recent years) would just stop messing things up.
It has been this way my entire adult life, since the day Vince Lombardi came to town in 1969 to restore the team's glory. Since then, a condition of manic elation or depression has almost always been in place. Yet I never get over my sense of wonder at the phenomenon. Even my late father, who came to town in Sammy Baugh's heyday, abandoned his usual scrupulous judgments whenever the Redskins were the subject of conversation. Defeat was improper, abnormal.
So, in this atmosphere, Jansen's injury can't simply mean that the Redskins will have to figure out whether Derrick Dockery or Kenyatta Jones moves into the right tackle spot. No, it has to be the End of the Redskins' World as We Know It.
Actually, the Redskins' front office has constructed an enormously expensive team that is, nevertheless, painfully thin at some key spots. If running back Clinton Portis were out for the season, his backups would be pitiful. If wide receiver Laveranues Coles or a couple of defensive linemen were hurt, that would create voids.
But depth in the offensive line isn't one of the problems. Bugel has been scratching his head about having six players with the ability to start at five positions. Backup center Cory Raymer, coming back from a ruptured Achilles' last year, was the odd 300-pounder left out. Now he may be back in.
If the 345-pound Dockery moves to right tackle, then Raymer takes over at center and current center Lennie Friedman would move to left guard. Confusing, yes. But at least in that case, the overall talent level of the Dirtbags might not fall as much as many assume. It's a rare 5-11 team that has such decent choices after losing a player as good as Jansen. Of course, it's a rare 5-11 team that has the highest payroll in history. So with Snyder's wallet wide open, there's never an excuse for a bare cupboard.
In NFL towns a thousand miles from the nation's capital, the injury to Jansen is probably seen in more sensible perspective. If Gibbs and his AARP coaching staff still have their touch, and if all the team's high-salaried offseason additions are as good as advertised, then the loss of one lineman who has never been a Pro Bowler should be the kind of injury that a quality team can surmount. If it starts to unravel the whole plan, then how good were the Redskins of Gibbs II going to be anyway?
So come in off the ledge.
After all, you don't want to jump before we find out whether plucky Tim Hasselbeck beats out bewildered Patrick Ramsey for backup quarterback -- a position of influence in Washington that ranks somewhere between secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.