This is the story of how a poorly worded tweet eventually led to a completely bogus segment on PTI. And it’s perhaps a cautionary tale for those of us who make our living in the world of 140-character quotes and pithy SEO headlines.
Last Friday was the Redskins’ 52nd annual Welcome Home Luncheon, a banquet held each summer before a large audience of fans and media members. Mike Shanahan addressed the crowd during this event, and the team’s Twitter account sent out a few highlights.
“HC Mike Shanahan: ‘We have a team that you’re going to be proud of,'” the team’s official account tweeted at 2:30 pm.
“Shanahan on #Redskins players: ‘They have set the expectations: anything short of a Super Bowl is a failure,'” the account tweeted at 2:33.
HC Mike Shanahan: “We have a team that you’re going to be proud of.” #HTTR
— Washington Redskins (@Redskins) August 23, 2013
— Washington Redskins (@Redskins) August 23, 2013
Now, this certainly sounded like the coach was saying that his 2013 Redskins were going Super Bowl or Bust on us, and that’s how many of us immediately reacted online. The team helped that impression along by posting that same version of Shanahan’s quote on its Instagram page.
But professional reporters who were at the event soon cautioned that this quote wasn’t exactly in context. So I went back and watched the video of Shanahan’s remarks on Comcast SportsNet. The coach began by talking about the legacy of the Redskins organization.
“You’re with a football team that has won Super Bowls,” he said. “People are in the Hall of Fame — players as well as coaches. And you know that they have set the standard for this organization. Anything short of the Super Bowl is a failure, and that’s good. That’s good. Because there’s only one team that’s happy at the end of the year.”
This, I think you’d agree, is a fairly benign quote. He’s saying that past teams and players have set the standard — not the “expectation” — that anything short of a Super Bowl is a failure, because of past successes. Not that crazy. Here, for example, were Shanahan’s opening remarks when he was hired:
“You take a look at the history and you take a look at the Hall of Fame, the great coaches, and the great players, what an honor it is to be the head coach of this franchise. It’s a very, very special place – Super Bowls and World Championships….I want to thank Dan [Snyder] for the opportunity to be his head football coach. I promise you I won’t disappoint you….That doesn’t happen very often in the NFL, when you go to a place and [the owner] is going to give you every chance to win a Super Bowl. That’s why we are in this game.”
But we live in a fast-paced world, and those two tweets quickly led to a flood of stories suggesting that Shanahan had indeed played the Super Bowl or Bust card for 2013 — especially because the two Redskins tweets were combined into one continuous quote, as in this Pro Football Talk item:
According to Shanahan, his players believe that they have what it takes to win the Super Bowl, and they won’t settle for anything less.
“We have a team that you’re going to be proud of,” Shanahan said. “They have set the expectations: anything short of a Super Bowl is a failure.”
This, of course, obscures the meaning of the word they — which Shanahan was using to refer to past champions, not to this year’s team. And other outlets then began using the two quotes together, without even separating them by “Shanahan said” — including ESPN’s “First Take.”
“Super Bowl Or Bust For Redskins?” asked ESPN.com in its headline for that lengthy Stephen A. Smith/Skip Bayless debate.
“Super Bowl or Bust? They’ve done nothing to deserve those kind of expectations,” Smith said at one point.
“I love Super Bowl or Bust, because that’s what they should be, that’s what they can be, that’s what they are,” Bayless thundered.
“Mike Shanahan: Super Bowl or bust for Washington Redskins,” wrote Larry Brown Sports.
“‘Super Bowl or Bust’ Attitude May Not Lead to Success,” cautioned 106.7 The Fan.
“Shanahan: ‘Anything short of Super Bowl is a failure'” blared The Score.
“Shanahan said Friday that if the team doesn’t follow up its 10-6 mark last season — which earned the Redskins their first playoff berth since 2007 — with a trip to Super Bowl XVLIII, the 2013 campaign will be considered a failure,” NESN.com wrote.
I mean, I guess he sort of said that, in the context of saying that for a franchise with Hall of Fame players and Lombardi Trophies, any season that doesn’t end in the Super Bowl is a failure.
But now the Super Bowl or Bust train was moving at breakneck speed, leading to this truly incredible segment on PTI Monday afternoon.
Kornheiser: Here comes Shanahan setting the bar this year impossibly high. Mike Shanahan is on the record saying, and I quote, “We have a team that you’re going to be proud of. They have set the expectations: Anything short of a Super Bowl is a failure.” Wilbon, how smart is this?
Wilbon: It’s just not. It’s just not. And there’s some local context here. The Nationals, who I’ve been ripping, derisively calling them the ’27 Yankees all year, they did this. They have no pedigree. The Redskins have pedigree, Mike Shanahan has pedigree – not lately, not lately – but Tony, why do you do this? Why do you saddle your team with these expectations? You’ve got the whole RGIII drama, they haven’t done anything in years. Why do this?
Kornheiser: See, last year, the Nationals hadn’t done anything for a long time. They made the playoffs, they looked pretty good. Then [Davey Johnson] said World Series or Bust. Well, I would take Bust right now. I would take Bust. So is Mike Shanahan saying that a 12-4 season is a failure, when the team has been to the playoffs maybe three times in the past 15 years? I don’t get this.
Wilbon: The thing is, Mike Shanahan, unlike certain members of the Nationals – not Davey Johnson, but other members of the Nationals – he knows how hard this is. He’s been there. He’s been close and failed, he’s gotten to the Super Bowl and twice won. And so for him to do this….
Kornheiser: I don’t understand it. And it’s part of the whole deal between him and Griffin.
Wilbon: But this is unlike Mike Shanahan, Tony. He hasn’t spent a career doing this. He’s not Rex Ryan.
Kornheiser: No, he doesn’t do this. And what you have with Griffin taking a shot at Shanahan in every public utterance – bang, Shanahan, bang, all the time, nobody understands what that’s about at this point, nobody gets that. Griffin, who’s the most exciting player they’ve had…
Wilbon: Ever. Since Darrell Green in his prime.
Kornheiser: …Right, and so they’re always banging at each other. I don’t get what’s going on. It could be disastrous. Although they’re talented.
Wilbon: You know what’s going to happen, the Redskins are either going to go 14-2 or 6-10.
So. That escalated quickly, as they say. Slow down, everyone. Breathe a bit.
By the way, here’s a thing Robert Griffin III told ESPN 980’s Chris Cooley this week. There was some context, but who wants context?
“If we show up and we play like we’re supposed to play every week, we can win every game,” Griffin said. “There’s no doubt about that.”
Griffin: 2013 Redskins Can Go Undefeated, in other words.