This story was adapted from the daily D.C. Sports Bog newsletter. Click here to subscribe.
My friend Matt Mathai arrived in the United States from India in 1970, and since then the Redskins have been his NFL team. Last weekend, he went to watch them play at FedEx Field. This weekend, he’ll root for them to lose to the Jaguars.
“I believe I’m done,” he wrote to me Friday. “I hope the Redskins lose every remaining game this year.”
My friend Danny is one of the biggest Wizards boosters on the Internet, the kind of fan who watched every game when they were bad, and relished every game when they got good. Now, he’s pulling for their opponents.
“I take no pleasure in telling you that I reached a point where I am actively checking scores to see if the Wizards lose,” he wrote to me Friday. “For the greater good, I am hoping that the Wizards struggle enough to finally change direction at team president."
Friday I got an email from Josh Greenberg. He’s a Redskins fan, and a Wizards fan. And . . . well, you guessed it.
“Yes, I am rooting for losses,” he wrote. “I want so many losses right now that it’s offensive.”
This isn’t scientific. I have no polling data. It sure isn’t universal. And this isn’t about tanking for a high draft pick. Rather, there are Redskins fans who sort of secretly (or maybe not secretly) hope the team tumbles down the stretch, forcing Daniel Snyder to make serious, franchise-altering changes. And there are Wizards fans who sort of secretly (or maybe not secretly) hope the team’s struggles continue, forcing Ted Leonsis to make serious, franchise-altering changes. They love these teams. And yet:
“I’m rooting against the Wizards and Skins for the rest of their respective seasons,” Pradip Lavanya wrote me.
Such fans have lost faith in the current front offices. (And notice the way I’m outsourcing the complaints to angry fans, to shield myself from having to go out on any limbs myself? A veteran move. Column-by-proxy. Can some of you also help answer my emails?)
In the Redskins, the disaffected see a franchise that has failed to complete even one outstanding season under Bruce Allen; that continually stumbles into public relations blunders; that has encountered plenty of injuries, sure, but that now has an expensive and aging and injured quarterback and a discontented defense and a coach who might not inspire confidence plus that increasingly sparse home crowd. In the Wizards, the disaffected see a franchise with a top-heavy and ludicrously high-priced roster that seems annually plagued by infighting; that never lived up to its enticing potential; that seems always to be struggling to overcome last year’s roster mistakes, and that might max out with yet another loss in the second round.
They’ll beg you to look at the numbers. So here are some. Since the start of the 2010 season, Bruce Allen’s first full campaign in Washington, the Redskins have a record of 58-82-1. That ranks 27th of 32 NFL teams. Twenty-three teams have at least one playoff win in that span. The Redskins have none.
Since the start of the 2003-2004 season, Ernie Grunfeld’s first full campaign in Washington, the Wizards have a record of 547-695. That ranks 23rd of 30 NBA teams. Twenty NBA teams have appeared in the conference finals at least once since 2003. The Wizards have not.
This season began with moderate hope for both teams, but both seasons have become something of a slog, leaching all balance from already wobbly supporters. Sometimes hopelessness prompts a search for hope, and a search for hope begets the conclusion that losing is the best path toward change. That’s not unusual in pro sports. But it does feel a bit unusual right now: Two teams, in the same city, playing at the same time, both of which recently made the playoffs, now causing fans to wonder whether losing might be preferable to winning.
Fans, it goes without saying, are not in charge of such decisions, and sports-radio callers might not be the best stewards of multi-zillion dollar businesses. Many fans were done with Grunfeld before he built those delightful Wizards teams of 2014 and 2015 and 2017. Many fans were done with Allen before the 2015 NFC East title. It isn’t too late for these Wizards to make the playoffs, and with how they’ve turned it on in past postseasons, who knows? Heck, the Redskins are only a half-game out of the playoffs right now, and with the way Josh Johnson moved the ball last week . . . okay, I’ll stop.
Still, there is a weird vibe around town, and so the disaffected now confront a series of unwieldy questions. Do you still watch the games if you want your team to lose? (Probably.) Do you still sort of get caught up in the moment and start cheering for the Wizards when John Wall is dueling with Kyrie Irving in one of the most exciting games of the season? (Probably.) Do you still look at the standings and catch yourself thinking, well, it’s not like anyone’s scared of the Magic, or the Eagles, or the Heat, or the Panthers? (Probably.) If something magical happens, would you still be allowed your happiness? (Probably.)
But if I asked you, Mr. Redskins fan, whether you would trade three losses this month for a front-office housecleaning in the offseason, what would you say? If I asked you, Ms. Wizards fan, whether you would trade four more months of underachieving for a front-office housecleaning in the offseason, what would you say? I have a guess. Maybe I’m wrong. But I have a guess.
“Couldn’t agree with you more,” Scott Robinson wrote after I posed that hypothetical. “Both front offices have to go.”
And if I’m right, and he’s right, that puts a lot of Redskins and Wizards fans in a really strange spot: of just not being sure at all whether they want their favorite teams to win.
Read more D.C. sports coverage: