The Redskins spent the final few days of 2018 soaking in an acrid stew of criticism: From fans, from sports radio hosts, from the New York Times, from The Washington Post, and from just about anyone who spent any time thinking about the Redskins in the final few days of 2018.
The onslaught may have been unexpected — only two months ago, the Redskins were in first place and favored to win the NFC East, and the franchise seemed to have made at least a small step or two in the right direction. That’s all been forgotten now. And with just minutes to go before 2019, the team took one final broadside, which may have been among the most powerful of the week, if anyone was listening. Because it came from ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt, a longtime Washingtonian who speaks for D.C. fans as well as just about anyone, and with a national pulpit. He did not pull his punches.
“Erosion can happen slowly, be difficult to decipher,” he said late Monday night. “But if Sunday wasn’t a wake-up call to Dan Snyder, then they are guilty of organizational negligence. The stadium, which was in the bottom third in attendance this season, was completely overrun by Philadelphia Eagles fans. A division rival trying to make the playoffs, and they had a home game — in your stadium. Folks who remember the ’70s and ’80s and ’90s — hell, people who remember 10 years ago — just imagine the thought of the Eagles fans taking over RFK or even FedEx Field. It’s unthinkable.
“But if they didn’t take it over, the stadium would have been empty,” Van Pelt went on. “I don’t know a single person from back home who would have gone Sunday if you paid them to go. Actually, you know what? That’s not true. My boy Sacco and his kids went. They’re Eagles fans. The stadium experience is miserable, insufferable drunks, the lousy product for decades. And what’s equally hard for me to fathom: Somehow, ownership is blindsided by the fact that fans are done.”
Van Pelt then told of running into some Redskins executives last winter at the Super Bowl in Minneapolis. He was, he told his national audience, “blown away by their arrogance."
“They still carry themselves like their brand is royalty,” Van Pelt said. “You’re like Sears: something that once was. In what make-believe space do you exist where you convince yourself of some alternate reality?"
Van Pelt then recommended The Post’s Sunday A1 story by Liz Clarke, Les Carpenter and Mark Maske, a deep look at the problems facing the franchise this offseason. Van Pelt focused on a fan named Stephen Collins, who was quoted in the story.
Collins is 55, a Redskins fan from birth, whose grandparents purchased three season tickets — two for them, one for Stephen’s father — after then-D.C. Stadium opened in the early 1960s. After his grandparents moved to Florida, Stephen and his sister joined their father at home games. After his father retired and moved to Florida, Stephen began taking his young daughters. As with so many other local families, those silly Redskins tickets tied generations of his family together.
Stephen moved to Florida himself in 2003, but he kept the tickets “because you just did not give up valuable Redskins season tickets.” So he would fly home for a few games each fall and sell the rest to friends. But he hated the experience at FedEx Field, and after his friends stopped wanting the tickets either, he gave up the seats about a decade ago, a bit shy of his family’s half-century anniversary.
He also grew up a Caps fan — his dad had a second job at the Cap Centre — and he’s gone to see the hockey team practice in South Florida, gotten a photo with Alex Ovechkin, celebrated “a joyous spring and summer” with that team. The Caps still link him to his childhood, and his hometown. And the Redskins?
“My emotions during the Snyder era have run from anger to hope and back to anger. Then disbelief. The crazy part now is that I feel indifference,” Collins wrote, in an email quoted by Van Pelt. “Indifference to the team that was a huge part of my life growing up. I was as passionate as they come. And maybe that’s what is needed. While the Redskins are doing big things, whether terrific or stupid but mostly stupid, they are in the news and in the conversation. If people stop caring, that may be the biggest shake up of all. Maybe create some real change. Anger isn’t cutting it because the organization probably believes that no matter how mad they make us today, we will love them tomorrow. Indifference can be powerful and much harder to overcome. I’m there. I’m not hopeful. I’m not mad. It’s easier to stop caring and move on.”
Van Pelt showed some of that message on the screen, and then went on.
“I know so many fans who have moved on, so many who share wonderful memories of what the Redskins were, who have become numb to what we no longer feel at all,” he said. “Is anyone at Redskins Park listening? Does anyone there even care? Or are you as indifferent as the people who used to fill your stadium as if it were their civic duty, who have been replaced by the fans of the road team who took over the joint — a team who’s going to the playoffs, the team that won the Super Bowl last year.
“Remember what that was like?” he concluded, with a shake of his head. “Yeah. Me either.”
This was just moments before midnight, moments before the new year, but his message found an audience of Redskins fans who shared his pain.
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