Something’s been bugging me. For the past decade or so in sports, I think our habit of mind has become: Let me find a way to look far enough into the future, or deep enough into the past, or with a wide enough lens, so that I can maximize my chances of being unhappy today.
Washington’s inspiring, 16-13 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday struck me as a good example of our sad inability to enjoy events that should bring us unalloyed pleasure. Why do we guard our emotions against the grave consequences of, momentarily, being “too” happy?
Did you cringe when I used the word “inspiring” to describe that game? Maybe that’s a problem. It was absolutely an inspiring win. It was also ugly and lucky. But “inspiring” should come first.
I did not realize this until I got a phone call soon after the game from an old high school football teammate who now lives a couple hundred miles from D.C.
“That was just about the most amazing Redskins win since the ‘scab win’ over Dallas” in 1987, he said, sounding not like the banker he is but rather like the guy I remember long ago.
“I still follow the team, but not all that closely,” he added. “I kept saying, ‘Who is this guy?’ I never heard of the quarterback [Josh Johnson]. Where did he come from? I never heard of the [offensive] guards. Third-stringers? All of ’em nobodies. How did they even know the plays?”
My instant reaction was almost shock. How could anyone have loved that game?
Get a kick out of it, sure. Mock all its flaws, certainly. But compare it to one of the most memorable games in team history when a squad of replacement players signed “off the street” beat the Cowboys, who had several stars that had crossed an NFL Players Association picket line, including quarterback Danny White and Hall of Fame defensive end Randy White. Hollywood made a movie about that team (“The Replacements”).
Had I just watched a game that might inspire a movie?
Then I got in the spirit of the moment. “They found their long snapper [Andrew East] in the parking lot about an hour before the game,” I said, only half joking.
I wondered if others had a similar experience to mine. In my Monday online chat, the first question at the top of the queue said: “Alex Smith’s career may be over. . . . Colt McCoy has broken his leg, too. . . . What will the Redskins do at QB going into next season? The draft is not very QB-heavy. . . . Go after someone like [Joe] Flacco and overpay him? What . . . is the best path forward?”
A perfectly sensible question. Several others had the same hard-boiled, long-range but inherently deflating tone. No one brought up “inspiration.” No one asked how you win an NFL game after you have gone through Brandon Scherff, Shawn Lauvao, Tony Bergstrom, Austin Howard and Ty Nsekhe at guard and are trying to drive in the last two minutes of a game against a good Jaguars defense with Zac Kerin and Luke Bowanko on either side of center.
Oh, and your quarterback — your fourth in five weeks — last started an NFL game seven years ago. You found him playing pickup basketball in a glorified rec league.
There are ex-NFL quarterbacks whom no one wants. And then there are the quarterbacks who are so obscure that they come after the quarterbacks whom no one wants. That’s Johnson. Yet he completed 16 of 25 passes (64 percent) for 151 yards,threw no interceptions, ran for 49 yards on nine carries and led the final drive for a winning field goal as time expired. Then he collapsed, facedown, on the sideline and beat both his palms on the ground with joy.
If anyone except my old friend thought that this was one of the most stirring, cheerful, inspiring Redskins games in a generation, then I haven’t heard from them.
Now, we seem to flee, or be driven out of, the present. We are so swamped with incoming information about the next thing that we hit “refresh” on all our devices without even realizing that we do it. Perhaps because we have so much trouble staying in the moment — any moment — we reflexively depend on context to give shape to our constant welter of new experience.
So Johnson suddenly becomes just a part of the larger Redskins “quarterback problem.” And the team’s win, which got it to 7-7 despite all its injuries and pushed its chance of reaching the playoffs up to 20 percent, is seen (often by me) in the context of 25 seasons of franchise disappointment. What’s so great about context, since it leads to “who’ll care in 100 years?”
In recent times, this constant contextualizing has drained a ton of fun from fans of almost every Washington pro sports team. The Capitals can’t just win three Presidents’ Trophies in the regular season or the Nationals win four NL East titles that put them in the final eight in their sport. The troll snorts, “You haven’t won anything yet.”
Before the next incoming data arrives Saturday, when Johnson faces the playoff-contending Tennessee Titans, can we just pause for a moment to appreciate that the goofy, tipped-pass-filled game in Jacksonville is worth remembering and putting on the relatively short list of games that we may remember for years?
In a decade, the only two things from 2018 that probably will be remembered in D.C. are how well Smith recovers from his gruesome leg injury and Johnson’s first NFL win.
“I know every opportunity I get could be my last one,” the 32-year-old Johnson said. “I always had belief in myself that I can do things like this. . . . To be able to just have everything that’s been bottled up in me for years and finally just let it out, it was a relief. Honestly, it was.”
Johnson limped a bit coming off the field, according to reports, and in the locker room, too.
“I haven’t been hit in two years,” Johnson said with a laugh. “I haven’t played a 300-pound defensive lineman like Calais Campbell and [Yannick] Ngakoue. My body’s getting acclimated. There’s a lot of things I’m doing on speed dial right now.”
Doing it on speed dial — that’s an amusing and apt line. Just so we remember that everything in sports and life should not be relegated to a speed-dial blur. Some good things deserve “pause.”
The Redskins’ “Replacement Game” long ago was more remarkable than beating the bad Jaguars. But what we saw Sunday was still on the shortlist of “Who Are They and How Did They Do That” deeds.
If you’d like to continue grinning for a few more days and compartmentalize that one little win far away from big questions about owners, general managers or 2019, then go right ahead.
You can’t enjoy a victory “too much.”
For more by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.