Just past midnight and Alfred “Mazda” Morris is handed a cellphone in the middle of a locker room full of broadly grinning men in black “NFC East Champions” baseball caps.
“Who’s he talking to?” someone asks.
Sports Illustrated and NBC tonight, ESPN tomorrow. Why not just put the White House on in a few weeks?
“Man, if you had told me I would play on a 1-11 college team a year ago and I’d be standing here in the middle of all this . . .”
Morris gathers his belongings, scans a locker room of 300-pound smiling and laughing behemoths, some as big and strong as DeMarcus Ware and the Dallas Cowboys he had used as traffic cones an hour ago.
Then he walks into a 30-degree night with no jacket, toward the players’ parking lot, where men and women pushing 50 behind barricades chant “Al-fred Mor-ris!”
A bearded man in a Santa Claus suit, resplendent with a John Riggins jersey protruding underneath and a cigarette dangling from his lips, hands Morris a black Sharpie, pleads with him to sign his cardboard sign that reads, “Hey RGIII, Throw It To Me.”
“Crazy, huh,” he says, scribbling his signature, half-smiling.
No. More like surreal.
Two hundred yards and three touchdowns in a division title game. The equivalent of more than 16 football fields for the season, almost 100 yards more than anyone in franchise history had ever rushed for in a season. Oh, and Robert Griffin III telling him after the game, “You’re my Terrell Davis.” Which kind of makes RGIII Morris’s John Elway, no?
“I can’t believe this is all happening,” Morris says. “I really can’t.”
The last night of the regular season has morphed into the last day of the year. And incredibly Alfred Morris — all 5 feet 9, 216 stumpy pounds of him — and this team are still here.
He didn’t get cut. He wasn’t shelved on a practice squad for eternity behind Tim Hightower, Evan Royster and Roy Helu Jr.
Instead he put his head down, lowered his shoulders and careened off bigger, stronger men paid millions more than his relative pittance of a rookie minimum salary.
And here was the payoff, a sixth-round pick plucked out of Florida Atlantic, tucking the game ball under his right arm and running off the field with Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” booming over the stadium loudspeakers — one week from his first playoff game!
Alfred Morris, the perfect window into a team that used to be 3-6: NFL long shots to late December legends, both of them. Just like that.
A few things bear asking:
Who imagined three rookies — two of whom only an NFL scout and the players’ parents had heard of this time a year ago — would account for 204 points this season?
How did Kai Forbath, a place kicker cut by Tampa Bay, replace Billy Cundiff and set an NFL record for 17 straight makes to begin a career, including some pressurized boots that kept the season going?
How did a defense that nearly gave up 5,000 yards passing make all the stops they needed to the past seven weeks, make rookies and veterans alike run for cover and wilt in the waning moments?
How do you beat Eli Manning and Joe Flacco and their defenses once, Tony Romo twice and not lose with a rookie backup quarterback starting in relief? Without Kirk Cousins, the magic of Sunday night never happens.
How did Mike Shanahan, at a forgettable 14-27 more than halfway through his five-year contract two months ago, reel off seven straight victories and become the first coach since Tom Coughlin with Jacksonville in 1996 to take a team that started 3-6 to the NFL postseason?
Really, how is a guy in a Santa Claus suit, Riggo jersey and dangling cigarette right now begging, between puffs, for a sixth-round draft pick’s autograph in the FedEx Field parking lot at 12:20 a.m. on Dec. 31?
Let’s be clear: Two months ago, the Redskins were RGIII and little else. Overriding theme? Shanahan got it right with Griffin but by surrendering so many picks it would be several years before Washington could draft enough quality talent to put around its star. And would the architect even be around to reap the reward of his patient build?
This is one of the more memorable in-season comebacks in not merely Washington but all of recent American sports. It’s a remarkable turnaround from the vantage point of everyone, including the longest-tenured Redskin.
“Since I’ve played here, I haven’t been part of a culture that thought they were going to win a football game every single week — a part of a team that said, ‘It’s about us this week,’ ” Chris Cooley says. “Obviously, we’ve prepared for everyone else. And we’ve prepared for each game. But we’re into [this] with the feeling, ‘It’s about us.’ And that’s the first time I’ve ever felt that.”
Meantime, Morris is still looking for his people in the parking lot.
As he scanned the scene, he kept signing, smiling for pictures. He stood there in a purple gingham button-down shirt, turquoise designer headphones around his neck, purple-suede Toms Cordone shoes and a gray backpack in tow — but still no jacket.
“Great game, baby!”
It was 12:27 a.m. when another fan recognized him. A crowd went from three to seven to 10 to 20 and then two dozen in a matter of two minutes.
As Alfred Morris kept signing it became clear he didn’t walk out into the biting wind and cold Sunday night; he walked into the warmth of his own dream, into the middle of already the most gratifying, majestic season around here in 21 years.
“It’s past my bedtime,” he says. “I’m tired.”
Might as well stay up, kid, for nothing you could imagine asleep could possibly be better.
For previous Mike Wise columns, go to washingtonpost.com/wise.
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