This week while in my car I thought about the Women’s World Cup semifinal between the United States and Germany that I planned to watch that night. So I tuned to a D.C. sports radio talk show, hoping to learn more about the game.
Also, the Nationals were going for their ninth win in 10 games, the Wizards just traded up to get a 6-foot-7 swingman with a 7-2 wingspan and the Capitals drafted a goalie from Russia in the first round. So lots of strong topical subjects.
Instead, the radio protozoa were discussing crummy former Washington NFL quarterback Mark Brunell, who had just decided to change his opinion of current crummy quarterback Robert Griffin III — from thumbs sideways to thumbs down. They talked. They took calls. They talked more.
Who knows the exact moment when we finally go insane?
What is the mass delusion that engulfs Washington and allows it to continue to obsess about one awful team in one sport — endlessly, year-round? When will this town face the NFL facts: When a franchise gets as bad as ours has become over an extended period of time — 32-64 in the past six seasons, outscored by 457 points — it usually stays bad for years and years. And years.
I’ve analyzed every team since 1983, the first post-strike season. I’ve screened for really, really, bad teams comparable to Washington now. I’ll give you data later. But what we need to face are the conclusions.
●The average outcome for teams in Washington’s position is that, over the next four years, they will go 26-38, without a single winning NFL season, and be outscored by 217 points. And in 2019, they still be losers, outscored by 47 points.
●Is there any hope? Yes, if the team gets a new coach such as Marv Levy, Bill Parcells, Jimmy Johnson or Andy Reid. They turned around teams just as bad as Washington is now, or worse. Is that who Jay Gruden looks like to you? Getting a Jim Kelly or Troy Aikman would do it. Do you see one of those?
●If Washington doesn’t get such a transformative force at coach or a headed-to-Canton quarterback, dark days likely will last past 2019. Given the history of teams that fall as low as our city has plummeted, a reasonable guess of their next year with a record better than 8-8 is 2021. Digest 2021. Could be even worse.
So as July 4 arrives, can we clam up about this clown-car team and focus on local or national athletes who actually know how to play their sports? Just please let me off the Ashburn Train to Nowhere for a few weeks in summer. September will come soon enough.
At the end of last season, I tried to point out, tactfully, that this city’s beloved 11 is historically putrid, multi-generationally pathetic and so bad (the worst Washington team in back-to-back seasons since 1960 and ’61) that any honest evaluation must begin from one premise: They stink.
No one listened. The delusion-fest continues. Now it is a new general manager who is promoted as the latest savior. We also hear the NFL is the sport of parity; teams that go 3-13, then 4-12, can go to the playoffs in a year or two.
This is just nonsense.
Parity helps mediocre teams. Parity helps below average teams. Parity helps unlucky teams that have a bad year or two because they lose a lot of close games or have bad takeaway-turnover ratios that distort our view of their basic talent.
Parity does not help the genuinely awful NFL franchises like Washington.
How bad is this team? To guess its future, what should we compare it to?
The past two seasons, Washington was outscored by 144 and 137 points. That’s huge. In fact, it is even more indisputable proof of the team’s true status than its 7-25 record, which could be distorted by close losses. This team loses close, but it also gets crushed repeatedly. Spot ’em two touchdowns and they still wouldn’t have won 11 of those games, including the 44-17 drubbing that closed last season. The majority of those were at home.
This team’s stats aren’t distorted by a 73-0 loss. They get beat down regularly by two, three or four touchdowns.
Since ’83, half of all NFL teams — 16 — have never had back-to-back seasons in which they lost by more than 100 points. And Washington didn’t just inch over the line. They’ve lost by whopping 281 points.
What happened to the franchises that did have back-to-back minus-100 years? On average, they needed four more losing years (4.14) before getting over .500. That’s why 2019 would be a sensible guess for Washington’s next winning year. But a simple “average” doesn’t capture the wide range of outcomes. Washington is the 19th example since ’83 of a team with back-to-back minus-100 years. The fates of the first 18 fall in three categories.
●Four of those teams were “saved” by Levy (Bills), Parcells (Jets), Johnson (Cowboys) and Reid (Chiefs). Or maybe drafting Hall of Famers, such as Kelly and Aikman, helped more. In any event, lucky lightning struck.
●Another 10 didn’t find such a catalyst quickly. As a group, starting with their first super-stinker season, it took them more than eight years in the wilderness (8.3 years) to have a season over .500. At that rate, you get an estimate of 2021 as the next over .500 year for ol’ D.C.
●The remaining four have not yet escaped with a winning season. It is ugly company. The Raiders, 12 straight non-winning years and counting. St. Louis, 11 years and counting. Jacksonville (seven) and Tampa Bay (four).
Everyone outside Washington sees our franchise clearly. Only we are in denial. Last year, the NFL preview magazines nailed how bad Washington would be. This year, they predict the same: It will be the 14th- or 15th-best team in the 16-team NFC. One magazine listed no Washington player — none — among the 50 best in the sport.
In September, out of civility, maybe I’ll get glasses with one rose-tinted lens. For now, I’ll just be clear-sighted and side with the late Dorothy Parker. She wasn’t talking about Daniel Snyder’s team, though she might as well have been, when she said: “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.”
For more by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.