Should auld acquaintance be forgot? Yes, if they’re the auld Washington Redskins, the team that gave us Patrick Ramsey and Donovan McNabb and John Beck, Albert Haynesworth and Sherm Lewis and Jim Zorn (lead singer of Maroon, and Black, 5) and yes, even Joe Gibbs II, the second-worst sequel of the decade after “The Matrix Reloaded.”
Sunday night deadened a lot of years of pain and suffering for Redskins fans, auld and young alike. So take a one-day holiday — in a happy coincidence, New Year’s Day is available — and exorcise the demons of the past. Resolve to let go of the bad auld days and look forward to Sunday afternoon, and beyond. Especially beyond. Beyond looks pretty fantastic.
This season’s NFC East title, courtesy of Sunday night’s 28-18 victory over Dallas, is no guarantee of NFC East titles to come. The division will not remain as bad as it is now. However, the Cowboys are heading for upheaval — you only had to look at Jerry Jones’s face, if you could stand it, after all those interceptions to realize that change is coming. The Eagles have already begun their upheaval, having dismissed Andy Reid. The Giants, while not necessarily heading for upheaval, are still loosely based in New York, birthplace of upheaval.
The Redskins, by comparison, needed seven games to become the division’s most stable, rock-solid, hijinks-free franchise. They did it despite rookies at key positions, injuries to key players, and some really silly drug suspensions. (There is no better punishment for Cedric Griffin and Tanard Jackson than the team winning the division without them. Nancy Reagan had it right, fellas: Just say no.)
But the most positive aspect of this team is its age. Think about the Redskins of years past (just for a moment, then never again). Remember when it seemed owner Daniel Snyder was collecting just-past-their-prime NFL superstars as sort of his own live action figures? Forget “the future is now.” Back then, the future had already past, if you follow me.
But the Redskins have stopped doing that. In fact, there is little evidence to suggest that over the past three years, there has been any of the owner interference that haunted the days of auld. Whether that change came with maturity, Bruce Allen, the Shanahans, whatever — who cares? It seems to have happened. Even Snyder cannot dispute the theory, now, that a team must be built through the draft, with veteran free agents sprinkled in — not the other way around. And yes, the Redskins gave up a lot of picks to get Robert Griffin III, but if you’re still of the opinion that that move was a mistake, then I want to party with you, cowboy. I mean, seriously?
I admit, I never thought the Shanahan Plan would work. I was no great believer in the bullheaded determination to stick with a philosophy regardless of the skills of the players involved. Turns out that if you put a rookie of the year candidate at quarterback and a rookie of the year candidate at running back, and then bring in a nearly flawless kicker, your Plan suddenly looks pretty good. Mea culpa. Listening to the NBC announcers Sunday night speculate about Kyle Shanahan’s head coaching future, I found myself hoping he was smart enough to stick around and work with Griffin. I would not have felt the same way in September.
And Jim Haslett’s 3-4 defense? I had serious doubts about that, too. Then something clicked this year — despite the absences of Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker and Brandon Meriweather. The Haslett Scheme is still too elastic for comfort, and the offseason shopping list must include help at safety, but somehow the Redskins’ defense — led as always by auldie but goodie London Fletcher — survived the injuries and the drug suspensions and the position changes and managed to drive some offenses bonkers.
Redskins management refused to use the “R” word — rebuilding — for a long time, but of course it was obvious that was the intention here. Why they couldn’t just say that is beyond me, unless they were afraid attendance might take a hit. My guess is the ticket office won’t have a lot of trouble selling plans, mini-plans, day planners and whatever else they have to offer to 2013. Just a hunch.
Of course, there is a playoff game to be played first. The Redskins aren’t looking ahead to the draft or the players returning from injuries or free agent signings — they believe they can actually advance in the playoffs. And perhaps they can, although in the Seahawks they face a formidable rookie quarterback and a very strong defense.
And that seems to be the biggest difference in this franchise: no more shaking heads, wondering what went wrong, looking around the locker room for leadership and answers. These are the new, shiny Redskins, the low-mileage Redskins, the highly confident Redskins. They have their early ’90s swagger back. Maybe they are the Redskins of auld after all.
For previous columns by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.