This team is near and dear to my heart. I have been a Redskins fan since I was eight years old growing up in Minnesota. I take that back, I was not a fan, I was a fanatic. I ate, breathed and lived for the Washington Redskins. I was the kid who had a countdown chart on my wall every off-season of how many days it was until the next Redskins game. I would run around school telling anyone who would listen, “It’s only 188 days until the next Redskins game.”
I went to Super Bowl XXVI at the Metrodome in Minnesota and sat in the lower deck in the Buffalo end zone dressed head to toe in Redskins gear, Mark Rypien #11 jersey, Redskins Zubaz pants and my face covered in red and yellow “war paint.” When the public address announcer said, “And now let’s welcome the 1992 NFC Champion Washington Redskins,” an verbal avalanche of boos descended onto my head from the rows and the upper deck from the Bills faithful behind me. I just turned around and pointed at my big yellow Redskins foam #1 hand and nodded my head up and down, “Yes.” I looked up at the sea of blue and red team colors and all the faces of grown men, Buffalo fans, veins popping out of their necks, looking like they wanted to kill me. I just responded like Deion Sanders and put my hands up to my ears like, “I can’t hear you.”
Those colors, the burgundy and gold, and that logo, I can pick it out anywhere. I could be at a gift shop at an airport and if there was even a Redskins key chain in the shop, my eyes would go right to it.
I have a Redskins logo tattooed on my right hand, which I got a few months ago. Yeah, it is okay to say the “R” word, Redskins….Redskins….Redskins. The Washington Football Team was not “Est. 1932,” no it was “Est. 2020.” Prior to that, they were the Redskins and prior to that they were the Boston Braves. I got the date, “10-19-19,” tattooed next to that – it is the date of my interview with (now former) Team President, Bruce Allen.
It has been a dream of mine to work for the Redskins from the time I was a kid. I started scouting and sending letters pleading with former Redskins GM Charley Casserly for an internship when I was 17-18 years old back in the early 90’s. At 24, I got hired by the New York Jets in pro scouting. During the entire time I worked for the Jets, I belonged to the largest Redskins fan club on Long Island, NY. Every Sunday, I would hang out with the Redskins fan club and watch the game and cheer for my beloved Redskins. Even Bruce Allen got a kick out of that when he read part of my book and he said to me with a slight chuckle, “I don’t know what I would have done if I had someone working in my scouting department who loved another team.”
I have come close to working for the Redskins six times in my life, each time closer. None as close as in 2019. I probably would have landed the Assistant Special Teams Coaching job or a college scouting position had Allen not been dismissed a few months later on “Black Monday.” That is where the interview landed, with him telling me he would be in touch.
I was devastated when he was fired. I felt like I had been tackled on the opponent’s one yard line as time expired in the Super Bowl. I broke down and cried in my wife Samantha’s arms when I read the words of team owner Daniel Snyder explaining he had severed ties with Allen.
I was even more devastated when the political climate in America squeezed hard enough to get the name changed. I was the kid who wrote an editorial in the Minneapolis Star and Tribune when I was 14, “That if singing ‘Hail to the Redskins,’ wasn’t the ultimate compliment to a race of people, I don’t know what is.” If I had been the owner, I never would have done it. If sponsors threatened to pull out, I would go find other sponsors and if I could not find sponsors, I would not care if I was a billionaire. I would have used my money to tie it up in court until the protestors’ grandchildren were the Supreme Court judges.
Immediately once the name was changed, I raced onto eBay and bought all sorts of Redskins jerseys, t-shirts and hats thinking it was just a matter of time before I could not get the stuff anymore. If I had a dollar for every time at a sports bar in Key West this past season when someone said, “Oh the no name team,” when they saw me walk in wearing my #72 Dexter Manley jersey…
I was pissed the first few weeks of the season. I will not kid you. If I could have broken the television in the sports bar when Ron Rivera went for two against the Giants when he could have elected to kick the extra point and gone to overtime, I probably would have. I said some things, I actually yelled at them, things I cannot repeat on here.
Of course, I had been the guy for the last 20 years who said repeatedly, “The only thing that makes this team the Redskins is the logo on their helmets.” Ever since Joe Gibbs and Bobby Beathard left, so did the magic that drew me to the team in the first place.
I will never forget back in 1998 when I was trying to break into the NFL as a scout I wrote a letter to Gibbs asking him for help getting in with the Redskins. He wrote back, “Daniel, given I am no longer with the Redskins organization, I have not had the opportunity to maintain contact with the new regime. There are new coaches, scouts and essentially a new organization.”
It took me years to understand what Gibbs had written to me, but eventually it made sense. Despite the logo on their helmet still being the Redskins logo, the things that made the team special were long gone. My ex wife used to tell me I was chasing a ghost. Every year, I became more and more disgruntled with the oversell and under-deliver.
Flash forward back to last season. I kept going back to the sports bars every week to watch “my team,” with Samantha, who ironically is a Cowboys fan. Then one week – it clicked for me. It was the week quarterback Taylor Heinicke came off the bench against Carolina – it reminded me of the old Redskins teams I used to love growing up. This new team, the Washington Football Team started to grow on me. They finally had a team chemistry that resonated with me. Then the Tampa Bay game happened and Heinicke’s heroic efforts to win the game left me in tears, literally. I wrote after the game, it was the greatest run I had seen in franchise history since Riggins’ famous run on 4th and 1 in Super Bowl XVII.
Even one of my daughter’s, Shelby, jokingly told my younger brother Monroe he better think twice about getting me a Washington Football Team winter hat for Christmas last year. However, suddenly this team resonated with me. Ironically, it was Gibbs who strongly recommended Rivera. Now I know why this new team resonated with me.
There are a lot of things in life I cannot change and this is one of them. Life is about controlling the controllables. I cannot drive myself over the edge about the name of the team. I do believe Mr. Snyder will keep with the name “Washington Football Team” for his own reasons and I am okay with that. In fact, I like it. This team has always been a team of outliers. They never got much respect even back in their heydays when they were winning Super Bowls. I think being a team with no name, is different. It is distinguished. It makes us different and sets us apart. It gets us back to focusing on being a team in a day of gross individualism in professional team sports. It is also a sign of rebellion to the rest of the free world and a response to those who “forced” the change.
I wish it would go back to the Redskins and maybe it will once things cool off. Maybe that is what Snyder is really waiting for? I did see a picture online that showed the old Redskins logo still painted on the indoor practice field the media is not allowed into. There is always hope.
However, with the additions of new General Manager Martin Mayhew (who played for Gibbs), Executive Vice President of Football/Player Personnel Marty Hurney (long time Beathard association) and with the addition of Beathard’s son, Jeff, in college scouting, this team now resembles and will resemble the glory days more than they have since back then. That is because the football DNA of these new additions is rooted in the glory days.
And really, bottom line, that is what it is all about. It is about more than a name. It is about an identity.
Daniel Kelly is a former NFL scout with the New York Jets. He was hired on the regime which featured Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli, Mike Tannenbaum, and Dick Haley. He currently writes for Sports Illustrated Detroit Lions and he is a contributing evaluator for Draft Diamonds. For more information about him visit his website at whateverittakesbook.com. He can be followed on Twitter @danielkellybook and his Facebook page is WHATEVER IT TAKES NFL TALK.
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