Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Let’s talk DC area sports – Redskins, Wizards and others…

This has been said before by me and many others but it continues to amaze me just how bad a sports town Washington, D.C. is except on the high school level.

I realize as I write this that a lot of you who live around the country are starting to yawn—although you should find Letterman’s list on Gilbert Arenas’s 10 excuses because it is fall down funny—but it really is remarkable how often things go wrong and how consistently poorly they are handled by the people allegedly in charge.

The town’s obsession is with the Redskins. The way the local media kowtows to the team is remarkable. On Tuesday I was doing a local cable sports show and Redskins rookie Brian Orakpo was scheduled to appear. Five minutes before air time we were told that Orakpo was balking at doing the interview because it was too cold outside.

Let’s be honest, Orakpo wasn’t going to say anything newsworthy: he was going to say Jim Zorn was a good coach but gee Mike Shanahan is a great coach and we’re just SO close to being a really good team. Rather than lose those five minutes with him the producers agreed to let him SIT IN HIS CAR with a mike on while the cameraman shot him through the window of the car.

It was Saturday Night Live parody TV and Orakpo was every bit as predictable as you might expect.

And Orakpo is one of the GOOD guys on the Redskins.

What is most remarkable though is the way every new coaching hire is treated as the second coming. (Of course Joe Gibbs WAS the second coming). People do everything but dance in the streets. No doubt there are Redskins fans checking out flights to Dallas for February 2011 and next year’s Super Bowl, now that Mike Shanahan has been announced as the next second coming.

Is Shanahan a good coach? Based on his track record, absolutely. He won two Super Bowls and I really don’t buy the nay-sayers who say “how many did he win without John Elway?” Okay, how many did Vince Lombardi win without Bart Starr? Bill Belichick without Tom Brady? Chuck Noll without Terry Bradshaw? Don Shula without Bob Griese? Last I looked they were pretty good coaches. The only real exception to that rule might be Gibbs who won Super Bowls with Joe Theisman, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien at quarterback. Only Theisman was much better than ordinary and he wasn’t exactly a Hall of Famer. There are others but for the most part you don’t win Super Bowls unless your quarterback is better than ordinary. The Super Bowl winners in this century have been The Rams (Kurt Warner); the Ravens (Trent Dilfer); the Buccaneers (Brad Johnson); the Patriots (three times with Brady); the Steelers (twice with Ben Roethlisberger) the Colts (Peyton Manning); and the Giants (Eli Manning).

That’s seven wins for quarterbacks who either will be in the Hall of Fame or will come very close to it; one for a young quarterback who may yet become special (Eli) and two for guys considered competent—Dilfer and Johnson. Dilfer was working with arguably the greatest defense in the history (at least statistically it was) and Johnson, who many believe was very underrated) was helped by having his counterpart, Rich Gannon, throw five interceptions.

But I digress. Shanahan can coach—no ifs ands or buts. And let’s all stop with the, “he wasted a pick taking Maurice Clarett,” in the third round. So what? Third round picks flame out all the time—so do first round picks for that matter. He took a gamble and it didn’t work. Big deal.

Shanahan’s not the major issue with the Redskins. The owner is the major issue the same way he’s been the issue since he bought the team in 1999. There seems to be an assumption that because Shanahan and Bruce Allen signed on that Snyder is finally going to stop meddling in every football decision.

I’ll believe it when I see it. So far, Snyder is still acting like Snyder.

He completely humiliated poor Jim Zorn, who handled a ludicrous situation with total class, in his final weeks as coach. Forget stripping him of play-calling duties, that was bad enough. He then “interviewed,” one of Zorn’s own assistants with the season still going on in order to subvert the Rooney Rule so he could hire Shanahan as soon as the season ended. It’s a shame NFL commissioner Roger Goodell didn’t step to the plate and call the sham interview of Jerry Gray a sham, because that’s what it was.

Gray was obviously told by Snyder that if he wants to be considered for employment on the new staff he better keep his mouth shut. Gray initially lied when he was asked if he’d been interviewed; then the Redskins staff put out a written, “he meant to say no comment,” release and then he simply refused to answer questions even after John Wooten, who runs the Fritz Pollard Alliance announced that Gray’s interview had satisfied the parameters of the Rooney Rule (which was a joke in itself).

Snyder is paying Shanahan an outrageous amount of money--$7 million a year for five years according to today’s Washington Post. What’s more, he simply HAD to get on his plane and fly to Denver to pick Shanahan up and fly him to DC.

Why? Because he has to be in the middle of all this. He has to show off his wealth every chance he gets. This is an organization that laid close to 100 people off earlier this year citing the need to cut costs. How much did it cost to fly that jet back and forth to Denver? Snyder couldn’t have sent Shanahan a first class ticket and said, “We’ll have a car meet you at the airport?”

No, he had to play his silly game with “Redskins 1,” (oh please) knowing that the DC media would run out to the airport to cover the airplane’s landing. He LIVES for this stuff.

So what makes anyone think he’s not going to be sitting in the draft room talking about, “Redskin grades,” or trailing along with Shanahan and Bruce Allen on scouting trips the way he did ONE MONTH AGO with Vinny Cerrato. Maybe Shanahan and Allen have told him that’s over as a condition of their employment. Maybe.

And maybe Snyder made that pledge like he did with Marty Schottenheimer nine years ago and it will stick for about 20 minutes. We’ll see. The Redskins have the fourth pick in the draft. If they do anything other than draft a left tackle (especially if they take a quarterback instead) then you’ll know Snyder’s still involved in the decision-making and, if you’re a Redskins fan, you better dig in for even more disappointment.

Of course these days—remarkably enough—there is actually a team in Washington in more disarray than the Redskins and that’s the Wizards. Everyone now knows about the Gilbert Arenas guns saga. On Monday, when someone explained to him that he could actually go to jail, Arenas stopped joking about the situation and put out a lawyer-written statement saying he was sorry. That appeared to be a step in the right direction until Tuesday in Philadelphia when Arenas, upon being introduced by the PA announcer, jokingly pointed his fingers at his teammates as if he was shooting them.

My God Gilbert when will you learn? This isn’t funny (okay, Letterman was funny but that’s because he was saying Arenas was a joke not that Arenas’s joke was funny) and every time you act as if it is you look like a dope AND you send a terrible message to every single kid who has ever worn your jersey top—and in DC that’s a lot of kids.

You know what Flip Saunders should have done at that moment? He should have said to Arenas, ‘go sit on the end of the bench and watch the game.’ But the Wizards management has been virtually silent since this whole thing began, only putting out statements about waiting for the investigation to run its course. The given excuse has been that the collective bargaining agreement doesn’t allow a player to be punished twice for a violation of the CBA (which carrying a gun into the arena very much is) and they don’t want to suspend Arenas when clearly Commissioner David Stern is going to suspend him at some point.

You know what, that’s crap. Pick up a phone, talk to Stern and find out what he’s thinking. The facts in the story are clear here. There’s no he said/he said, Arenas has admitted he did it. His guns weren’t even registered in Virginia where carrying a gun is akin to carrying a wallet in most places as long as you register the gun. Even gun-owners will tell you that one of the responsibilities that comes with owning a gun (or guns) is following the laws of your jurisdiction and other jurisdictions if you carry a gun out of state.

If Stern says, “I’m going to suspend him for the season,” the Wizards should go ahead and do that NOW. If he says 20 games, same thing. You can’t just keep sending him out there when he’s admitted his guilt but clearly has no real remorse about it. And let’s not even get into the, “well they could still make the playoffs even at 11-21 because the East is so lousy,” argument. Forget being the eighth place team in the conference with a 37-45 record and take a look at your long-term future—which right now doesn’t look any better than the short term.

Things aren’t a lot better on other DC sports fronts: Tom Boswell, The Post’s superb baseball columnist who may be the all-time Nationals optimist, thinks the moves made so far this winter MIGHT get them to 75 wins. Maryland football is awful. The basketball team looks like it will be fighting for an NCAA bid—again. Navy football is terrific but not enough people understand why they SHOULD be paying more attention—including the editors at my newspaper. Georgetown basketball is very good but it’s hard to wrap your arms around a team that keeps itself shrouded in secrecy all the time.

There are lots of good college basketball programs locally but Georgetown won’t even play in a charity event that has raised almost $10 million for kids-at-risk in the DC area and hasn’t played George Washington in more than 30 years. DC could have local rivalries every bit as much fun as Philadelphia’s Big Five but no one wants to do anything about getting it done.

Heck, even DC United has been so mediocre recently that their fans can’t scream, “what about United?” when someone does a breakdown of sports in DC.

At least the Capitals have a very good team that is filled with appealing people. Fans here have jumped on their bandwagon since they started winning.

Overall though, this is a pretty bleak place. Have no fear though Redskins fans: March isn’t far away and that’s usually the best month of the year for your team. One hint: the less free agents you see Danny having his picture taken with, the better it is going to be for you and for the future of your team.



I've always thought of DC as a hockey town...

Anonymous said...

So, let me get this straight. The Redskins have a really good coach (Shanahan), 2 bad GMs (Shanahan, Snyder) and one mediocre GM that, most likely, has absolutely no control (Allen).

Should be interesting....

Anonymous said...

Feinstein's assessment of DC as a terrible sports town is right on. Its ironic given this town has produced some of the best sports writers in the country.

I can't wait to read in 2 years how Shanahan didn't work out. I don't see how the new Redskins' brain trust works with the old (Snyder, Mr. Napoleon complex).

As for the Wizards who's running this organization? Abe must be turning in his grave. If he was still alive Arenas would be gone by now.

MB said...

Perhaps unwittingly, DeAngelo Hall sums up perfectly the philosphy of Dan Snyder -- it's all about the name ....

"I think we needed a guy in here who people are going to respect off of his name alone, and Mike Shanahan is that guy," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "You already knew he was going to come in here with a great scheme, a great mind because he's a great coach. You know he's a great leader. But to have that name, Mike Shanahan, associated with the Redskins is big for us, it's big for the fans, and it's just great news."

JoeGish said...

Really sad for Paul Johnson and the Yellow Jackets Orange Bowl performance. If you think Navy gets no respect in DC, take a read of the AJC and see what they think about Johnson and the Triple option. Johnson is a genius but will never get his due in that town because they are in love with the SEC and the forward pass.

Will Coach Niumatalolo leave Navy?

Gordon said...

DC sports is was DC is in general. A vast wasteland of people who think they are a lot smarter than they are. Fans , if you can call them that go to "be seen" and hope that something , good or bad, happens so they can some how attach themselves to the event.

The exception is and always has been the Caps. But that is more a testament to hockey fans in general. We are a loyal group who support our teams regardless of their failure or success. And in the Caps case despite the fact that they previously played in the cap center in Landover. Not to mention that they have one of the best owners in all of professional sports.

DCand surrounding areas are beautiful and a great place. To bad the sports fans are so diesengeous.

Christopher Byrne said...

It is too bad we cannot resurrect Mr. Cooke:-(

Anonymous said...

Surprise, surprise. Feinstein wants to talk about DC sports, and he feels it necessary to take a gratuitous swipe at Georgetown basketball, despite his own admission that it is one of the few decent products in this town.

We've heard your garbage about how Georgetown won't play in your tournament, and frankly, it's getting really old. Mostly because it's a complete fabrication, and you know it. The reason Georgetown won't play in your tournament has a lot less to do with Georgetown than it does with Gary Williams's hangups about Georgetown and what he believes Georgetown owes him. I know you know the real story.

The dirty slip under your snow-white dress of journalistic integrity shows every time you repeat your tired criticisms, making it sound like John Thompson and Georgetown hate children. We understand that Gary Williams is your friend, but when you wear your journalist hat, you have to look at the story objectively.

All that said, it would be fun to have more local teams play each other. It would never be the Big Five (don't pretend that it would have any of the same dynamics that have existed in Philly for decades between and among those schools), but it would be fun.

Secret Hoya said...

Usual sour grapes from John Feinstein when it comes to the Hoyas. More than 20 years have gone by and it hasn't helped you get past Big John making you cry?

Time to grow up, Johnny...though no one on the Hilltop's holding their breath.