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Moments after the Washington football team’s humiliating, rock-bottom loss to the equally inept New York Jets, CBS switched over to bonus coverage of the final minutes of the Minnesota Vikings’ thrilling comeback triumph over the Denver Broncos.
And the franchise quarterback who brilliantly engineered that stirring Minnesota victory after the Vikings had trailed, 20-0, at halftime? None other than Kirk Cousins, a man who could have been Washington’s starting quarterback for the next decade. Except that two years ago, Cousins unceremoniously left the franchise, bringing an end to a rocky relationship with the team.
On Sunday, Cousins merely completed 29 of his 35 passes for 319 yards and three touchdowns against the Broncos, and the Vikings now lead the NFC Central with an 8-3 record. They’re almost a certainty to advance to the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the local NFL team sits at 1-9 and appears to have no path forward. The team is led by a raw, not-ready-for-prime-time rookie quarterback, Dwayne Haskins Jr., who, through no fault of his own really, looks clueless every time he stands behind center and prepares to take a snap. This season was over before it even started, and the team is now an afterthought. Anecdotally, my own private poll indicates most people say the team can’t get off the local sports stage soon enough.
And now, an official Washington Post poll confirms what many of us have suspected for quite some time. The Washington football team is no longer the be-all and end-all for D.C. sports fans, who now consider the World Series champion Nationals the No. 1 team in town.
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Twenty-eight percent of D.C. residents sampled in the survey named the Nats as their favorite Washington team—more than one in four respondents. The NFL team got only 13 percent of the vote, down a whopping 21 percentage points from 2010. That same year ten years ago, the Nationals polled at 7 percent.
(In the Post poll, the Capitals got 10 percent, the Wizards and Mystics were at 8 percent, and D.C. United at 6 percent. There’s a margin of error of plus or minus four points.)
It must be said the poll was conducted only among residents of the District. Still, the guess here is that a similar survey of followers of the Washington sports scene in Virginia and Maryland probably wouldn’t much change the finding that this is now a baseball town—by far. And probably was even before the Nationals took the World Series last month.
The football team, of course, has no one to blame but itself. Over the 20 years of Daniel Snyder’s reign-of-error ownership, it’s been one embarrassing blunder after another. Against the Jets, fans could be heard shouting, “Sell the team!” Tickets for weekend’s game against the Detroit Lions are selling for as low $4. This season, one of Washington’s best players, Trent Williams, refused to play for franchise, alleging that team doctors misdiagnosed a cancerous growth on his head.
For years, the game-day experience has been dreadful. There’s gridlock traffic coming to and going from the stadium, absurdly high prices for parking and concessions, too many alcohol-fueled fans both in the parking lots and in the stands, and far too many spectators from the opposition occupying seats.
It’s made worse, of course, by the games themselves, particularly this year, but par for the course during Snyder’s ownership. The team’s last playoff appearance came in 2015, with two playoff appearances since 2008 and the last postseason victory in 2005.
It doesn’t matter who the coach is, including Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs, who was only 24-24 in his three mostly nondescript years his second time around. The rest of them lose and lose some more, each and every one of the other eight men who held the job. That includes the current interim, Bill Callahan, a fine offensive line coach who will be replaced seconds after the regular season ends.
Truly though, there’s only one man to blame, and that would be an invisible owner who is very good at making gobs of money, but totally inept in football 101, even after two decades. His equally mostly silent and totally ineffective team president, Bruce Allen, needs to go.
How about a former NFL safety, a smart fellow with a law degree and size 16 shoes named Mark Murphy? He now runs the playoff-bound Green Bay Packers, the only publicly owned team in the NFL.
A savvy general manager wouldn’t hurt.
How about a guy named Charley Casserly? He still lives in the area, helped build four Super Bowl teams, and was in total charge for Washington’s final Super Bowl triumph after the 1991 season.
And finally, it’s time to do the right thing and change the name of this team. The first three letters in the dictionary in front of the word “Redskins” are “der.,”which stands for derogatory.
As the Post poll reveals, there is a generational shift when it comes to fans of the football team. It had the highest support from older fans, while support decreased with each subsequent age group. Younger D.C. sports fans lack the emotional attachment to the Super Bowl winning teams from decades ago.
Instead, the Nationals have entrenched themselves as the new No. 1 fan favorite in the Washington sports market. Hooray for the Nats. It doesn’t look like that will change any time soon.
Leonard Shapiro retired in 2011 after 41 years as a sports reporter, editor, and columnist at the Washington Post.