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A variety of illnesses and injuries have kept Redskins safety Reed Doughty out of the starting lineup in recent weeks. In his place, Chris Horton has become the team’s most exciting defender. Horton, just a rookie, now leads the team in takeaways and has made as many big hits as anybody.
LaRon Landry, the other starting safety, is just a second-year pro. So Doughty, in his third season with the team, is already looking like a gridiron version of Wally Pipp: Barring injury, he ain’t gonna crack the starting lineup again.
A few weeks ago, the great sports-news clearinghouse Deadspin.com used the benching of the Titans’ Vince Young to mull the death of the black quarterback in the NFL. Deadspin was a little sheepish about devoting so many column inches to the topic, which it said was something “[o]nly a bleeding heart liberal pussy would give a shit about.”
Well, if we’re gonna get racial, and if Doughty, the Mediocre White Hope, is indeed done, it’s only fair to mull the death of white defensive back on the Washington Redskins.
So let’s get racial!
Talking race comes easy when talking Skins. No U.S. sports franchise has a more, um, colorful racial history than this one. First and second, the team represents a city named for a slave owner, and its nickname is a slur vile enough to get you fired if used in any context other than football.
Then there’s the hateful reality that the Redskins were the last NFL team to integrate, as part of a race-based marketing plan from team founder George Preston Marshall. (That scheme to please whites also included having his marching band play the national anthem of the Confederacy, “Dixie,” at Redskins Games at Griffith Stadium.)
Marshall didn’t draft his first black player until 1961, and he did so only because Interior Secretary Stewart Udall told the owner that the Redskins couldn’t play at the new D.C. Stadium (now RFK) until the team added some color. (Ernie Davis, the Syracuse running back whose story is told in the new feature film The Express, was the player the Redskins drafted to meet Udall’s mandate.)
Those are stains that will never be washed away.
But on the defensive side of the ball, the Redskins have strayed a long way from the Marshall Plan. For the last decade and a half, in fact, it’s been at least as easy to find a Samoan in the lineup (Al Noga and Joe Salave’a) than a Caucasoid.
That is, unless you include the safeties. At some point in the 1990s, the last line of defense became the last refuge for white guys on the Redskins.
You can look it up.
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Joe Gibbs had a succession of white safeties during his first and very successful run as Skins head coach. Mark Murphy hit like a truck and made a Pro Bowl. Curtis Jordan became a folk hero and, while starring for the squad that won the 1983 Super Bowl, made for a more sincere and believable country boy than John Riggins ever could be. (How did a guy as popular as Jordan, with restaurants and TV shows and the like, leave D.C. so quietly and permanently?)
And Brad Edwards was the pretty-boy star of the 1992 championship game, with two interceptions against the Buffalo Bills in Gibbs’ final Super Bowl.
Then came Richie Petibon, who coached the squad for one forgettable season, putting Pat Eilers in the white-guy slot.
By the time Norv Turner took over, white guys were having real trouble getting on the field when the Skins didn’t have the ball: Linebacker Derek Smith, a starter from 1997 to 2000, was the only non-safety white guy to get real playing time under Norv.
But Turner kept the safety slot open for the melanin-challenged, as is the Redskins way. He went with Eilers during his first year as head coach, and gave Matt Stevens game action from 1998 through 2000.
Affirmative action or not, Stevens had some moments: He led the Skins in interceptions, with six in 1999.
But Stevens also gets blamed for the most crushing regular-season loss during Turner’s horrible tenure. In the 1999 season opener at FedExField, Dallas came back from 21 points down in the fourth quarter and won when Stevens bit on a fake handoff to Emmitt Smith and watched with 80,000 fans as Troy Aikman hit an uncovered Rocket Ismail for a 76-yard score in overtime. The Washington Post called the game “the Redskins’ worst…collapse since 1946.”
After a whiteout under one-year wonder Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier got back to Redskins football by paying too much to bring in Matt Bowen as a restricted free agent in 2003.
Gibbs II kept the safety job a safe haven for whitey. He let Bowen start in 2004, before a knee injury put him on injured reserve a month into the season, and again in 2005.
The measures to which the Redskins would go to give a white guy the safety job became painful when Bowen proved he wasn’t up to the role and was let go before the 2006 season. The Redskins then outbid every other team in the league by a couple zeroes to land Adam Archuleta from the St. Louis Rams.
Someday, race-obsessed football historians, or maybe just bleeding heart liberal pussies, might hail the Archuleta Era as the beginning of the end of the Redskins treating the safety position like their affirmative action slot.
Archuleta’s $30 million deal here included $10 million in guaranteed cash and was hailed as the biggest contract awarded a safety in NFL history. The Redskins hyped their new safety more than any other acquisition that year.
But for all the hype and money and the color of his skin, Archuleta couldn’t get on the field as a Redskin.
Rather than admit they made a mistake, Redskins management spent the entire 2006 season saying Archuleta was kept on the bench because of problems with finding “the right package.” (White guys and insufficient packages are fodder for another column.)
Archuleta, as we know, left after one season. The team had so over-ordered Archuleta jerseys in 2006 that there was still plenty of inventory leftover this summer. In August, his shirts were going for $5 from the Redskins online store.
Wonder what a Doughty jersey will fetch next year.