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LaVar Arrington ruptured his Achilles tendon last Monday night. His career might be over. Arrington’s former teammate, Clinton Portis, dealing all season with shoulder injuries, limped away from Redskins Park earlier that same day with a special boot on the ankle that he hurt over the weekend in Indianapolis. Carlos Rogers missed the Skins–Colts game because of a broken thumb suffered a week earlier, the cornerback’s first serious injury as a pro.
Could be dumb luck.
Or, perhaps, the Eastern Motors Curse.
Wounds, after all, aren’t the only thing Arrington, Portis, and Rogers share. They all star together in a commercial that the Eastern Motors used-car chain has aired throughout the 2006 season.
Talk of sports jinxes has been particularly en vogue ever since the Boston Red Sox overcame the Curse of the Bambino and won the World Series. So when Shaun Alexander broke his foot, of course fantasy football fans everywhere attributed the bad break not to a misstep but to the Seahawks running back and reigning league MVP’s appearance on the cover of the Madden NFL ’07 video game.
And now it appears we may have a local curse that can go toe-to-toe with all the Bambinos, Madden NFLs, and Sports Illustrated covers. In this Halloween season, let’s take some time to consider if somebody has cast a plague upon Eastern Motors pitchmen.
The original plan was to have even more local gridiron stars in the ad.
In the spring, just after he’d decided to bring Rogers into the commercial crew, Eastern Motors owner Robert Bassam told me he’d also had a deal with Robert Johnson, a 6-foot-6, 278-pound tight end who, before coming to the Skins, was a teammate of Rogers at Auburn. Bassam was excited by his agreement with Johnson, who would have formed, with Mike Sellers, one of the biggest, toughest tight-end tandems in the league—and in a town where big blocking tight ends (Rick “Doc” Walker, Don Warren, et al.) have long been glorified. Johnson was filmed to appear in a spot that also featured Arrington, Portis and Rogers.
But the football gods—or was it the Curse?—stepped in before Bassam could make Johnson a star. Johnson hurt his ankle in a preseason game against the Jets and was cut.
Johnson’s injury wasn’t the first sign of spookiness among the Eastern Motors flock. Portis went into the season ready to take the top spot in the company’s pitchman pecking order. That role was formerly held by Arrington, the first player signed by Bassam for ad duty. Arrington’s already-high profile in the community skyrocketed with the constant exposure he got from the auto chain’s endearingly amateurish ads, which showcased a jingle catchier than anything on pop radio. (Try not to sing as you read: “At Eastern Motors (Motors), your job’s your credit (credit)!” repeated over beats borrowed from Shaggy’s “Hey Sexy Lady.”) Local DJ Jesse Tittsworth even put together a club mix of the commercial’s soundtrack.
The spots have been fabulous for Eastern Motors. The chain, which Bassam founded in the parking lot of an Arlington gas station in 1992, now has 15 locations and annual sales of $300 million. Bassam credits his company’s growth to his decision to put Redskins in his ads and then saturate the market with them. “We run roughly 300 commercials a week on TV,” he says, “and we’re on the radio constantly.” The players in his commercials, Bassam says, have all been very generous with their time when it comes to helping him raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities, including the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society.
“It’s been great dealing with the players,” he says. “These guys are high-maintenance, don’t get me wrong, which is why we have a crew that does nothing but run around for these players. But that jingle has been lightning in a bottle for us. We’ve really been blessed.”
Arrington’s lip-syncing, with teammates Portis and Laveranues Coles bouncing around in the background, had him well on his way to achieving Sonny Jurgensen and John Riggins status around here. By last winter, Arrington was admitting he was more popular for appearing in the ads than for sacking QBs.
But a series of injuries, combined with the behavior of Redskins management and coaches—or was it the Curse?—conspired to kill Arrington’s deification. This spring, Arrington surrendered his Face of the Redskins slot, along with more than $4 million of his own money, just to get away from owner Dan Snyder and linebackers coach Dale Lindsey, who seemed eager to ruin his standing among the team’s faithful.
When he later signed with the Giants, the Skins lost a Pro Bowl linebacker. That put him in the same city as former teammate and fellow Eastern Motors endorser Coles, who went to the Jets after similarly falling out of favor with Skins management and coaches.
But Bassam didn’t lose another pitchman when Arrington left. Instead of purging Arrington from his marketing campaign, Bassam kept the old Eastern Motors ads, featuring the linebacker, and even produced a new commercial after last season that features the now ex-Skin with his now ex-teammates.
With some editing, Portis took on leading-man status in some Eastern Motors spots. And soon enough, bad luck—or was it the Curse?—stepped in to limit his football duties.
Portis, who had never suffered a serious injury in his first four years in the NFL, separated his left shoulder in the first series of the first quarter of the team’s first exhibition game this year in Cincinnati and was forced to sit out the rest of the preseason. He was back in uniform for the Skins opener against Minnesota, then went back on the shelf for a week after limited use in the Vikings game.
Bassam says he’s concerned by the injury bug that’s hit his endorsers but pooh-poohs any talk of bewitched pitchmen. He points out—fantasy football players take note—that Sean Taylor and Antwaan Randle El have been in Eastern Motors commercials, too, and they’ve stayed off the Skins’ injured list thus far. Bassam also says Eastern Motors will soon make Gilbert Arenas part of the jingle team.
“Oh, everybody’s hanging in there, except for LaVar, and he tells me he’s coming back, too,” Bassam says. “So—god, no!—I hope there’s not an Eastern’s jinx! I’m not Sports Illustrated!”
Meanwhile, Coles isn’t in the latest Eastern Motors commercials. And on the same weekend Arrington suffered his career-threatening Achilles injury, Coles took over as the leading receiver in the NFL.
Could be the new offensive scheme that Coles is working in. Or perhaps the Curse was lifted.—Dave McKenna