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On Redskins chat sites, it’s been rumored for weeks that Dan Snyder minted commemorative coins during the preseason to be sold as soon as Bruce Smith becomes the NFL’s all-time sacks leader.

Redskins spokesman Karl Swanson admitted last week that “there are several items” of record-related merchandise being considered for retail by both the team and Smith’s agent. When asked specifically about the rumored coins, Swanson declined to confirm or deny their existence.

“The decision is for superstitious reasons not to talk about them or get into that,” Swanson said, “until Bruce has set a record that makes it possible to offer anything.”

But at the Springfield Mall’s Redskins Store, a shop owned by the team, clerks aren’t so superstitious. They say the coins have been stocked on the premises “for a while.”

“We’re just waiting for him to get that last sack before we put them out,” one tells me. A staffer at the Arlington Redskins Store, also a Snyder outlet, says they’ve got sack-record T-shirts in stock, too.

Smith, however, hasn’t done his part to get these products to market. The half-sack that scorekeepers bestowed upon Smith for helping Renaldo Wynn finish wrapping up Brian Griese during the Skins’ Nov. 23 loss in Miami left Smith tied with Reggie White at 198 sacks. That means he hasn’t yet met Swanson’s criterion.

So the biggest drama remaining in the Redskins season concerns whether the Smithcentric wares will hit shelves in time for the holiday season, if ever. There doesn’t seem to be much demand for Smith memorabilia around here anymore, what with all the time he’s spent offsides or on his backside this season. That ridiculous whining he did to the press after playing his way out of a starting job—”I have goals that I would like to achieve,” Bruuuce Almighty said after the Skins loss in Dallas—didn’t help the Buffalo transplant’s standing in these parts, either. To judge from calls to sports radio and barroom banter, it seems a lot of Redskins fans just wish Smith would go away.

Besides being the oldest deck chair on the Titanic that is the 2003 Skins, Smith is also the last remaining relic of perhaps the sorriest chapter in the franchise’s recent history. Smith came to the Skins after the 1999 season, as a member of Snyder’s first fantasy football class. In that offseason, Snyder splurged as no owner had splurged before, and in so doing he put a target on himself and his team that neither has been able to shake.

“It used to be just Dallas and the Redskins were rivals,” Dallas Cowboys defensive end Eric Ogbogu, who followed the Skins while growing up in Baltimore, recently told the hosts of the evening sports-talk show on WOL. “Now everybody and the Redskins are rivals.”

Snyder, remember, gained control of the team in the spring of 1999, too late to compete for that year’s crop of big-name free agents. (Snyder was left talking Irving Fryar out of retirement during training camp.) But he jettisoned General Manager Charley Casserly, took over personnel matters, and put to use everything he’d learned during those years of watching football and eating chili in front of the family TV.

A refresher of Snyder’s $100 million shopping spree:

There was, of course, Deion Sanders. Snyder used Darrell Green to woo the Dallas cornerback during a dinner at Olives, a downtown restaurant. To make room for Deion’s seven-year, $55 million deal under the salary cap, the Redskins released Brian Mitchell and put the “franchise” tag on Stephen Davis, marking the beginning of the end of the big back’s days in Washington. At Sanders’ signing, Snyder said, “Nightmares of the last few years of Deion scoring touchdowns against us will no longer happen.” Indeed, they were quickly replaced by nightmares of Deion being perhaps the costliest bust of the NFL’s free-agent era. Sanders’ run as a Redskin ended with him hiding out with a minor-league baseball team in the Cincinnati Reds organization, saying he wasn’t playing football and he wasn’t returning any of the $8 million signing bonus he’d copped from Snyder. That’s still the team record for free money, if only until coach Steve Spurrier goes back to college.

And there was Jeff George. Snyder gave George a four-year, $18.25 million contract with a $2 million signing bonus. Snyder wanted George, an exciting loser joining his fifth team in 10 years, to replace boring winner Brad Johnson. The only memorable play of George’s Redskins tenure came when he was dragged across the Dallas turf like a rag doll near the end of the Skins’ 8-8 season. Two games and two losses into the 2001 season, Marty Schottenheimer (George’s third coach in 18 games as a Skin) cut the quarterback, who at the time had zero touchdown passes and a QB rating of 34.6—the worst in the league. George left with a 1-6 record as a starter with the Redskins.

And there was Mark Carrier. Snyder gave the safety a five-year, $15.9 million deal with a $3 million signing bonus to leave the Detroit Lions. Snyder’s sidekick Vinny Cerrato said Carrier would be “the quarterback of the defense.” (Perhaps the QB Cerrato spoke of was Jeff George.) Carrier had been fined and/or suspended five times for illegal hits before coming to the Redskins. It was more of the same for Carrier once he put on a Redskins uniform. In his first game with Washington, Carrier was suspended for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Carolina’s Wesley Walls. His run here ended just as it began: The Skins cut Carrier before the 2001 season, in large part because the league was threatening to suspend him again for a flagrant hit in the season finale against Arizona.

And there was, and is, Bruce Smith. Snyder gave the Buffalo fixture a five-year, $23 million contract that included a $4.25 million signing bonus. Other than Smith, all of Snyder’s free agents from 2000 have been sent packing. Smith has alleged that he was going to retire after last year, but was talked into playing again by Gerald Snyder, the father of the Redskins owner. (Conspiracy theorists could add up the Gerald Snyder connection and the memorabilia production to explain Smith’s free pass back to the lineup after slurring Spurrier for benching him.) Smith certainly would be out of here if not for his pursuit of the sack record. But he’s put up with four head coaches and four defensive coordinators in four seasons here, all in hopes of catching Reggie White.

There is a bogusness to the chase and the record at issue. The NFL has been recording sacks only since 1982, leaving out generations of quarterback killers, most notably Deacon Jones. And White’s official NFL total of 198 sacks came in 15 seasons, four fewer than Smith (and it doesn’t include the 23 1/2 sacks White got in his two years with the Memphis Showboats of the USFL).

Only 26 of Smith’s sacks have come in his three-and-11/16 seasons with the Redskins. The team is 27-32, with no winning seasons and no playoff appearances, with Smith in uniform.

But if Smith gets another half a sack, Snyder will sell you a coin to remember him by. According to the staff at the Springfield Mall Redskins Store, it’ll cost $19.95. —Dave McKenna