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The Redskins’ crumminess in recent exhibitions would seem to paint Herr Schottenheimer’s allusions to imminent grandeur as nothing more than illusions. A glimpse into the goings-on a bit north up I-95 reveals an equally dreary forecast. Turns out there are all sorts of eerie similarities between the late-model Skins and this year’s woeful O’s, from the ownership to the stars to the quarterbacks to the coaches.
Most obviously, Daniel Snyder is to the Skins as Peter Angelos is to the O’s. Each used money gained in ways the general public considers unseemly telemarketing long-distance phone service for Snyder, trial lawyering for Angelosto buy the most beloved sports franchise in his hometown. Both exploited new stadiums to gouge the fans and became almost universally despised soon after taking over. (Snyder’s move to get Prince George’s County police to ban all walking to FedEx Field, and thereby force everybody to pay $20 or more in parking fees for lots that he ownssome of which are more than a mile away from the stadiumis perhaps the grossest bilking any professional sports team has ever perpetrated on its followers.)
Each has a preferred management mode better suited to “fantasy” leagues, where big names are all the rage, than to the real world. Because of the less-than-iffy reputations Angelos and Snyder have earned around their leagues, big-name free agents will come to the O’s or Skins only if offered contracts above market value. Yet that hasn’t stopped the owners from throwing money away.
Each team has been badly burned by this silly strategy. Deion Sanders, therefore, is to the Skins as Albert Belle is to the O’s. Angelos bought damaged goods in Belle, who retired after a mediocre 2000 season but will still collect on his $39 million O’s contract over the next three years. Snyder bought damaged goods in Sanders, who retired after a mediocre 2000 season but still gets to keep $7.5 million of the $8 million signing bonus the Redskins owner dangled in front of the downsliding cornerback to get him here from Dallas.
Fallout from this rotisserie-style management has left both the Orioles and Redskins with gutted rosters. Each team basically has one player whom everybody loves, surrounded by a bunch of players whom nobody knows.
Darrell Green is to the Skins as Cal Ripken is to the O’s. Each has played his entire career in one city and enjoyed great personal and teamwide successes during his stay. Each has been treated like crap by management toward the end of his career. Ripken, the only player on the O’s to win a World Series in Baltimore, was moved from shortstop to third base when free agent Mike Bordick was signed, then this year was made a part-time player for no good reason. Ripken’s cagey midseason announcement that he would retire at year’s end all but forced the team to play him more, and he has been far and away the most productive guy on the O’s roster since getting back in the lineup.
Green, the only player on the Redskins to win a Super Bowl with Washington, has been getting the minimization routine since last year, when Snyder brought in Sanders, paid him much more, and gave him Green’s starting job without a competition. This preseason, Marty Schottenheimer has bizarrely diminished Green even more, touting never-has-been Donovan Greer as the likely starter at cornerback and hinting that the 41-year-old local hero’s best shot at playing might come on special teams, where he can return punts. Look for Green to make a retirement announcement of his own soon.
Jeff George is to the Skins as Scott Erickson is to the O’s. Both came here from Minnesota with pretty much the same reputationgreat arm, horrible headand the same mission: to fill a secondary role. Erickson was to be the No. 2 starter behind Mike Mussina, and George would back up Brad Johnson. But both were thrust into main-man status this year and haven’t warmed up to the part.
Just as Erickson was to take over the top spot in the O’s rotation when Mussina went to the Yankees to get away from Angelos, his golden arm went leaden. He’s been on the disabled list since Opening Day with elbow problems and hasn’t thrown a pitch all season. George, the only veteran QB on the roster after Johnson left for Tampa Bay to get away from Snyder, began suffering from what the Redskins at first described as very minor arm soreness at the start of camp, but the team has since downgraded his condition to a more serious case of tendinitis. He has yet to play a single down in the exhibitions.
Clearly, Schottenheimer is to the Skins as Mike Hargrove is to the O’s. Before heading our way, both had some success in the very same city, Cleveland, and earned the very same reputation: can’t win the big one. Hargrove was run out of the Mistake by the Lake after managing the Indians to five straight division crowns but no World Series titles. Schottenheimer, meanwhile, got pink-slipped after four straight playoff seasons with the Browns, a run that included three division titles. Despite being a regular-season Vince Lombardi as a head coachhe’s made the playoffs 11 times in 13 seasons with Cleveland and the ChiefsSchottenheimer has led the same number of teams to the Super Bowl as the man he replaced, Norv Turner. That would be zero.
With about a month to go in the season, Baltimore is 19 games out of the AL wild-card slot. So, despite all the parallels between the teams, there’s at least one yardstick by which the 2001 Skins will not be to the NFL what the 2001 O’s have been to baseball. The Skins won’t finish 19 games out of the playoffs. Dave McKenna